Taking Care of Your Hands

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Alternate title: Stop the Carnage!

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, protecting the living skin of our hands. Remember when you first started to CrossFit and your hands hurt just from holding the pull-up bar for a few seconds? Now that you have calluses, your hands are protected.

But, calluses that become too large are at risk of ripping off as we work out. Ouch! This impacts workouts for days after, sometimes longer.

Hand Tear Prevention

1) Trim your calluses. Yes, right along with your regular grooming habits, this is something you do now. Using a safety razor, a pumice stone, or nail clippers, shave or scrub calluses so that they are nearly flat with the rest of the surface of your hand. This is painless–a callus is dead skin, so there are no nerve endings that will feel pain.

2) Use moisturizer. Frequently. The more dry your hand skin becomes, the more prone to tears you will be, especially if you are a real chalk monster: chalk dries hands out a lot. Use moisturizer after washing your hands and after shaving your calluses.

3) Tearing in the middle of your hands? Practice squeezing the rig, kettlebells, and weights with only as much force as you need to control where you or the weight are moving. Over-gripping is what causes mid-hand tears.

4) Find a great pair of grips. Grips are what gymnasts use to prevent hand tears and to improve their grip on whatever apparatus they are performing on. Victory and Bear Komplex are two popular brands.

Did you tear? It’s Ok. Here’s how to heal it up as quickly as possible.

1) Recognize that a tear is an injury. Plan to modify workouts to let it heal. Competition coming up? That’s a time to try as best you can to prevent tears–they will impact your performance.

2) 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.) Washing the wound prevents infections and facilitates faster healing.

3) Cut off skin flaps. Leaving the flap risks accidentally tearing more of the callus off–no fun. Use a pair of nail scissors or your teeth–the skin being cut is dead, so this is painless. A super gym friend or a coach will be happy to help you.

4) Treat the wound. There are many products out there that are specifically made to treat hand tears. 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.

5) Protect the wound. There is some debate around how to protect hand tears. To bandage or not to bandage?

Here’s my opinion, based on my own experience with hand tears. When tears are bandaged, they stay wet and take a long time to scab and heal. They also stay clean. So, I bandage when I know I’m going to be holding weight in my hands (or high-fiving athletes), and I leave the bandage off otherwise to let the wound dry out as much as possible.

Now you know how to take care of your mitts and keep them in tiptop shape for working out!