the joy of strength training

Gubernatrix

December 6th, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Callus care and why gloves are for sissies

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.

Example of callus formation

My calluses need some care!

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.

pumice

My pumice block

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.

Ripped  callus

This is what a ripped callus looks like

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!

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22
  • 1

    The worst part of using gloves is the day you forget them. Once you’ve built them up, you’re never going to accidentally leave your calluses at home.

    Xyz on December 7th, 2010
  • 2

    Gripping the bar properly reduces callus formation significantly as well.

    Niel on December 7th, 2010
  • 3

    Great article!

    May I throw in a rec for Climb On Bar? Or Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream, which is the secret weapon of many hardcore male rock climbers.

    They’re both mildly-antiseptic greasy goops which are good for healing and moisturizing skin without softening the calluses.

    The other useful tip I know is to wash off the chalk as soon as you’re done lifting (or climbing); because it’s drying, leaving it sitting on the skin for ages can encourage cracking and splitting.

    Clare on December 7th, 2010
  • 4

    Great suggestions Clare, thanks! Good point too about washing your hands and moisturising after using chalk. I found this out the hard way!

    gubernatrix on December 7th, 2010
  • 5

    One of the other bad things about gloves is sweat soakage, since there’s not an easy way to chalk your hands under the gloves. Wet gloves get a little baggy, then bam – blisters.

    Unfortunately, since it’s wintertime and I workout in the early morning, I’m stuck having to use gloves any time we touch metal in a WOD. I’ve got great calluses (longtime motocrosser), but I have a lingering side effect from cancer treatments a few years ago – when subjected to cold, my fingers instantly go white and lose all feeling (like, beyond numb). Not what you want to have happen in the middle of thrusters :) So just remember that sometimes there are other reasons for gloves than precious, delicate, baby-soft hands :)

    Brian W on December 7th, 2010
  • 6

    Well indeed!

    I have fond memories of the early days of Crossfit London before they had a gym and all workouts took place outdoors. On cold days, Andrew used to boil up a kettle and pour hot water over the barbells to defrost them a bit!

    gubernatrix on December 7th, 2010
  • 7

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  • 8

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  • 9

    Why would gloves making the bar thicker and harder to grip be a bad thing? Wouldn’t this give reason for the hands to become stronger? It looks like lifting with straps < lifting normal bars bare < lifting with gloves or using a thickbar or FatGripz in this respect.

    The lack of logic here is this: if we lift with gloves, our hands still experience pressure. The pressure is just slightly more evenly distributed. Essentially the hands still become thicker, but they become thicker in a more uniform fashion than when we lift naked because it causes odd out of place calli.

    It does seem like they reduce friction, but who cares? If the point of weightlifting was to create friction burns on my hand I'd just skip the weights and rub my hands with sandpaper for an hour.

    As for the whole 'you can't feel the bar slipping', you are correct that gloves reduce our tactile sensitivity… but then again, so does getting a callus. That thick dead skin isn't very sensitive at all by comparison, surely everyone realizes this.

    The benefit to gloves is you can take them off and remain sensitive outside of the gym. You can't take off your calli, only file them down. I just don't like that.

    I think it's rather low to call people wuss and be all macho. The point of this is to get strong and lift weight not traumatize the skin.

    Here's something else about thick bar training and if you had reeeeally thick gloves: yeah it limits the weight you can pull, but one presumes the grip adapts and also, it shifts where on the hand the pressure is going. With thin bars, yes, we make a tight fist and the tension is near the base of the fingers where the calli form. But with a thick bar, we can't wrap around as tightly. The fingers have to open up more. This means the finger joint is extended and does not pinch as much. It means tension is further towards the fingertips. It's not just a source of strength, but I think many of us would prefer to have toughness on the inside of our fingers than on the inside of our palm as it is easier to deal with.

    Tyciol on December 19th, 2010
  • 10

    “Why would gloves making the bar thicker and harder to grip be a bad thing?…The point of this is to get strong and lift weight not traumatize the skin.”

    Indeed. As you say, the point is to get stronger and lift more weight – that’s why not wearing gloves is better. Of course we don’t set out to traumatise the skin, it just happens as a side effect, just like you get chafing when you run or cycle long distance. No-one particularly likes it, but it’s part of the sport.

    If you do strength sports like weightlifting or powerlifting, the size of the bar makes a big difference. That’s why ladies’ bars in weightlifting are 3mm smaller than men’s bars, and why deadlifters do specialist training with a thick/fat bar. In other words, making your grip thicker in order to stop getting calluses is detrimental to your overall performance.

    By the way, my post title is tongue in cheek. I’m not that macho!

    gubernatrix on December 19th, 2010
  • 11

    You don’t wear gloves during your activities of daily living, why would you want to wear them during training?

    After all, for most of us, we’re training for life, not necessarily a strength sport.

    Jaison
    http://www.seattlestrengthcoach.com

    Jaison Naiker on December 24th, 2010
  • 12

    [...] of care to stop these getting too bad but Gubernatrix has provided some valuable advice on how to care for calluses to ensure that you don’t end up pulling threads in your clothes or bleeding all over the [...]

    Great links for the weekend! on January 7th, 2011
  • 13

    lol doesn’t matter if u wear gloves or not. lol cant b serious!! i wear gloves to stop sore hands so i can keep going to my gym. sometimes i leave them at home. makes no difference. although i rather wear gloves because ppl put there unwashed hands in dirty places.. at least i have a less chance of catching the flu or a bug. and still have nice smooth hands with no callusis. u say u dont wear gloves at home so why need them at gym EXActly wats an 1hr or 2 with gloves matter when you spend 22hrs without them. i believe the saying goes GAME SET MATCH

    king on March 22nd, 2011
  • 14

    I can’t stand to lift weights without my gloves. I find they provide better traction and grip than my bare hands, maybe because I’m not worrying about tearing my palms up. Do you take the same approach to socks and sport bras?? Ouchies.

    Just found your site. Very nice.

    MTheads on August 18th, 2011
  • 15

    If that is your preference, fair enough. Generally I would say that skin and chalk provides the best grip.

    I guess your reference to socks and sports bras is supposed to be funny/ironic but let me answer it seriously: I don’t think socks are necessary at all and I know a few people who lift in bare feet. If you are a sumo deadlifter with a wide stance, deadlifting in socks can be a bit slippy, so bare feet or shoes are better options in this case.

    Clearly whether or not you wear a sports bra depends on personal preference and size of tits. When doing olympic lifting it is better to be well ‘strapped in’ as it is easy to hit your boobs when cleaning since you must keep the bar as close to your body as possible. Conversely, bigger boobs are an advantage in the raw bench press as it shortens the distance the bar has to travel. But before you buy the most supportive cups you can find, be aware that powerlifting federations have thought of this trick and you are not allowed to wear a bra that keeps its shape when you are not wearing it!

    gubernatrix on August 21st, 2011
  • 16

    @Brian W: the white fingers/beyond numbness you have is called Raynaud’s syndrome. I have it too and it sucks lol. I lived in Maine my whole life until a year ago when my husband and I moved to Florida and now I don’t have the problem in the cold so much, but it has def showed up while weightlifting in the a.m. lately. Interesting, I thought it was just me.

    Ace on February 8th, 2012
  • 17

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  • 22

    Hahaha look at all these pussies that can’t lift with an extra CM of girth. Ironic that the people with penises thinner than their training bar would enjoy having rougher hands. They’re the ones that would benefit most from a little more softness, as they’ll be the only one touching it.

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