Hand rips and tears happen — it’s how you respond that matters!
I’ve been wanting to write about hand care for CrossFit for a long time. For the past few months, I have randomly asked people if they take care of their hands (and then look at their hands in shock lightly shame them for not working on those bundles of tough skin) while doing CrossFit. Of those asked, I would say about 80% or more do little or nothing to care for their hands. Additionally, I heard answers like, “I chew them off usually” (GROSS!), “I’ve never used anything (after doing CrossFit for MANY years)”, or “I really don’t know how to take care of them”. So I am here to help you with this simple and easy process that will have your hands looking happier and lasting much longer in workouts and training.
A little history first. When I tore my hands for the first time, I thought it was so cool. A lot of people still think it’s cool, a morbid kind of rite of passage that some in CrossFit out as legitimate. But that rip(s) not only prevents you from doing all the fun stuff we do in the gym, but it could be indicative of some things you could improve your grip when working out.
I did research after my first tear and found endless search result hits for on hand care: tools for the process, grip/technique on a barbell/pullup bar, treatment, and gloves/tape/grips (products for prevention). It was endless and wide-ranging. So I started to put some of those tips into practice and over time have found my tried-and-true methods that keep my hands have been up to the task with all the pulling work on the pull-up bar and barbell. My tears have decreased tremendously with just a little tender love and care.
Let’s get to the knitty, gritty: how to care for our hands and what we need to do it with. Also, we’ll explore bar technique and some products I often get asked about and whether or not they make a difference.
Hand care for CrossFit tools of the trade:
To smooth and shave hands, there are a variety of small tools you can use to keep your calluses and dead skin in check. Everything from a simple nail file, Revlon Ped Shaver (two pictures below of different versions), pumice stone, sandpaper, sloughing lotion, traditional balm or lotion for cracking during those cold weather months.
When we groom the hands, make sure we are shaving these level, where the fingers meet the hand. Any lower, and you run the risk that the callus will be too thin and will rip more easily. There is a happy medium on how much callus you need to shave vs keep for optimal health/performance. I usually do this once a week (to keep the calluses at bay) and then apply some of my Cornhusker’s Lotion (a “toothpaste amount” is all you need for reference) to keep them lathered and prevent them from cracking.
Here are the items in my kit:
Do these products help prevent hand tears?
A lot of you ask about gloves, grips or tape, and most of the time I recommend them with some stipulation. We all need to build up our own gripping power on those bare hands to perform the work. I myself am not a huge fan of grips when it comes to any gymnastics movement on the pull-up bar. My bare hands not touching the bar just doesn’t feel right when it comes to feeling the bar during my kipping. The biggest problem with gloves and grips is the that anything between your hands and the object you are gripping reduces your proprioception—your ability to know where the object is in space relative to your body. With the fast, coordinated movements (ex. pull-ups, bar muscles up, etc.) this becomes a bigger deal. Not such a big deal when it comes to back squats.
Do I recommend grips/gloves? No. I would be doing you a disservice if I wasn’t honest here. I tried them for pull-ups (grips)…not fun. Rope climbs (gloves)? Terrifying. What about athletic tape? It’s great for covering existing wounds for previous tears. It lets you focus on a specific area to keep from exposing the wound even more. Here is a little help to make those tape covers.
Adjusting your grip on the bar:
How many of you actually think about your grip and how you grab the pull-up bar/barbell? There is a correct way to do it and I am sure Coach Tyler and Coach Keel touched on it during our recent Pull-Up Saturday Seminar. We want those hands on top of the pull-up bar with the metacarpals across the top (pinkie knuckle on top; see picture below). Here are a few videos and pics to show you what we want:
I fully understand that not every session makes it possible to maintain perfect grips and under fatigue, it’s easy to fall back on bad habits. Rips might still happen no matter how good our intentions. So what do we do?
First, scale the movement if it happens in the middle of the workout. Once you finish the workout, make sure to clean off the bar or any equipment you made contact with that ripped or possibly bloody hand (said in an English accent).
Once that is all done, cut the excess skin off and wash the wound with soap and water. Embrace the pain! It will sting pretty bad (wait until you shower afterward as well, I apologize ahead of time). After the excess skin is gone and the wound is clean, apply some Neosporin, Vitamin E (liquid/gel capsule), wet tea bags wrapped around the wound (Yes, this helps, crazy huh!?), or the product New Skin and cover overnight with a band-aid (or larger bandage if it’s a big tear).
Just like our bodies have to adapt to the different systems we work in CrossFit, so do our hands when it comes to the stress of workouts. We have to expose them to harsh conditions if we want to build the gripping power and toughness and resiliency we need for CrossFit. So, take off those grips/gloves and get those hands dirty and calloused. But then be sure to practice the self-care needed to keep them healthy and happy and ready for more work!