You know your lifting has got serious when you need to start thinking about callus care.
A callus is an area on your skin where the skin has got thicker and harder due to pressure or friction. In lifters, the friction comes from the bar or handle of the weight. For example, deadlifting causes calluses close to the base of the fingers as this is where the barbell is held in the hand. Kettlebell enthusiasts get calluses from the kettlebell handle.
It’s good to develop calluses because they toughen up the skin and protect it from blisters and tears. Those who wear gloves while lifting never develop this natural safety feature.
This is all very hardcore and cool until the bastard things rip off! Then it’s blood and pain and interrupted training until you can get the thing sorted out.
Now, you should be using lifting chalk (or climbing chalk, same thing) on your skin to soak up sweat and greasiness, reducing the chance of developing blisters from the bar slipping around in your grip.
And to minimise the chances of your calluses ripping off at inopportune moments (say, in a deadlift competition, as I have seen happen many times), you need to take care of them.
Calluses need to be filed down regularly. If they are not filed down, they get bigger and more raised up from your palm and are thereby more likely to rip off if caught. If you keep them filed down so they are more or less level with the rest of the palm, there’s less chance they will be caught.
You can see in the picture above that those calluses at the base of my fingers are starting to get a bit prominent, and the callus on the palm has some flaps of skin that are just asking to be torn away mid-snatch.
Use a pumice stone, or a synthetic equivalent. I have a cheap one from Boots The Chemist which isn’t a real pumice stone but works like one. Just rub the stone over the callus and the hard skin will gradually shave off, like filing a nail.
You can do this after a shower or after soaking your hands in some water to soften them, although I don’t always find this necessary.
After shaving the callus down to size, moisturise your hands. (Borrow your girlfriend’s hand cream if you don’t want to buy some yourself!)
If you do have a ripped callus, there’s not much you can do until it heals. It’s best to cut off any flaps of skin using nail clippers, your teeth, or file them away with a pumice stone, as they are only likely to rip themselves.
If you can, put plaster or tape over the area to protect it. However there are many places on the palm where this isn’t possible because the plaster or tape just won’t stay on.
So why not wear gloves and prevent all this madness and pain?
Well, apart from the macho answer (lifting weights is madness and pain) there is a good reason. Gloves actually interfere with your grip; they make whatever you are holding thicker and therefore harder to grip, and they remove your contact with the bar, meaning that you can’t feel when the bar starts to move in your hand (early sign of impending grip failure).
I am not a Glove Hater. If normal gym goers want to protect their baby soft hands and don’t care for developing unattractive calluses, that’s fine. You just need to be aware of what you are giving up.
If you are involved in strength sports, however, don’t go there. When you are going to failure or going for a heavy single, you need the best grip possible. Gloves are no substitute for human skin and a bit of chalk.
So look after your calluses – and they will look after you!
More from gubernatrix
- How low should I squat?
- Basic barbell programmes reviewed
- Why you shouldn’t train in front of a mirror
- Life’s too short
- Five secrets of more effective training
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