CrossFit Hand Care Guide
As an office worker, my hands were always doughy and smooth, ready to pump out words on the keyboard, at least until I started CrossFit. As I progressed in my workouts, my mind, body, and palms under went major transformations. While my body became inevitably stronger from countless lifts and WODs, my hands were reduced to tears and calluses. At first, I was proud to show off my hard earned injuries, but I soon realized that the abrasions were costing me precious time in the gym.
Now, I put effort into protecting my hands in order to prevent excessive damage. While calluses can be beneficial to drills, it is important to follow through with your hand care to avoid injuries, heal properly, and keep yourself in the game.
CrossFit Hand Care
Bar and barbell lifts create a great deal of pressure and friction between your skin and the metal. This creates calluses. These thicken pockets of skin can be beneficial, as they are a protective barrier between the skin and sports equipment. However, heightened calluses run the risk of being torn off during high-friction workouts.
If you are a regular at the CrossFit gym, you're probably a no stranger to gruesome hand tears. While they can often be touted as a right of passage, they can often translate to time away from workouts.
Raised calluses have the potential to be pinched, resulting in painfully torn, bloody hands. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to prevent this sort of damage. For many CrossFitters, the time it takes to maintain their calluses is well worth it.
There are several popular methods for preventing callus development. One is to simply wear gloves. There are many CrossFit specific gloves on the market. They typically wrap around the wrist and palm and are made from durable synthetic or leather fabrics. While gloves have the ability to protect the entire hand, many CrossFitters frown upon the idea. While they are versatile enough to use between ropes and bars, they can hinder your ability to grow as an athlete.
For starters, gloves tend to trap in sweat. This often results in a loss of grip that is detrimental to workouts. Moreover, by keeping your hands constantly protected, you'll prevent them from developing the true grips needed to perform the grueling tasks you are training for.
A second option is to use jaws or natural grips, similar to those used by gymnasts. This style of grip covers a small portion of the hand, including the palm, and can be used with chalk to prevent slippage. The materials used are typically thin and do not promote excess sweating. Not only can it help you prevent painful tears, but it can provide you with some serious gripping. On the other hand, these sort of grips can only be used for specific exercises, such as pull-ups, chest to bar, bar muscle ups, and toes to bars. In turn, you’ll be wishing for calluses as you tackle the ropes!
A third option is to tape your hands. By doing so, you can pinpoint the exact points of pressure. While many athletes take it upon themselves to wrap the tape over their entire hand, this is wasteful and no different than wearing a pair of gloves.
The best method of taping includes focusing on problem areas, such as the area below the middle and index fingers and above the wrist. Selective taping can help you prevent tears, but it can also be worn to protect existing tears. In addition, the tape can be used with chalk to help you get that perfect grip.
While it may seem like a simple solution, tape that is not properly applied can tear mid-WOD, making for a sticky and sometimes painful situation. Be careful to lock down tape, especially if it is covering an injury.
If you want to remain proactive in preventing tears, an excellent option is to adjust your grip. From pull-ups to kettle bell swings, there is always a proper way of handling and holding equipment. The training-grip is a creative way to alter your center of gravity, reducing the inevitable pull on the top of your palm. This grip is borrowed from basic rock climbing techniques and requires additional upper body strength, but can go a long way to preventing tears.
Typically, CrossFitters grip with their palms and fully bent fingers. The three portions of these bent fingers are called phalanges. If you straighten the bottom phalange, known as the proximal phalange, and align it with your palm, or metacarpals, you'll significantly alter how much pressure and friction on your skin and, therefore, reduce the amount of damage you'll undergo.
While it is only a minor change, this grip completely shifts your center of gravity. Of course, it takes extra upper body strength and will likely decrease your amount of reps. This, it isn’t always sustainable. When it comes to competitions, tests, and drills, you’ve got little choice other than to go all out with the full finger curl. While this may mean inevitable tears and calluses, you'll always have your training grip to fall back on when you are on the mend.
Taking Care of Calluses
While tape, gloves, and grips can help you to prevent tears and even reduce calluses, these buildups are inevitable for an active Crossfit athlete. When it comes to handling raised calluses, effort should be taken to bring the raised padding back down. The ideal result is a smooth, slightly raised surface, This can be achieved in many ways, including the reoccurring use of pumice stones, callus shavers, and electric callus shavers.
