This is a guest post from Alex Dichter, Co-owner and Head Coach of CrossFit Headway in Huntingdon Valley, PA. Alex has been CrossFitting since 2008, has been coaching since 2011, and is CrossFit level 1 and Outlaw Barbell certified. You can follow CrossFit Headway on Facebook and Instagram
An athlete’s hands are so important in both CrossFit and weightlifting, and as such, often take a beating. Pull-ups, deadlifts, kettlebell snatches and cleans are just a few movements that can wreak havoc on them. Proper hand care is a must if you want to avoid rips and tears and avoid missing training sessions because you can’t grip anything. While some people see the bloody palms as a badge of honor, I see them as a painful, and certainly avoidable, inconvenience.
During a WOD, friction builds up and causes calluses to form to naturally protect the hands. This is a good thing. However, if these newly formed calluses go unattended for too long, they can become thicker and thicker until…rip! Combine that with the drying effects of chalk, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Outlined below are a few tools of the trade along with a few techniques to maintain those calluses, deal with the occasional ripped hand, and ways to help prevent future tears.
Tools of the Trade
In order to keep these calluses at bay and keep the hands safe, you’ll need to put together a few tools in a hand care toolbox.
-Moisturizing Hand Lotion
-Waxed-based balm or salve
Let’s start with some preventive maintenance. Keep in mind, these tips are useful even if you wear gloves and tape for every WOD. The first thing to do post-WOD is wash your hands. The sooner you wash off all the chalk from the WOD, the sooner you stop the skin from drying out. During the WOD, chalk is our friend. Post-WOD, not so much. Also try to remember that when it comes to chalk, a little goes a long way!
The next step might be a little easier for the ladies since many carry a purse, but you want to try to get some sort of moisturizing lotion on after you wash your hands. Toss a small travel-sized bottle of lotion in your gym bag. That will help to replace the moisture that the chalk stripped away during the WOD, and should hold you over until you can hit the showers.
Hopefully, everyone hits the showers after class! After a few minutes in a warm/hot shower, use a pumice stone to basically sand down all of those newly formed calluses. This should not hurt! If it does, you’re using too much pressure and/or you pumiced too much in one spot. A few passes in varying directions on each callus should do the trick. When you get out of the shower, apply more of the moisturizing lotion that you used post-WOD, or use a wax-based product like Bag Balm or Burt’s Bees Hand Salve. At CrossFit Headway, we made little tins of homemade hand care salve as holiday gifts for our athletes. It’s made from beeswax, olive oil, coconut oil, vitamin E and essential oils like lavender and tea tree.
I highly recommend using the wax-based product at least twice a week, more if your hands are really beat up.
The shower/pumice stone technique works best when done everyday to prevent your calluses from getting out of control. If doing this everyday is too much of a chore for you, you can try to trim your calluses every week or so with cuticle nippers. For this technique, your calluses need to be thick enough to pinch the skin without causing pain. I train 6-7 days a week, so my calluses are ready for this trimming technique in about two weeks. If you train less than that, it might take a bit longer to build up your calluses to an adequate level.
Once they feel pretty thick, gently pinch the callused skin. This pinching raises the skin up a bit to allow the cuticle nippers to cut the dead skin off. Be very careful! Do not cut too much off. This should not hurt. If it does, you’re cutting too much. Continue this “pinch and cut” process until all the callused skin has been removed. I like to finish up by washing my hands under warm water while gently using a pumice stone to smooth out any rough spots. Finish up by applying a moisturizing hand lotion or a wax-based balm or salve.
You’ll get the smoothest result from this technique, but make sure that you do this on a rest day. You’ll want some time for the newly exposed skin to toughen up before you grab a barbell again.
Let’s Get Hypothetical
Ok, let’s just say you got a little lazy with the callus maintenance and “Fran” is the WOD for today (21-15-9: Thrusters and Pull-ups). You get about halfway through the round of 15 pull-ups and you look down at your hands and they resemble ground beef more than they resemble hands. Ouch! It’s your call whether you want to continue and finish the WOD or not (I would), but now that you’ve ripped, recovery is very important. When you do finish the WOD, wash your hands with soap and water and cover the rips to keep the dirt out while you’re still at the gym. For sanitary reasons, disinfect everything you touched after you ripped.
At home, wash those hands again. Once they are thoroughly cleaned, brew yourself some tea. Steep a tea bag in hot water for a few minutes, and when the tea bag is no longer hot to the touch, put the tea bag directly on the rip for at least 5 minutes. The tannins in the tea help to heal the open wound. They also act as an antiseptic, which helps to keep the wound clean. Repeat this several times per day until the rip begins to heal and a new layer of skin begins to form. Keeping the rips clean and moist is priority number one. Keep moisturizing lotion close by all day, and you can also start to apply the wax-based moisturizer at least once a day.
Check the Technique!
In addition to proper preventive hand care, grip technique can play a huge part in avoiding rips. Adjust your grip so that the bar is at the base of your fingers, right before the palm starts. This grip is a little more finger intensive, but it will help to keep the palms (where rips happen most often) out of harm’s way. This new grip might take some getting used to, but practice makes perfect.
Now that you’ve been armed with all the hand care information you could need, get to the box, throw down, and let’s finally put an end to those bloody hands!