The CrossFit competition season is almost upon us, which can mean for some people that getting rips and blisters is more frequent. Even if you are not planning on participating in competitions, the following tips might be useful for your general hand care knowledge bank.
1) Taking care of calluses, and minimising blisters and rips.
For those of you who have just started training, and are wondering what is happening to your beautiful soft hands: What is a callus? It is skin that becomes thick and hard (in CrossFit, usually just around the first finger joints and the palm) caused by continuous friction from gripping equipment that is used in training.
After having done CrossFit for a few months, you will most likely notice that your skin becomes hard and bumpy in these areas, after using the pull up bar, Kettlebells and the Olympic Weightlifting bar, and any other bar shaped equipment you might grip repeatedly rotate your hands around. This is normal, and just requires a bit of up-keep to avoid rips, and blisters, which are painful and take a while to heal.
Firstly, any of the treatments below work best when the skin is soft. So soak your hands first in warm water for 10 minutes or treat them while you are in the shower/bath.
a) Pumis Stone
(you can buy this in a pharmacy).
At the beginning of you training journey, when your hands are still soft, it isn’t necessary to cut too much skin away. You can use a pumis stone to rub away the small amount of excess hard skin and keep it smooth.
b) Skin Grater
(you can buy this in a pharmacy)
This is usually used for the hard skin on the feet, but it can easily be used on the hands when your calluses become a bit bigger and thicker. They are available in different grades of roughness. I have one with a rougher side and a finer side. I mostly use the finer side.
c) Nail Clipper & Callus Cutter
(you can buy this in a pharmacy)
When your calluses get a bit thicker, instead of picking at them or trying to bite them off, which is always funny to see, for the coaches (you cant get close enough with your teeth, into that hard-to-reach spot, we’ve all tried), you might want to use a pair of nail clippers to cut away the thicker part instead. Then use the skin grater to get rid of the rough cuts and the pumis stone to smooth off at the end.
I find it best to use a straight edged nail clipper, rather than a curved one, as it is easy to cut too deep with the corners of a curved nail cutter. I start by cutting around the edge of each callus to get rid of the thickest part in the middle and then I’ll trim away any other bits of thicker skin that might be left over.
If I know I will be doing alot of pull ups (like more than 60), I usually will wait until after that training session to cut them, although sometimes this cannot be planned. The reason is just because sometimes the day after you trim your calluses, the skin might be a bit tender and ache a bit, where you cut and treated it. If you only have a few pull ups to do then you should be OK.
An alternative tool to use for thicker calluses is a callus cutter, which is a handle with a double edged wet-shave blade attached to it. You hold the blade down on the edge of your callus, with your hand open and the skin stretched tight, and pull the blade across it, cutting off the thick excess skin. Careful not to go too deep at first.
I’ve tried both of these tools and I prefer the nail clipper to the callus cutter. I feel that I can get more of the skin off, over a larger surface area, and that I have more control on my cutting. The nail clipper method may take a little longer though. That is my personal preference, and I advise you to try both methods and see which one works best for you.
2) Healing Blisters:
a) If you have a blister that is under the skin and not burst. Leave it alone.
b) If you have a blood blister, or a blister that is full of liquid. I would suggest to pierce it with a sterile pin and drain the liquid. Then leave it like that. No Band Aid. You might find that the skin will rip off anyway, when you next do some bar work, but it should be less painful if you drain it.
3) Healing Rips:
a) If you do get a full on rip, but its not a deep one, I would suggest to cut off the excess skin and let it dry. You can rub some Vitamine E oil, essential Lavendar oil or Polysporin on it to heal it faster.
b) If you get a full on rip with blood everywhere and the skin is gone, and there’s a big mess, well you might have to ease off the bar work for a day or two if that is possible, to avoid too much pain. I would suggest to treat these rips like burns. Run cold water over them to clean them up, and try to keep them clean and dry. No Band Aid. Do not put any oil on them for the first 24-48hrs. It will burn like hell!
When the raw under layers of skin have had a chance to stop « weeping » liquid, you can put Vitamine E, essential Lavendar oil or Polysporin on it, to help the new skin grow back. After a few days, when some new skin has regenerated, this is the time when the rip can get really fragile and crack when you get back on your bar work. It is really important during this time to keep the new skin really hydrated with and to avoid using excessive amounts of chalk, as this could just deepen the cracks and become painful. Grip your bar as lightly as you can to avoid excessive friction and pulling on the new skin. Or grip it in a way that your hands do not rotate around the equipment!
Depending on where the rip is, you can also use tape, hand guards or tight fitting gloves, to help protect your hands.
In general, with the type of training we do in CrossFit, it is useful to develop a controlled thickness of skin on your hands. Trimming once every 2 weeks should be OK, and moisturising your hands after a big session of bar work can also be a good idea. If your skin is too humid and soft, you will most likely get rips with a higher volume of bar work. With regular cutting and grooming of the calluses, you should be able to develop a tougher layer of skin, which will be more resistant to rips in the long term. At the beginning of my time in CrossFit, I did rip on a regular basis, but over time I have learnt how to not over-grip the bar whilst doing pull ups etc. And how to keep my calluses at an optimim thickness, where they protect my hands. These days, the only time I might tape-up, is if I have a high volume of heavy deadlifts and/or snatches to do. In this instance I would just tape my thumbs. These days, that’s as much as I need. And i apply a generous amount of hand-cream before going to bed after a high-volume hand day! It helps sooth the aching the next day.
As a final note. Regarding hand protecting equipment: What should you use?
There is a whole range of hand protective gear out there. I personally do not use it very often. Unless there are a whole bunch of rope climbs to do, I manage without. Using hand guards, I would suggest to use the thinnest skin you can to maintain the biggest grip around the bar. I would suggest to keep the guard as tight as possible (in the case of gloves), and leather hand guards. If you buy some leather hand guards, be aware that they take some time to break-in and form to your hands. They can be a bit painful at first. Recently there are a few brands that have released silicone or rubber coated hand protection which is pretty effective at sticking to the bar.
I do not recommend using this equipment. I acknowledge it exists, and personally I do not think it is necessary unless you do several training sessions a day with alot of volume on bar work. Most of us do not fall into this category. I do encourage you to try things out for yourself, and to develop your own preferences. After having done gymnastics as a kid, then 7 years as a climber and now 5 years of CrossFit, I have developed my own way of keeping my calusses under control, without relying on extra fancy equipment. This experience what I have shared here. I hope it comes in handy for some of you.