HAND CARE 101
CrossFitters often revel in the fact that our workouts have bloodied our hands. “We’re such badasses! We’re SO hardcore!” But let’s call a spade a spade: IT IS NOT “COOL” TO HAVE CHUNKS OF OUR SKIN RIPPED FROM OUR HANDS.
Flayed skin is not a badge of honor. It does not mean that you are tougher or better at working out.
It means that:
- You’re a soft-handed newbie who hasn’t yet had the chance to build up thicker skin on your fingers and palms to protect them from tearing,
- You’re not giving your hands the T.L.C. they need to keep from getting shredded.
- You’re not holding on to the bar properly- and are “hanging” from the bar and excessively rotating around the bar.
HAND CARE 101
Step #1. Hand Grooming
Those who are new to gymnastics, weightlifting or CrossFit in general often start with soft, callus-free hands. Ideally, to reduce the likelihood of hand tears, beginners should try to gradually build up calluses (through — what else? — handling bars) to the point where the skin on their palms and fingers are tough and thick — but smooth. Once some skin-thickening is achieved, the goal is to keep any calluses filed down. The goal is have a consistent, smooth palm surface, without noticeable ridges or fluctuating thicknesses of skin. A raised, rough callus will eventually blister and tear away from the surrounding skin, ripping open your hands and making a bloody mess. A general rule of thumb: If you can pinch a raised edge of the callus, it needs to be filed down. Constant vigilance and regular hand care is key to preventing tears.
You can use a number of different tools to keep your calluses in check, including:
- A nail file;
- A callus/corn shaver;
- Cuticle scissors;
- A pumice stone;
- A razor blade;
- A Dremel tool(!)
Obviously, don’t be an idiot. Use these tools with care.
Ideally, your entire palm surface should be one thick callus with no bumps or ridges in any one particular area. In order to do this, groom your hands always after a hot shower or bath (this allows the calluses to swell up). While the calluses are still “swollen,” I take a double-edged razor and very carefully shave the dead callus bumps down a little at a time until the bumps are about even with the thickness of the rest of the hand. With my younger students, I simply ask them to get a callus stone (you can buy one at any drug store), and gently sand the callus down even with the rest of the skin. Remember, whenever you groom or shave your calluses, don’t overdo it, since you don’t want to go too deep into your skin. Always leave enough thick skin so to facilitate your workout the following day. The goal is to maintain an even and consistent thickness of hard skin throughout the entire palm.
Also: Lube up your hands. Chalk and frequent washing will suck the moisture right out your skin, and dry, cracked hands do not feel awesome.
Step #2 Grip & Technique
A lot of CrossFitters rip open their hands doing high-rep bar movements: kipping pull-ups, clean-and-jerks, snatches. But there are ways to tweak your technique to reduce the chances of a nasty tear.
When working with a barbell, some folks are inclined to grip the bar across the middle of their palms. This, unfortunately, squishes the fleshy pad below the base of your fingers against the bar, causing discomfort, added friction, blisters, and worse. A better way to go is to grip the barbell across the base of your fingers — where the metacarpals meet the proximal phalanges. When performing T2B or pull-ups keep the the kipping motion short and focused, there’s less of the skin-on-bar rubbing that might lead to shredded hands.
Lesson: Excessive kips, flops, swings, rotations all lead to torn hands.
Step #3 Treatment
So you look down and see blood only to realize that your last pull-up just gave you a major skin tear. OUCH. You stop immediately and clean up your bodily fluids and then tend to the wound. There are a couple options and methods of care for a skin tear. I am partial to No. 1 but I know some people swear by No. 3.
- With Rip No. 1, use scissors to cut away the flap of skin.
- With Rip No. 2, tear the skin flap off by tugging on it away from the point at which the skin was still attached.
- And with Rip No. 3, just leave the flap in place.
Regardless of what you choose, it’s important to clean the wound and keep it well-covered with antibacterial ointment to prevent infection. No one wants a staph infection.
We recommend liquid band-aid to initially cover the wound and then neosporin, Vitamin E, dermabond, etc. From there- keep the wound clean and your hands hydrated.
Step #4 Coming back the next day: Gloves, Grips & Tape
I know what you’re thinking: It’s a pain in the ass to keep your hands from ripping, and treating them sounds less than fun, too — so why not just slap on a pair of gloves?
Again, there are several opinions here- A few worth considering
- Unless you wear gloves throughout your daily life, at some point you will have to rely on the pure gripping power of your bare-skinned hands to perform work, so develop that capability into your own hands as much as possible.
- Anything between your hands and the object you are gripping reduces your proprioception — your ability to know where the object is in space relative to your body.
- Prevention of injury trumps the benefits of going glove free.
- Wearing tape or gloves enables you to come back the next day and hold onto the bar.
Reebok has even developed CrossFit gloves that numerous athletes wear during the Games. But then again, they were in competition — and did as many as TEN workouts (many with high-rep bar movements) over the course of a single weekend. Their hands were trashed. So before you rush out to plunk down forty bucks for a pair of fancy new gloves to bring to your gym, ask yourself whether they’re warranted. If your hands aren’t wrecked, you probably don’t need gloves.
Chalk- It can be helpful, but too much can make things far worse. Once sweat meets chalk it creates a paste. That paste causes additional friction on the pull-up bar or barbell. Your hands should not need to be completed white every time you grab onto the bar. Similarly, grips and tape aren’t normally needed in CrossFit. However, when your hands are already torn or if you know the day’s WOD is likely to destroy your skin, pulling out the athletic tape may be just the thing to keep you from a world of hurt. Plus, a few strips of tape are unlikely to be as heavily (and unnecessarily) padded as a big pair of mittens.
However, wrapping tape around your hands to just cover the wound won’t work either. It will literally just slip off as soon as you jump up for your first pull-up. Take the extra time before class, or the night before and create an athletic tape grip. These are so much better than just wrapping tape around. (and they sell re-usable ones on-line too!)
So there you have it. Please take the few minutes each day to take care of your hands. Just like mobility, it is essential to being able to train consistently and to the level you want.
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