The Quick Ins and Outs of Hand Care

Blister rips. Callus tears. Bloody hands.

They're an injury. Period. People treat them like trophies, in a way... to get a blister rip or a callus tear from pull-ups is almost like a rite of passage in CrossFit. Yes, they're bound to happen. But should they be happening every time you get on a pull-up bar? No way. That's ridiculous, in fact.

So what are you doing wrong? Well, first of all, nothing. Second of all... everything.

We're built as human beings to develop resistance to movement on our skin in the form of calluses. A callus is an area of thick skin... the thickening forms at points where there is a lot of repeated movement for a period of time— such as the hours spent on a pull-up bar at a CrossFit gym. The skin hardens from the pressure over time and eventually layers build up, forming a tough grayish or yellowish surface that may feel bumpy.

Tears are very, very common. In fact, they're the most common "injury" we see at the gym-- on any given day of pull-ups or toes to bar/knees to elbows, we'll have someone tear. It's painful, and momentarily debilitating. But, there are ways to keep from tearing, or at the very least, prolong the time before a callus tears away.

One major contribution to blisters and calluses is chalk. A lot of you, A LOT, use way too much chalk. In fact, chalk actually causes rips. Chalk is both awesome and horrible for workouts. Yes, chalk helps keep the hands dry.  But it also increases the friction between your skin and the bar. Therefore I usually recommend none at all, unless it's actually dangerous in some way because of humidity or sweat. In that case, a little chalk goes a long way.

CrossFitters Love Chalk


Hand care has been well-chronicled in CrossFit and also in the gymnastics world.  There are good ways to grip the pull-up bar, as explained here. Also, CrossFit Virtuosity put together a 4 part series on how to take care of your hands. All are worth the read or view.

Amplify Recommendations First things first, pledge to take care of your stinkin' hands. It's what we use to hold on to things. Things like barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and pull-up bars. In many movements we do, it's the only point of contact with a weighted implement, aka, a "load."

Find the following two items to care for calluses, blisters, and rips or tears:

  • Use a callus shaver to cut away the majority of the dead skin that builds up on your hands. Google callus shavers here. It's an easy and fun way (yes, really) to use a razor blade and take away the unnecessary build up that causes some discomfort.
  • Also use some type of pumice stone to flatten the surface area between your hand and the bar.  Google pumice stones here. The bigger the callus, the more likely it is to tear. Scrubbing away that dead skin is essential to keeping your hand from tearing.

These two methods should literally help cut down the callus build up on your hands. Do so after a shower, when the skin is soft enough to easily shave and pumice away. Blisters may still be a freak accident that come up with high repetition movements, but shavers and pumice stones will really help toughen up the skin on the hands. If you truly take care of your hands using these two simple methods, blisters should rarely pop up.

Finally, in case of a torn callus or blister, here are some ideas on rips and quality care during the healing process so you can still workout:

Step 1: Look good doing it.

Tearing For an Impressive Reason

Step 2: Find a temporary pain killer.

Taping Your Hands

Another Explanation on Tape


Step 3: Solve the problem.

Hand Care

Gorilla Grip


Rips may look tough (Fran, anyone?), but in order to limit your time away from essential training, the take home message is 1.) cut down on the chalk, 2.) take preventative measures, and 3.) be smart with any rips that may come up.

It's as easy as 3-2-1-GO.

-Scott, 8.20.2012