Most CrossFit athletes will experience the infamous “ripped hands” at some point in their training. At first, we see it as a badge of honor, an emblem of our pain and hard work. Once we’ve got the post-workout picture to document our suffering, we quickly realize how inconvenient this tear is going to become. The result can be days where you can’t grip anything, or even wash your hands without wincing.
So, while it might make a good conversation starter in the short-term, the long-term consequences aren’t worth the trouble. This leaves us with the question, “how can I prevent my hands from ripping in CrossFit”?
The first step is prevention. A proper hand care routine will maintain your hands in top-notch condition, preventing rips from forming in the first place.
Next is the technique. The way you handle your equipment will determine how much friction is placed on the skin, thereby affecting your risk of ripping.
Last, we need to consider aftercare. At some point, the inevitable will happen and you will tear your hands, no matter how thorough your prevention techniques are. However, with the right after-care you can speed up the healing process and reduce any unnecessary pain.
When you start a CrossFit or a traditional gym workout regime, you’ll notice your hands begin to morph into those of a tradesman. You’ll start to develop calluses across your palms, fingers, and thumbs. Calluses are great for protecting the skin, they’re your body’s natural hand protectors. However, they don’t last long if they’re neglected. In the event that your calluses develop too much, they can rip, which is exactly what we’re trying to prevent. Take these steps to prevent callus build-up:
- File Down: Aim to keep calluses level with the rest of your hands. Too high and there’s too much skin, so it will rip easily. Too low, and there won’t be enough skin, making it more prone to ripping. We need to find a happy medium. Use a callus shaver or hand file to file your calluses down inline with the rest of your hands. A callus shaver is much quicker, but it’s easy to shave off too much. A file is safer but can take a while. It’s best to do this step after your hands have been soaked in warm water, as this will soften the callus, making it easier to remove.
- Smooth the edges: Get rid of any rough edges to keep your calluses smooth. Try to make the surface as even as possible to prevent anything from latching onto the skin and causing a tear. For this step, use a pumice stone. Pumice stone is made from lava and water mix, thus they are very fine yet abrasive. This ensures even the smallest skin flakings on a callus are targeted.
- Moisturise: Finally, proper hand care calls for regular moisturizing. Yes, fellas. That includes you too. Dry hands are more susceptible to rips. You can use a regular, everyday hand moisturizer, or a specialized healing salve.
One of the most overlooked aspects of CrossFit hand care is your grip during a workout. When you hold a piece of equipment such as a barbell or pull up bar, you apply pressure between the skin and equipment. Repeated pressure damages skin, causing it to die and form a thicker piece called a callus.
In addition to this, many CrossFit movements necessitate moving our hands around the equipment, and this produces increased friction. The combination of high pressure and friction is what causes our hands to generate calluses and eventually rip.
You can reduce pressure and friction by making some slight changes to your grip. The modifications will depend on the type of workout or training. Let’s take a look at common CrossFit exercises and movements and how they relate to grip.
Think back to a time when you did a high-volume gymnastics workout. How were your hands feeling afterward? Sore? Torn? Repetitive kipping movements like toes-to-bar and pull-ups create a lot of friction, which is why hands get shredded in these types of workouts.
The next time your coach programs gymnastics training, try taking an overhand grip without wrapping your thumb underneath. Instead, hook your thumb over the bar, just like your fingers. This reduces the pressure on your hands and reduces your risk of ripping. Sure, it might be a bit uncomfortable if you’re not used to it, but it sure beats having ripped hands.
Bar Muscle Ups
A bar muscle up requires you to move your wrists over the bar, which means your hands must turn 180°, which can cause blisters. One thing we can do to help prevent rips is to grip the bar in your palms, not your knuckles. That bit of extra space allows your hand to move more freely and with less pressure and friction.
We’ve all heard our coach telling us to use a hook grip to help secure the bar in our hands when lifting. The hook grip can be painful if you're not used to it. Not only is hook grip better for performance, but also for protecting your hands. However, it’s not enough to just wrap your fingers over your thumbs, ensure your thumbs are locked into place by wrapping them around the bar.
If you’ve seen “Atalanta”, the final event of the 2020 CrossFit games, you’ll know even the top CrossFit athletes can fall victim to ripped hands. So, what do you do if you’ve got a torn hand? Firstly, you’ll want to take care of it by cleaning it up.
Let’s face it, gym equipment is pretty gross, covered in sweat, chalk, and dirt, not things you want in an open wound. Cleaning a rip is going to sting a little, but it’s essential to avoid any infections.
Next, you’ll want to get some sort of ointment or healing salve onto the wound to prevent infection and promote healing. Treating a ripped hand quickly is an essential part of the recovery process. If you think an upcoming workout might cause tears or a rip on your palm, take a hand care kit to the gym. Throughout the day, keep a band-aid (plaster) or tape over the wound, and let it dry out at night, or when you’re resting. Keep applying lotion until it’s fully healed.
Alongside a tear, you’ll usually have a piece of loose skin. Do we cut it or leave it? I would advise leaving it until the wound has dried out a bit, it can come in handy to cover an open wound. Once the wound is dry, then carefully cut it off.
The best hand care for CrossFit includes focusing on prevention and grip. You’ll want to keep your hands smooth and hydrated at all times. My three tips for taking care of your palms and fingers:
- Moisturiser regularly
- Keep calluses smooth and level with your hand
- Don’t grip your equipment too tightly
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I Wear Gloves For CrossFit?
If you've picked up blisters in a previous WOD, high-quality gloves add some protection. However, gloves make it difficult to move hands around a barbell. They work very well for something simple like a strict press, but not ideal for kipping movements and Olympic lifts.
However, gloves or hand grips can really save your skin (literally) when you train hard and should be a part of the essential equipment for everyone that works out with barbells and fixed bars.
Do I Need Grips For My Workouts?
Grips aren’t a necessity, but can be used as a tool. You might see CrossFitters wearing gymnastics grips for bar work. Since this is where most rips occur, grips can be used to help maintain a grip on the bar during larger sets. However, they are still acting as a barrier against your skin, so can still cause hand tears. Some of the most popular grips used by CrossFit athletes are Bear Komplex, and Alec Smith grips. They have been specifically designed for CrossFit performance and tough workouts.
How Do I Treat A Blister On My Hand From Lifting?
To treat a blister, follow these simple steps:
- Clean the blister area on your palm
- Apply a healing lotion
- Cover with a band-aid, plaster, or tape
- Dry the blister out when you're sleeping
- Cut off excess skin when the wound has dried
What Helps A Ripped Callus?
To speed up the healing process of a ripped callus, keep your hands clean and apply healing lotion regularly. When it’s convenient, allow the wound to dry.
How Do I Toughen Up My Hands For Crossfit?
Your hands will naturally build up calluses when performing CrossFit-style workouts. Calluses are great for protecting your hands, but make sure they don’t build up too much.