Published September 30, 2016
-by Rachel Binette
The dreaded ripped hands. We’ve seen them, and maybe we’ve had them. The question I get from athletes is, “How do I not do that?” And sometimes, they want to know if they should try to avoid building calluses.
Calluses are necessary to our hand health. The repeated friction of holding a barbell or hanging from the pull-up rig causes dead skin cells to build up at the contact points--this protects the living skin of our hands. But, calluses that become too large are at risk of ripping off as we work out.
Don’t worry about preventing calluses from forming, unless you need completely smooth hands for work. Instead, treat calluses as a part of your weekly maintenance routine.
- Shave or scrub calluses down. Using a safety razor, a pumice stone, or the home pedicure tool of your choice, shave or scrub calluses so that they are nearly flat with the rest of the surface of your hand. This isn’t painful--a callus is dead skin, so doesn’t have nerve endings. The best time to do this is after a shower or bath after the warm water has softened your skin.
- Use moisturizer. Frequently. The more dry your hand skin becomes, the more prone to tears you will be. (Note: gym chalk dries out hands A LOT.) Use lotion after washing your hands and after shaving your calluses.
And what to do if we do tear our hands?
- Recognize that a tear is an injury. You’re going to have to modify workouts to let it heal. If you have a competition coming up, that’s a time to try as best you can to prevent tears--they will impact your performance.
- Rinse the tear. I’m not going to lie to you, this is pretty painful. (I find it helps to start screaming before the water touches the open wound.) If you don’t rinse it, it will get infected, and you’ll have to modify workouts for weeks before you’re back in the game.
- Cut off skin flaps. Leaving the flap risks that you’ll accidentally tear more of the callus off--no fun. Use a pair of nail scissors or your teeth--it doesn’t hurt, since the skin you’re cutting is dead. A super gym friend or a coach will be happy to help you.
- Treat the wound. There are many products out there that are specifically made to treat hand tears, but choose something that you’d be comfortable with ending up in your bloodstream. I like WOD Repair Lotion. These products can be applied in open wounds and help them to heal quickly.
- Protect the wound. There is some debate around how to protect hand tears. Do you bandage them or not? Here’s my opinion, based on my own experience with hand tears. When tears are bandaged, they don’t dry out, so they don’t scab over and heal up. They also don’t get dirt and grime in them. So, I bandage when I know I’m going to be holding weight in my hands, and I leave the bandage off otherwise to let the wound dry out.
You’ll notice I haven’t brought up gloves or other hand protection. Here’s my stance on wearing gloves: grip strength won’t increase to nearly the same degree if you always wear hand protection. So if improving grip strength isn’t important to you, then by all means, wear gloves. If you need to keep your hands tear-free, then that’s a good reason to wear gloves, too.
But if improving pull-ups, toes to bar, deadlifts, farmer’s carries, and Olympic lifts are important to you, then you’re going to need to grip that bar!