Handling Calluses & Torn Skin When Training
We all love lifting weights and doing cool shit but we don’t really care about the linchpin in this game – the hands. If your hands are damaged or not functioning then training becomes impossible, virtually.
I’ve recently rehabbed the worst calluses you could imagine; blood, deep cuts and weeks worth of worse than normal grip strength.
In all fairness it’s the first time I’ve wrecked my hands to that disgusting extent, but it got me thinking of ways to eliminate the possibility of recurrence. Obviously the cardio bunnies, glove fanboys and machine warriors will struggle to relate to this post all that well…….but the weightlifters, powerlifters, bodybuilders, gymnasts and calisthenic enthusiasts certainly will.
Why do we get calluses anyway?
Calluses are caused by friction to the skin. While they feel uncomfortable, they’re not inherently bad, they’re just your bodies way of adapting to the friction the hands are receiving. The body responds by adding more layers of skin which is more resistant to friction. The issue is this process can take time and torn skin can be painful and worse still, prevent effective training while you wait for your mittens to man up.
The worst thing you can do is excessively pick at them. So all you nailbiters and chronic skin chewers are naturally more at risk of picking their calluses to pieces. I know because that was me, many times.
If you do find yourself with scabby and blood ridden calluses, something that helped me immensely was soaking my hands in Epsom salt water. Keep the hands submerged for at least 10 minutes consecutively and this can be done multiple times per day. An even easier way of doing this is to just have an Epsom salt bath! Side Note: This is a good way to get magnesium into the body too.
Filing the dead skin is another recommended method, although one I don’t have personal experience with, it makes sense. You remove the layers of dead skin but in a controlled manner, rather than ripping them straight off.
Is this a time when you would actually endorse gloves?!
If you like wearing gloves then by all means keep doing it. Personally I’ve never been a fan of artificial aids. Maybe I’m taking functional too far with my line of thinking? Surely you want your training to develop your body in the best possible way? If you ever need to hang on to something or climb something, will you have to start phoning your dad to bring your gloves over?
People also think gloves offer better grip. In 90% of cases this is wrong. Some gloves are in fact designed to help with grip but standard lifting gloves are worse when it comes to pull ups and general hanging exercises. I remember when I stubbornly tried to train calisthenics outdoors all winter last year – I tried gloves on days where it had been raining and the air was damp………..the gloves made my grip WORSE.
Now I may be strong in my beliefs but I’m anything if dogmatic; the one time where I could endorse glove use would be when your calluses are so cut up they stop you being able to train pain free. In this instance, gloves can act as a cushion and allow you to salvage some standard workout-wise.
There’s always a time and place for something. It’s all contextual and situational. There are plenty of seemingly silly fitness concepts and they’re easy targets for mockery, but a good trainer or coach will be able to see where they’re worth something and where they’re worth-less.
Wrist Callouses From Muscle Ups?
Image credit: ringfraternity.com – torn skin on wrists thanks to the false grip.
Anyone who has trained for, or trains, strict muscle ups (on rings in particular) will have experienced the equally unsightly and uncomfortable wrist calluses, that are thanks to the skin tearing courtesy of the friction. This is unavoidable to a reasonable extent but there are certainly methods of damage limitation. One such method is not training beyond the point of tears. This takes discipline. It’s hard to want to stop such a cool move but let me ask you this……..
What’s better, one session of a silly amount of sets that leaves your wrists so sore you can’t flex them without agonising pain, or a session where you train just shy of the skin tearing, which allows you to train again within 48-72 hours? Once you start thinking in terms of quality accumulation, progress becomes almost effortless. Those rules apply here more than ever. 2-3 hard sets is enough and your skin should be able to handle that without tearing. Of course, the wrists will adapt over time to handle more but for the now, be patient and modest with your volume – especially at full intensity.
Is your false grip actually correct?
The placement of the ring/bar with the false grip is more important than you could ever realise. Learning this lesson took me over a year. The bar/rings don’t rest on the wrist itself, they’re supposed to sit just above – on the fleshy area at the bottom of your palm. This takes more grip and hand strength but spares your skin. Yet again it may be a case of slashing the ego and rebuilding a properly placed false grip from scratch.
If you’re in this for the long haul, injuries and setbacks are aplenty. Torn skin and damaged hands should be the least of your worries.
JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.
Good post. I’ve been working on my ring false grip and have calculus on the fleshy part of my hand just above the wrist. Looks like I’m getting the right grip. Nice post.
Sounds like you’re in the right place. Do you get much blistering on the wrists? I find chalk helps massively with being able to maintain the correct false grip, without having to ‘over-gripping’ the rings.
Great post. I get lots of hard calluses on my fingers and palms from deadlifting, especially in the wintertime as the air is dry and cold.
Thanks Josh, just don’t let them tear off. Honestly, it’s taken around a month to have normal looking hands again! Haha