Let’s talk about “Crossfit hands”
Disclaimer: they’re not pretty.
Crossfit takes a pretty big toll on your hands, and it’s rather unavoidable. Remember my gym essentials post? There are a lot of items in my gym bag devoted just to my hands – and there’s a pretty good reason why! One tear on your palm or thumb, and it’s pretty hard to continue. Not to mention, you might be in a little trouble for getting blood on the rig!
My current hand status isn’t too bad right now – I tore my palm a few weeks ago (I’ve graciously shared a photo) and it’s almost fully healed – but I have to be cautious not to rip it again before it’s totally ready! I have a callous under each middle, ring, and pinky finger on both hands (none have torn). I also have blisters on the inside of each thumb right below the knuckle; my left hand has healed but my right won’t quit! Unfortunately, I use my right hand all day at work to hold my tablet pen, so this area hasn’t gotten much of a rest.
What gives? Why are Crossfit hands such a wreck?
You use ’em for everything! But really though, your hands come into contact with a TON of friction during a workout. Take a look:
- Cleans and snatches give you blisters (or spare you the blister and just rip your skin straight off) along the inside of your thumbs, from constantly flipping the bar from a hang position to a supported position. The bar is textured for grip, but it can also act like hand sandpaper! Dumbbell cleans and dumbbell snatches are a bit more gentle, but can also create a lot of rubbing along your thumb.
- Pull-ups and toes-to-bar (as well as the bar muscle-up) pinch the skin below your fingers and cause callouses at the top of your hands; if you grip lower into the palm you may tear the center of it! This is where that classic “ripped palm” comes from. Be sure to grab the bar more where your fingers meet your hands to avoid this.
- Kettlebell swings also pinch the top of your hand and can rough up the undersides of your fingers and create callouses there.
- Chalk is amazing for drying out your palms and giving you a better grip – but this is because it helps create friction between your hand and whatever it is you’re holding. More friction means you are more prone to roughing up your skin!
Since you’ll never go a week without any one of this appearing in your programming at LEAST once, expect some damage. And if you’re like me, a few broken nails! I don’t have time to delicately remove plates from the floor or off my barbell – I’m ripping them off with my fingertips and whatever happens to that manicure, well, happens.
The importance of hand care
As much as wearing grips and taping your thumbs helps prevent painful blisters or scrapes, it’s crucial to take good care of your hands when you do Crossfit! So what should you do?
- Moisturize! Dry skin is more prone to cracking (everyone has experienced this in the winter), and thus is more fragile in the gym. Additionally, the more cracks and scrapes your hands endure, the more likely things are to get infected. Keep your hands well moisturized year round to keep skin healthy enough to repair itself quickly and last through tough workouts. Chalk is like anti-lotion!
- Shave down callouses. This one sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? But in all seriousness – I keep a pumice stone in my shower and after every workout, I “sand” them down with the stone to keep roughness at bay. Why? Any torn or jagged skin is at danger of tearing! It’s like putting a convenient “pull tab” on your hand and just increases your chances of making it worse. Sanding them down keeps your palms smooth and catch-free on the bar.
- Preventative taping or grips. If you know you’re headed into a workout with a lot of bar work (cleans, for me), tape your thumbs beforehand. Or, wear leather grips for protection while maintaining a good grip – however, I don’t recommend wearing grips TOO often – you need to build up good grip strength and tough skin. You’ll thank yourself later when you don’t have to do the next step, if you do tear!
- Clean & let heal. If the worst happens and you get a pretty bad tear or blister on your hand, make sure it’s clean – after cutting away any excess skin, wash your hands thoroughly (and yell profanities while doing so), apply Neosporin (and vitamin E oil if you like), and bandage loosely for the first night while you sleep. The next day, let it DRY OUT – this is the best advice I’ve received! Your wound needs air to heal, and the faster it gets air, the sooner you’re back to doing cleans and toes-to-bar.
I highly recommend keeping a little “hand care kit” in your gym bag, so you can take care of hand issues right on site. This can be as simple as lotion, tape, Neosporin, gauze wraps, and nail clippers (for cutting away ripped skin, but also handy if you tear a nail – those hurt!)
Now there are TONS of specialized products out there for taking care of your hands in Crossfit – I haven’t used any, though, so I can’t honestly recommend something! But, if you’re curious in checking anything out, Rogue has a pretty good supply (like, an entire page dedicated to hand care – that’s how important it is!) But the bottom line is, you don’t need a ton to take care of your hands properly – moisturize, keep smooth, and treat rips immediately. Boom.
Hand care is just another part of maintaining the well-oiled machine that is your body; you wouldn’t neglect diet or sleep, and your hands roll in with that! You won’t be able to perform good pull-ups if your hands are in excruciating pain or you can’t even grip the bar. Work this into your daily routine so you can be your best at the gym!