GUIDE TO PREVENTING & TREATING TEARS
Most (but not all) of us have day jobs or classes which don't involve much hardcore abuse. We use our hands mostly to write or type. Our hands would typically be soft and smooth. The closest we come to developing a callus is from repeatedly hitting the buttons on our keyboard.
But we are CrossFitters and Crossfit has changed our hands. We have hard, sometimes ragged, calloused palms and fingers and we wear them like a badge of honor. Instagram is full of CrossFit diehards proudly displaying their blistered, torn, bloodied badges of honor.
As soon as I fell in love with the feel of a barbell, I developed calluses and tears. I’ve ripped and healed and ripped again. Like every other CrossFitter, I felt pride and awe the first time my hands bled from too many toes-to-bar or pull-ups. But after that I realized the injuries to my hands kept me away from the pull-up bar and made the barbell painful to hold.
Even if you're capable of pushing through the pain of deadlifts or pull-ups with a flesh wound, you could be setting yourself up for nasty infections, deeper tears, and considerable recovery time. Working out with torn hands and open blisters exposes you to bacteria that can slow healing and cause infection. Additionally, the pain associated with these tears causes movement compensations that decrease performance and increase the likelihood of injury.
How do we prevent our callouses from turning on us mid-WOD?
It starts with the grip. Although adjusting your grip on the bar won’t completely prevent callouses, it will reduce them. Try gripping the bar directly in the crease of the hand where the palm meets the base of the fingers and wrap your thumbs around the bar. This neutral grip compresses less skin between the bar and your fingers, better stabilizes the hand's movement, reduces friction and you’re able to move with the bar more easily.
Also, how you work the bar is key. Try re-gripping at the top of a pull-up and avoid having a death grip on the bar.
The best treatment for a rip is to prevent it. I’ve tried gymnastics grips, gloves, athletic tape, Woddies, etc. etc. etc. But nothing felt as good or worked as well as feeling the cool, chalky bar with my bare hands.
Robin Ribeiro, a former gymnast and the owner of RipFix, says the elements of good hand care “is about everyday hand maintenance, and not just the rips.”
FILE THEM DOWN OR SHAVE THEM
Use a pumice stone, nail file, razor or callus shaver (available at your local Walgreens or CVS.) The best time to file your hands is after a shower when your callouses are clean, a bit swollen and really soft. File until you no longer feel hard edges. Your skin will still be thick, but it needs to be smooth and consistent.
Applying a moisturiser before going to sleep every night is also a good idea. Your hands should be smooth and supple,” says Robin. “Your hands don’t have to be ugly. I apply moisturiser to my hands and feet every night. It keeps the callouses from hardening and adds moisture back into your hands after chalk has dried them out.”
Photo credit: The Hands of Crossfit West Nashville
And yet, when we do rip (although we swear we’ve followed all this great advice)…?
KEEP THEM CLEAN
Wash any rips or tears with soap and water. (And wash the barbell – or rig – too. No one wants to share your hand slime or blood!) Cut away the loose skin as close as possible to the rip. Leftover skin gets hard and will catch on the bar to cause another rip. Pack in a salve to keep things soft and help them heal faster. “Really pack it in. Then wrap your hand with some gauze. You want to protect the tear but you also want some air to get in.” You can use a topical antibiotic like bacitracin. The idea is to keep it clean, treated and covered. REMEMBER: You have to keep treating your hands while they heal. Athletes make the mistake of not treating a rip like a real injury. Your hands need to recover just like the rest of you.
What if we can’t stay away from the box? What if we can’t resist? How do we protect our hands while they’re healing and still get some time in at the box?
Gymnastic grips, gloves, tape, and chalk help protect your hands, especially when it comes to workouts with high-volume reps, like CrossFit's legendary "Murph" WOD.
The combination of bars and chalk and friction make the development of callouses unavoidable. The more we work, the bigger and harder our callouses become. NOTE: excess chalk can dry out the skin on your hands and could lead to tears and rips. So, avoid dipping your entire hand into the chalk bucket and apply sparingly to only the parts of the skin that will have direct contact with equipment.
You can also make some grips from athletic tape. Here’s a chart on how to do it, but you can also Google “how to wrap hands” for different methods. Making your own grips to use them for WODs with a lot of bar work can also help prevent rips.
Remember 14.4? All those toes to bar?
Keep a hand care kit in your gym bag containing antibiotic, bandages, athletic tape and gauze. Don’t wait until you rip to start taking care of your hands. They’re an important part of your training and progress.