You can tell a lot about a person by their hands. Or so the saying goes (or is that feet?). When it comes to the hands of a CrossFitter, one can often see the torn skin and ripped calluses that represent the battle scars of too many pull-ups, deadlifts, kettlebell swings—and not enough attention to hand care. While having tough, worn and ‘gnarly’ hands is a source of pride for many, there is nothing to be gained from having pieces of flesh missing from your palms. There is a difference between the two. One pair of well-maintained paws allows you to fully utilize your grip strength for all facets of the workout, hold the bar (pull-up or barbell) for longer, avoid unnecessary pain and allow you to come back and, if needs be, do the exact same workout the next day. Neglecting to take care of your hands will result in frequent rips and tears, affecting your ability to perform certain exercises to the best of your ability (or at all) and requiring modifications or the use of gloves/tape to get the work done.
Here are some helpful tips to keep your hands in the best shape possible, and treat any rips that may happen to come through.
Warm-up and mobilize your hands
What, you don’t do this already? It stands to reason that since the hands (as well as the wrists and forearms) will invariably be involved in some aspect of your workout, they should be mobilized just like any other part of the body. CrossFit Virtuosity have an excellent list of pre-WOD exercises for the hands that include:
–Shaking—to increase blood flow to the hands and improve circulation
–Finger Waves— Start by curling the fingers into the hand into a tight fist and then in a wave extend them. Then wave the fingers closed into a fist and curl the fingers in and extend them.
–Finger Circles—Circle the fingers (and thumbs!) in both directions
Think about your grip
Have you ever noticed how rock climbers, when scaling the face of a mountain (or indoor rock wall), utilize their fingers more than their hands? A lot of the work we do in CrossFit requires us to pull on the bar, rather than push (obviously, there are exceptions). As such, the bar should not be rammed into the bottom of your palm, where it will cause more folds of skin to bunch up, forming calluses that could eventually tear. Instead, try to grip the bar just below the base of your fingers.
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Don’t overuse chalk
Notice a theme here? A lot of the preventative work that goes into keeping your hands rip-free starts in the gym. Now, I will admit that I love my chalk. However, I rarely use it on the pull-up bar, and here’s why. Too much chalk creates friction, which can lead to rips, tears and blisters. Don’t get me wrong, a small amount of chalk can help absorb moisture and improve your grip on the bar. Personally, I prefer to warm up my hands and hit my pull-ups with having to rely on chalk.
Trim or shave your calluses
If left untouched, your calluses will build up quickly over time before the inevitable rip occurs. When you get home from your workout, soak your hands in some water (or jump in the shower) before using a pumice stone or callous shaver to rub down your callouses and remove any excess dead skin. Removing layers of dry or dead skin will reduce friction points that are likely to catch and rip during a WOD.
Use specific hand care products
If all else fails, and you find that your hands are still prone to tearing, it may be worth investing in some products specifically designed to treat your hands and prevent rips from happening. RIPT Skin Systems and CrossFIXE are two of the more popular brands out there.
Treating your rips
Any CrossFitter, regardless of their experience (though newcomers are more susceptible to tears than seasoned athletes), will experience the annoyance of ripping their hands. Just ask, well, anyone after 14.2 of the Open this year. When you do get a rip (and you will), follow these steps to treat it:
1) Wash your hands
This will sting, but it’s the first step of the healing process. Use warm water and soap and wash out any dirt or grime that may have gotten into the open tear.
2) Trim excess skin
Often times a rip will mean that there is a loose bit of skin flailing about that you’ll want to pull at with your fingers. DON’T. This will only increase the size of the rip and won’t accomplish much. Instead, use sterilized scissors to cut the excess skin away—if the loose skin is too small to cut, simply leave it in order to protect the healthy flesh underneath.
3) Bandage and keep moist
Keeping the wound area moist speeds up the healing process and minimizes pain. Preferably use a product with Vitamin E, otherwise Vaseline or Bag Balm will work too.
*Personal favorite-use a teabag
An old coach of mine suggested I use this trick on a particularly nasty rip, but for the life of me I can’t recall what his reasoning was. Research suggests that the tannic acid found in tea helps the healing process, but all I know is that once I’d washed and trimmed the rip area, I would clench one these suckers tightly, and after a couple of days I was ready to go. Coincidence? I think not.