CrossFit Hand Care Guide
Whether you’ve only ever heard people at the gym talking about hand tears (read about one such experience from one of our members here) or you’ve experienced them yourself, you’ll probably agree that they’re not the most fun thing athletes experience during strength training. However, with an ounce of preventative action and a good understanding of how to treat them if they happen, hand tears can be traversed easily and (almost) painlessly.
What Causes Hand Tears?
If you’ve never encountered hand tears outside the gym, it may seem like something only athletes experience. However, this is not the case. Hand tears are simply the result of over-stressing the skin on your hands. Activities that cause hand tears range widely and could include anything from digging holes to pulling ropes, or any other strenuous activity that causes friction against your bare hands. Tears are a simple matter of conditioning: when your hands are not conditioned for the work you’re attempting, tears could occur.
A few specific exercises commonly performed in the CrossFit and strength training setting are the most likely to cause tears. These include anything performed on a pull-up bar or gymnastics rings (including knees-to-chest, toes-to-bar, pull-ups, and muscle-ups) or rope (rope climbs, etc.). However, other exercises (barbell work) could cause hand tears if they subject your hands to constant friction.
How Do You Avoid Them?
A few steps can help greatly reduce your risk of experiencing hand tears. These include:
- Building up your hand conditioning over time. This may happen naturally — when you start many of the skilled movements involved in CrossFit, you may not have the capacity or endurance for more than a few reps at a time. As you practice and increase your stamina for these movements, your hand conditioning level will also increase.
- Gymnastic grips (the Bear Komplex brand is a gym favorite) can help protect your hands as you first begin or as you add repetition volume to your regimen.
- NOTE: Be careful with grips — they can be slick, especially when new. Make sure you test out your grips carefully to avoid slipping off (or flying off) a bar during the heat of a workout. Seriously. It’s embarrassing, painful, and can ruin your training by causing injury.
- SECOND NOTE: The coaches at FitFarm do not advocate wearing grips as a long-term solution. Easing into bar work and gradually increasing your hand conditioning at the same rate is more strategic. However, athletes who intend to complete a high volume of bar work benefit from the use of grips, and they do provide a robust level of protection against tears.
- Athletic tape can be used in place of grips to help stave off hand tears. Instructions for making a temporary grip from athletic tape can be found in this document.
- Simply remaining aware during your workout can help prevent a large percentage of hand tears. This article includes a helpful guide to correctly gripping the bar as well as how to regrip the bar should you notice friction or pain during a workout. Remaining conscious about not overusing chalk during a workout (which will increase friction and dry out your hands) can also go a long way to prevent hand tears.
- Keep calluses even by shaving them down. It may seem counterintuitive — after all, calluses develop to protect your hands, don’t they? But by keeping the skin on your hands even and flat, you reduce the risk of uneven surfaces and thicknesses to exacerbate or tear surrounding skin. Inexpensive tools are available to you at many local grocery or drug stores including pumice stones, callus shavers, and more, but specialty tools like this one can also be bought online or from CrossFit sources.
- Wash hands immediately when finished training. It sounds simple, but gyms involve lots of shared sweat and germs. Removing contaminants from your hands immediately can help drastically improve overall hand skin health and reduce the risk of tears.
- Apply cream after workouts/showers. Once your hands are clean and you’ve removed excess calluses, use a cream or lotion to revitalize hand skin and keep it moist. Bag Balm is a favorite product used by many of the FitFarm coaches that can be purchased online or at many local grocery and drug stores. Winnie’s RipFix (another favorite of the FitFarm coaches) is a well-regarded proprietary hand care brand that offers both preventative and treatment products. There are plenty of other CrossFit-specific products out there as well. Simply make sure that whatever you choose keeps the skin moist, does not irritate, and does not leave your hands greasy (no one wants to walk around with perpetually greasy hands).
How Do I Treat Hand Tears?
What if, even after you’ve crafted and begun a well-researched hand care routine, you experience a hand tear? Do not fear! All is not lost. The following steps will help you treat your hand tears and get you back into your CrossFit, gymnastics, or strength training regimen as quickly as possible.
1. Clean well. As soon as possible after the skin tears, wash the tear thoroughly with soap and water. This includes underneath the ripped skin. Yep, it stings and sucks. But the better you clean it, the more quickly it will heal.
2. Leave tear intact (do not tear off ripped skin). Tearing off the ripped skin will lengthen the healing process and increase the risk of exposure to contaminants. Leave those flaps of skin on there – at least for now.
3. Keep just moistened to avoid drying out, but leave tears open to the air during the day. As soon as you’ve thoroughly cleaned the tear, apply a bit of your lotion/balm of choice. This will help adhere the ripped skin to the surface of the wound so it’s not flapping around and will keep the wound from drying out too quickly.
4. Bandage at night. Unless the tear is inhibiting, try to leave it open to the air during the day to aid healing. However, at night, bandage with ointment or lotion to keep the skin from becoming worn or contaminated while you sleep. Many coaches recommend covering with bandage or gauze and then securing with self-adhering wrap or loosely-wrapped athletic tape. Cheap, thin fabric gloves can also protect the bandaged hand(s).
6. After 2-4 days (or when the flap becomes hard), clip off dead skin with CLIPPERS. You can buy special clippers but fingernail clippers will also work swimmingly. Do not rip off old skin. I repeat: Do not rip off old skin. It almost always tears too far and creates a fresh wound.
7. Continue to apply ointments to keep moist and aid the healing process. A few product suggestions included above.
8. Rest from bar work until skin does not look raw.
9. After 3-5 days, you can begin to return to bar work but use protective gear while healing. Grips can be helpful during this process, but see notes above for suggestions and cautions regarding using grips. Bandages secured by athletic tape can also effectively protect the new skin from further injury.
Understanding hand care is an important part of gym involvement. Strategically increasing your hand conditioning over time, putting a little bit of effort into hand care to keep them well-groomed for gym work, and making sure you are prepared to handle any hand tears will greatly enhance your gym experience and minimize any time spent off the bar in healing mode.