Pull-ups, Callouses, Rips, & General Hand-Management

It's started to happen again – hand rips.  The volume of pull-ups and knees to elbow has picked up and then, like a wave, incidents of folks tearing their hands during workouts spikes.  Gang, your coaches are here to help!


First and foremost, you should do everything in your power to avoid having your hand tear during a workout.  Of course, this begs the question: what causes a tear to happen?  Generally speaking, the skin on the palm of your hand or digits will rip when it's no longer able to withstand the pressure being applied from the movement being performed.  The drier, more dessicated the skin, the less the skin is capable of gliding around a bar or handle's surface.  When callouses form, they're like a ridge standing in the way of the skin's ability to glide smoothly.  While small callouses may be helpful to help grip a bar or barbell at first, as the callous becomes larger and drier, and your grip strength becomes more fatigued, eventually the shear of the weight of either your body or the object you are handling becomes too much and the top layer of skin breaks, rips or tears.  Unfortunately, tearing means that you'll be unable to do much with a torn hand for a few days to more than a week, putting a serious kibosh on your training, and making it incredibly painful to shampoo your hair each day (if you're into that sort of thing).  Therefore, rips are to be avoided.  If you're in the middle of a workout and you feel as though your hand is coming close to ripping, for wisdom's sake, if you're doing pull-ups, switch to ring rows; if you're doing toes to bar, switch to V-ups; if you're doing kettlebell swings and you don't know what movement to switch to, quickly ask a coach and we'll give you something appropriate on the fly.  Ripping does you no favors and only impedes your long-term progress.

Now, workout-prep wise: if you're a serial chalker, learn to go easy.  Applying excessive chalk before and/or during a workout is merely a crutch to inhibits your grip strength development.  On any given day, your skin is secreting lubricating oil to keep your epidermis healthy.  Rather than having to apply 2x as much chalk as is necessary on top of the oil on your palm in order to grip a bar, try instead washing your hands with warm water before the workout to remove dirt and oil and provide yourself with a clean surface that adheres chalk more easily.  Your goal should be to use the absolute minimum amount of chalk that allows you to get the job done.  The longer I've done CrossFit, the more I find that merely washing my hands before a workout and applying a light coating of chalk in a specific few places does the trick better than any larger application.  Don't rely on the chalk to do the grip work for you.

Finally, callous and hand management: no way around it, you have to either file or clip your callouses down to give yourself a smoother gliding surface on a daily basis.  There isn't a two-day stretch in the last 4 years that has gone by where I haven't sought to remove any significant callouses.  Get ahead of the game, kids.  Those pesky knee raises or chest to bars can show up almost any day and if your hands aren't ready, you could be in for some hurtin'.  

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