Whether it is kettlebells, rowing, CrossFit, weightlifting, or any number of other activities, your hands take a serious beating. The sensitive skin on your palms can get rough and rip open. Rips are painful, unattractive, and a hindrance to further training. But what can you do to prevent rips? And once a rip occurs, how do you treat it?
The first step is taking care of your hands before damage occurs. Ideally, your hands would be completely smooth. If your skin is not rough and lumpy, there is nothing to catch on the bar when you are lifting or doing pull ups or on the kettlebell when you’re swinging or snatching.
Excellent tools for shaving down your calluses are a pumice stone, a PedEgg, or a corn or callus shaver. For those with less patience and a little more bravery, the Dremel is by far the most effective and efficient tool for shaving calluses. Use the sanding tool that comes with the Dremel and start at a slow speed. Work your way up to higher speeds as you gain confidence using it. You just want to grind off the dead skin. Trust me, you’ll know if you hit good skin by accident!
Of course, no matter how great the tool, it doesn’t do any good if you’re not using it. Get in the daily habit of shaving your hands. A perfect time is right after you get out of the shower when your skin is puffy and soft.
Prevention During the Workout
Now what happens now that you start the workout? There are a few tools we can use to keep the rips at bay.
Chalk: Chalk is a double-edged sword. Small amounts keep your hands dry and help your grip. This means you are less likely to hold the bar too tightly, which is a good thing as far as callus prevention. On the other hand, chronic over-chalkers may actually be creating more friction by having so much chalk on their hands. Be frugal with the chalk and use a towel to dry your hands between sets.
Grip: Think about how you actually grip the barbell, pull up bar, or kettlebell. Are you grabbing it way down in the palm of your hand? Or are you grabbing it more with your fingers? Think about how rock climbers use their fingers to grip, rather than their whole hand. Think about the fact you are hanging on something, not pushing. The bar, or the kettlebell handle, should not be all the way into the meat of your palm. That will only cause more folds of skin to bunch up and increase the likelihood of ripping. Practice hanging onto things with just your first couple knuckles.
Leather Hand Grips: If you have sensitive skin or you work in a profession where you cannot tolerate ripped palms, consider using leather hand grips. These take some getting used to, and it is possible to still rip even while wearing a grip, but they will help tremendously once you adjust to using them. You can also make something similar yourself out of athletic tape, but it won’t be as durable.
It Just Takes Time
Conditioning your palms is like building up any other part of your body. It takes time.You will go through a period where no matter how careful you are, your hands will rip at a high enough volume of exercise. Be patient and be careful. Your hands will come out tougher on the other side.
NOTE: It does not make you cool to rip your hands. Real athletes care for their bodies and that includes the skin on their palms.
What If I Already Ripped?
But now what happens once a rip has occurred? What can you do to heal quickly and safely?
#1: Wash It Out: The first thing to do when your hand rips is clean it out well. It’s going to be painful, but you need wash it out with warm water and soap. Depending on the state of the gym you’re in, you may also want to rinse it with iodine.
#2: Trim Excess Skin: If the skin looks like it might catch and rip further, then use sterilized scissors and trim the excess skin away. If the tear is small and more like a burst blister, than leave the skin to protect the healthy flesh underneath.
#3: Bandage and Keep Moist: The key to healing quickly and minimizing pain is to keep the wound site moist. Use a product with vitamin E, or anything from Vaseline to bag balm can do the trick. But keeping the rip moist will prevent it from drying and tearing further.
#4: Bag It Overnight: One trick many gymnasts use is to wear gloves or plastic bags over the hands at night. It keeps your hands moisturized and also helps prevent you from spreading lotion all over your bedding.
How to Train With Ripped Hands
You have ripped your hand, but you want to keep training. What can you do? Three different options are quick and easy:
New Skin: Applying liquid New Skin will create a tough, synthetic layer over your rip. Be aware, New Skin sticks to healthy skin, too, and if it starts to peal off you do not want to pull on it.
Synthetic Skin Patch: There are a number of different brands out there and they work with varying success, so you’ll need to test the out on your own skin and while doing your sport or activity of choice.
Leather Hand Grips: You can always use the same leather grips you wore when you were trying to prevent your rips to begin with. Keep your rips moisturized and bandaged, and wear the grips over the bandage.
But, remember the best way to deal with rips is to prevent them. Take good care of your hands, keep your calluses to an absolute minimum, don’t grip the bar too tight, and use grips if you need to. This simple advice will help you get through your training with less pain and more enjoyment.
Photo 1 by Horst74 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo 2 courtesy of CrossFit Impulse.