A pumice stone is best utilized after a shower. When your skin is moist, use the stone to carefully sand off dry skin and rough edges of the callus. You don't want to rub the skin raw, or you'll risk doing more harm than good. Simply use the stone to scrape away at the loose, rough surface of a callus.
A callus shaver is used in a similar way. This can be used to very carefully shave off or reduce the top layers of the callus. This should be used with extreme caution and never directly before a workout. You should also never attempt to shave off the callus completely.
Some Crossfit trainers will even use a razorblade to skim off the top layers of skin. This is easiest to do following a shower. The warm water helps to hydrate and lift the callused skin away from the surface of the hand. Removing any bumps or ridges from the hand decreases the opportunity for pinches and subsequent tears.
Remember, this is a naturally forming protective layer of skin. To the untrained eye, it can be difficult to disseminate between the natural border of the skin and the callus. While the excess layers can cause tearing, a well-maintained callus can help you to better grip bars and barbells and support your growth as an athlete.
It is also extremely important to keep your hands moisturized and hydrated. Products, such as Dr. Spartan's Tripe Threat, can help to heal damaged skin and prevent cracks and tears. Natural oils and wax help seal in moisture and can even harbor antiseptic qualities. Use the product of your choice nightly to avoid chapped palms.
How to deal with ripped hands
Ripped hands can be painful nuisance that can keep you from the gym. If you experience a rip, it is imperative that you cease your workout and begin maintenance immediately. Working out with an open wound is a big no-no, especially if you plan to resume your regular workouts.
Start by removing any excess dead skin. Do so by carefully peeling or cutting the flap of skin in the direction of its detachment. This helps to prevent additional tears, snags, or pulls. After that, clean the area with soap and water, just as you would any other abrasion, and apply a generous dose of topical antiseptic.
As the rip begins to heal, take care to clean it often. Consider applying Vitamin E, which is both a vitamin and antioxidant that helps heal damaged skin.
Blisters: to Pop or Not to Pop?
Blisters are often the precursor to painful tears. Arising in high friction areas and creating a pocket of super vulnerable skin, it can be tempting to pop these buggers and get on with your WOD. However, if taking a few days off is doable, it is often best to rest and let them subside on their own.
If a blister develops mid workout, it is best to cover with tape or medical bandages. This will prevent the spread of infection and, hopefully, prevent it from tearing. Another option is to switch movements for a bit. Remember, a tear can cause you to over compensate and can lead to injuries or lost productivity.
Since most tears occur on the palm of your hands, working on sprints or curls can be a good alternative when blisters appear. While it can be frustrating to take time away from lifts or bars when you’re trying to meet a personal quota, precaution can prevent suffering and reduce prolonged injuries.
If you absolutely cannot wait to get back out there, you may consider popping the blister. By doing so, you may avoid a bigger tear. After this, you’ll want to immediately clean and bandage the area to prevent an infection.
How to train with ripped hands
It is important to take precautions when training with ripped hands. Keep the tears free from dead skin, thoroughly cleaned, and bandaged or taped. Apply a generous amount of Neosporin, especially overnight. Make sure you are properly taping up the injury, taking care to wrap the tape around the fingers and wrist to lock it in place. Training with ripped hands poses a heightened risk of infection, especially when sharing gym equipment. However, by taking the proper steps you can help your rip to heal quicker.
Athletic tape is designed to keep things in place during movement. When a tear is properly dressed, the hand should be able to move about freely and the torn skin should be anchored in place. This often takes at least two loops around the fingers and wrist to tie down loose ends. Don’t skimp or you’ll find yourself with a wad of unraveled tape mid workout.
Bloodied, callused, and torn palms are sometimes touted as a badge of honor for dedicated CrossFit athletes. While these injuries are sometimes unavoidable, there are many steps you can take to help decrease the risk of these painful, time consuming, and hindering injuries. Moreover, if you do land yourself in suffering from damage such as this, there are several steps you can take to help yourself on the road to recovery. In any case, CrossFit tends to take a tremendous toll on your hands, but if you treat them well and take the time to maintenance them, you’ll avoid missing priceless gym time and be on the fast-track to meeting your goals