Time to talk about preventative hand care! If you have ever ripped off your callouses or torn your hands from training you will know how horribly annoying it is. It hurts like hell, and it affects your training for a week or sometimes even more. I have found that the best way to care for your hands is preventative care. You want to keep your hands as smooth as possible and free from callouses that are raised above the skin. When your skin is rough and lumpy, it catches on the bar when you are doing pull ups and gymnastics and also on the bar when you lift weights. That’s what causes tears.
The number one part of hand care is strengthening them. They need to get stronger and less fragile before you start worrying about the other stuff below. Begin by adding some simple finger and hand grip strengthening work, like pinch weight-plates for time and even walking with them for distance, hanging from a pull-up bar for time, farmers carries etc. Just do a bit of these things every time you come to the gym and you will build up tougher hands and fingers. This is your first step to caring for your hands as a weightlifter or crossfitter or serious exerciser. You need your hands for EVERYTHING in training. You want to get them in good working condition just like any other muscle. I would ditch the gloves and start adding in more hanging and grip work as a first step.
Grip strength is extremely important and I think this is something that most women could work more on. From training both guys and girls, it has become very clear to me that girls struggle with grip strength the most. It’s often a big weakness in females. Having solid grip strength will give you ladies a massive edge and make you better at EVERYTHING…weightlifting, gymnastics, pull-ups, you name it! You will be able to do more things unbroken and spend more time under tension before dropping the weight or coming off the pull up bar, and that extra time spent under tension will build more muscle and make you stronger. Don’t underestimate the importance of grip strength! Don’t neglect strengthening the hands. This is a big part of caring for them.
So the first step to reducing the likelihood of hand tears for beginners would be to gradually build up your calluses and toughen up the hands through handling weightlifting bars and pull up bars. Do a little bit every day, but don't go overboard or you could tear! I wouldn’t go and do a workout with 100 pull ups right off the bat. Proper progression is important. Ideally you want to get to the point where the skin on your palms and fingers is tough and thick but smooth, and not raised above the skin.
Chalk dries out the hands. If you train every day try not to use chalk for every training session, especially if you are just lifting light weights or don’t really need it. The more you use chalk the more it will dry your hands out. When you do use it, use it sparingly, just enough to get the job done. No need for chalk baths.
Chalk is great for helping your grip and IF you use just the right amount it can be helpful for preventing rips. But if you use too much chalk you are going to end up gripping the bar too tight which will contribute to tearing as you will be creating a lot of extra friction. So I suggest not going overboard on the chalk if you want to protect your hands.
Another mistake I made early on when I first started crossfitting is that I would not wash the chalk off my hands immediately after a workout. I would often leave the gym (when I was in a rush) without washing off the chalk and then I wondered why my hands were always so dry. The longer you leave chalk on your hands the drier your hands will get, and the more prone they will be to ripping. Always try to remember to wash off the chalk after you train right away. If you can’t get to a sink just use a hand sanitizer with a moisturizer in it (and then add more moisturizer after!)
Many people suggest using a nail file, a pumice stone or some sort of callous shaver/emory board to get rid of your callouses. I have not found anything that works better than a simple razor. I try and stay in the habit of shaving my hands down every day or every other day when I’m in shower as this is when my skin is soft and it makes the job easy. Be careful not to cut your hands though (I have made this mistake)! My favourite razor to use is the Gillette Venus ones. I find some of the other, more higher-tech brands have too many blades and are harder to use on my callouses.
Last but certainly not least, try to make it a habit to moisturize your hands often throughout the day. This will keep your hands from drying out, which will make ripping less likely. I’ve tried many different brands of moisturizers and I find the richer ones work best for my tough workout hands. My current favourite is the Lush Handy Gurugu hand cream. It’s very rich but rubs in well and smooths my hands. It is very soothing as well for when your hands get extra sore and tender after doing a lot of gymnastics work. It actually works, unlike millions of other brands I’ve tried. I put a thick coat on every night before bed. I also have a tube of l'occitane hand cream that I keep in my bag and use throughout the day. This one is a bit lighter, less rich and rubs in better, but still gets the job done nicely. The Body Shop hemp intensive hand butter is another good one. I am sure there are many brands that work well, but these are a couple of my favourites.
Hope these tips are a help to you. Let me know if you have any other tips or recommended products that you like to use for your hand care.
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