How to Take Care of Your Hands

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By JOEL TOLEDANO

If you lift weights or do a lot of pullups, your hands are going to rip at some point. This not only hurts (the initial hot shower has brought many a tough athlete to tears), but more importantly it limits your ability to train while you heal.

How do you maintain your hands in order to avoid rips and continue training? And why should you care – it is just a simple blister on your hand, right?

“While calluses are a layer of protection and a testament to hard work, excessive calluses can be troublesome and lead to injury.”
Think again. Gymnasts and rock climbers deal with this issue all the time, and treat skin injuries very seriously. Spend a few minutes reading about MRSA, a super bug that is more dangerous and tougher to treat than staph infections, and you will not look at that blood-stained pullup bar quite the same again.

Let’s take a dive into some practical methods related to hand pre-hab — yes, you really can prevent hand rips and tears if you are conscientious enough.

How to take care of your hands before trouble strikes

There are two qualities that make your hands susceptible to ripping – you either have soft hands with little or no callus build-up, or too much callus build-up that makes bumps or ridges on the surface of your hands. You need the happy medium – deep but smooth and supple calluses that protect the hands but remain intact when working.

To protect your hands, avoid the “white glove approach” to chalk that people sometimes use, especially if they are nervous and think they need extra grip before a workout with a lot of pullups or similar exercises. CrossFit Nor’Easter sums it up well:

Use some chalk. Just enough to prevent slippage though! Don’t go overboard. Why? Slippage causes friction, and friction causes calluses and tears. Plus soggy sweaty skin tears easier.

Calluses

What are calluses?
CrossFit Virtuosity clearly defines them:

Calluses are areas of thickened skin caused by repeated friction and pressure. They form to protect the skin and the structures beneath it from injury or damage. While calluses are a layer of protection and a testament to hard work, excessive calluses can be troublesome and lead to injury. For example, when doing high repetitions of pullups the excess skin can grind between the bar and the hand and eventually tear away. So it is in our best interest to keep our calluses smooth and shaved down to avoid further complications.

Do everything you can to keep calluses to a minimum. They are essentially unstable layers of dead skin that will adhere to the underlying “healthy layers” and create a large opening in the skin when they do tear. If you are really consistent with your moisturizing, calluses will present less of an issue, as the skin will naturally slough more effectively rather than building up heavy, rough, layers of dead skin.

Consider using a pumice stone to keep calluses in check using these techniques from Gymnaworld:

Prevent excess callous from building up by rubbing the affected areas with a pumice stone. To find the areas of excess callous, soak the hands in water for about 10 minutes and you will be able to notice areas on the palm that retain a whitish color while the rest of the skin stays pink. Use the pumice stone only as necessary. Excessive use will cause the hands to be constantly sore during workouts.

The second item you may want to consider using is a callus shaver. This tool is a little more heavy duty and is good for especially tough skin – invest in one if you have serious calluses or are the type that only takes care of your hands when things get really bad.

For some alternative methods to take care of calluses, check out this video from CrossFit Los Angeles. Some parts might be a bit overboard (a Dremel rotary sander?) but it provides good instruction on areas of hand maintenance such as how to use scissors to keep calluses manageable.

For an even more “alternative” take on hand maintenance, take a look at how to use a butter knife to keep calluses in check:


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