Hand care

Three things are inevitable in the life of a CrossFitter:

  1. Death
  2. Taxes
  3. Calluses

Due to the huge amount of work we do, sometimes our calluses tear.  A quick Google search of “crossfit hand tears” will yield thousands of pictures like the one below.  Contrary to popular belief, hand tears are not a badge of honor.  They are the result improper maintenance and lead to 1-3 weeks off of any type of training involving your hands.  They are not worth the picture that you’ll probably end up posting on Facebok (we’ve all done it).

CrossFit, you're doing it wrong.

“Look what I did at CrossFit today!”

In an attempt to save you the trouble, I’ll use this article to outline the steps you should take to maintain your calluses, prevent tears, and care for your hands after you’ve torn them to shreds.

Before we get started let me make one thing clear,  you may will develop calluses.  You’ll be putting your hands through a lot and, as a defense measure, you’ll sprout a few.  You should embrace these fleshy bumps because they signify all of the hard work you’ve put in.  Every pull up, every kettlebell swing, every snatch has earned you the right to wear your calluses with pride.  Your calluses are proof that you are making yourself more awesome.

Having said that, let’s get started with the whole prevention bit.


  • Moisturize: Use lotion, any lotion, to keep your hands nice and soft.  Dry hands will crack, rip, tear, and keep you out of the gym for weeks at a time.  Buy some lotion and use it often.  If you really want to get serious, use “corn huskers” lotion.  That stuff is the real deal.
  • Shave/sand/grind:  When it comes to keeping a callus maintained, the three easiest options are shave, sand or grind.  Pick one and do it regularly.  This is the most important preventative step outside of the gym.
    1. Shave: Get a callus shaver and use it frequently.  This is my preferred method because it’s easy to use and I don’t have to take a motorized sander to my hand.
      This is a life saver.

      This is a life saver.

    2. Sand: Grab a pumice stone and scrub away.  I recommend doing this while taking a hot shower.
    3. Grind: Pick up a Dremel (or other rotary sander) and go to town.  I’ve never done this (and never will due to a natural aversion to using power tools on my flesh) but plenty of people swear by it.
    4. Bite *(BONUS)*:  It’s easy, it’s paleo and we come equipped with the necessary tools.  Despite those truths, it’s gross so I can’t recommend it as an official option.


  • Grip: Wrap the fingers, rather than the palm, around the bar.  The friction across your palms is what causes nasty tears.  The only drawback is that this grip requires more strength in the hands, forearms and especially the fingers.  You may struggle at first , but it’ll pay dividends later.
    Is it just me, or does my left thumb look freakish large in that top-left picture?

    Is it just me, or does my left thumb look freakish large in that top-left picture?

  • No, just no. If you're caught doing this the penalty is 50 burpees.

    No, just no. If you’re caught doing this the penalty is 50 burpees.

    Chalk: Take it easy on the chalk!  I cannot overstate this.  Just so we’re all clear, chalk increases friction.  Increased friction = increased chances of you getting a tear.  Use small amounts of chalk and only use on areas where there will be contact with the bar (no need to chalk your whole body).  Also, wipe your sweat off before you chalk up.  This avoids the nasty sweat-chalk icing that never cleans up (your coaches/the cleaning crew will thank you).

  • Gloves:  As Mark Rippetoe once said, “If you insist on wearing gloves, make sure they match your purse.”  This statement, while hilarious, requires some clarification.  My opinion, and the opinion of most barbell affectionatios, is that gloves should not be worn during barbell work (deadlifts, cleans, snatches, etc).  However, I do respect the use gloves during movements like pull ups (especially the kipping variety).  The difference between the two is that a barbell will rotate with your hands and a pull up bar will not.

Times to avoid gloves: Barbell cleans/snatches/deadlifts/any other (barbell) pulling movement.
Times to think about using gloves: When a callus tear is developing or healing.
Times to use gloves (if you must): High rep pull ups/toes-to-bar/kettlebell swing/snatches/cleans.

Basically, gloves may protect your hands and they will reduce your connection with the bar.  If you really want to wear gloves, my recommendation is a pair of Mechanix-type gloves (mainly because they look more badass than the other types).

Definitely some of the coolest gloves I've seen.

Definitely some of the coolest gloves I’ve seen.

  • Stop: If you tear your hands mid-WOD, stop!  Do not gut through the rest of the WOD slinging your DNA everywhere.  Go rinse your hands water gently, then wipe down anything you may have bled on.  After the bleeding is under control, go run 4x400m repeats as punishment for not following the previous steps.

WOUND CARE (after)

  • Trim: If you’ve only opened up a blister don’t go tearing at it, just leave the skin alone.  On the other hand, if it looks like you stuck you palms on a belt sander, you’re going to want to trim away any flapping bits.  Be careful that you don’t cut away any healthy skin, just use some small scissors (I really shouldn’t have to specify, but make sure they’re sterile) to snip the mangled stuff away.
  • Clean: Keep your hands clean.  Frequently (and gently) wash them with soap and warm water.  Let them breathe with minimal, if any, bandaging.  If they become infected, you’re in trouble.
  • Wait: Be patient and wait until your hands are COMPLETELY healed before you get back to crushing WODs.  Work on squats, sprints and situps until you’re good to go.  A few extra days waiting will only cost you a few days.  Starting a few days early could open your hands right back up.

Most of you will probably heed this advice AFTER you’ve already torn your hands, but oh well.  Some people learn when the see the light, others when they feel the heat.

In closing, remember that calluses are like our inappropriate friends.  They are good to have around most of the time, but they’ll make a big mess if not kept in check.

*UPDATE 3/7/14*
The first time around I left out gymnastics-style grips as I had no personal experience with them.  I still have never used them myself however, I know a number of people who swear by them.  They’re not magic (I’ve seen hand tears while people use them correctly) but they can help out quite a bit.  SO… check them out.

gymnastic grips

Click the picture to see Rogue’s selection. No, I’m not getting money from them… dammit.


  1. I like the hand care piece, KStarr and CPaoli might disagree on the hand positioning though.


  2. Mitch Medeiros says

    For sure, those guys always know what’s up.

    At least Rip agrees with me http://youtu.be/9OK-S3ZJZxQ

  3. Thank you! For the humor and the words of wisdom… they are appreciated. 🙂

  4. Great article!! For wound care and maintenance we have a great product that we sell to CF boxes worldwide check out RipFix. Speeds up recovery and when used along side with a pumice daily it keeps hands healthy,
    WinniesRipFix.com. We believe in hand care.


  1. […] Hi everyone, I have just come across a great article about hand care that everybody should read, regardless of whether you use barbells or only train with your bodyweight. Find it at the following link! […]

  2. […] (Photo cred and link to good tips)Here are some good video links for grip issues and the bar. They really helped me. GRIP and Callus Video Link & Another one of his videos […]

Speak Your Mind