Let’s talk about…HAND CARE!
Wednesday’s workout has a LOT of pull ups. 150, to be precise! High volume pull ups and toes to bar can be really tough on hands. We frequently see members get rips and torn calluses from workouts like this. While this might feel like a CrossFit badge of honor to some people, it will definitely interfere with your training for the next week or two. It’s hard to hang on to anything if you have open wounds on your palms! Besides, they are easy to avoid if your primary goal is general fitness.
Two prefatory remarks:
- If you’re wondering what it means to rip your hands, type “ripped hands CrossFit” into your search bar and you’ll come up with an abundance of images.
- While I do possess many skills, I am NOT a medical professional. This article outlines steps I have used to successfully prevent and heal from multiple hand tears. It does not supersede actual medical advice.
How can you avoid ripping your hands and taking yourself out of commission for the next few days?
- Callus Care
The most immediate thing you can do is make sure you don’t have any big calluses on your hands. If you have large calluses built up, they are big chunks of dead skin that are just waiting to be ripped off. (That’s a fairly gross, yet accurate, description.) Keep your calluses trimmed. You can use cuticle nippers, pumice stones, or anything else abrasive. Don’t cut too deeply — you just want to take the dead skin off. You don’t have to get obsessive about it, but if you know there are lots of pull ups coming on, check your hands the night before and get rid of any big calluses before you come in.
Another quick fix is to experiment with how you grip the bar. Feel the difference between a false grip, where your palm is over the bar, and a fingertip grip, where your fingers curve around the bar. Using something closer to a false grip gets your wrist higher relative to the bar, which reduces your range of motion. This can be really helpful when doing chest to bar pull ups, but is usually not necessary for chin over bar pull ups. Gripping the bar in different ways places pressure on different parts of your hand. Practice both grips and see which one feels better to you. Pay attention to how your hands feel while you’re doing pull ups; if they start to get sensitive or you can feel a rip coming, try switching up how you’re holding the bar.
- Volume (Long Term Fix)
The best way to prepare for the demands of high volume pull ups is to…do lots of pull ups. Keep in mind we program for the top 5-10% of members in our gym: people who have all the skills, can handle heavy barbell movements well, and have generally been doing CrossFit for a long time. The expectation is that a majority of our members will modify the workouts in some way to create a similar stimulus. If you got your first strict pull up a few months ago and can now string together a few kipping pull ups, that’s great! However, doing 150 in a workout is not going to be the best option as far as your hands (and shoulders) are concerned. Give yourself time to build the appropriate muscle endurance and build up your grip strength.
How should you go about doing this? Start with doing lots of STRICT pull ups, then layer on kipping practice, then increase volume in WODs. Do you think doing strict pull ups won’t help you get better at kipping? Imagine if it was as easy to do ten strict pull ups as it currently is to do one. You would have far better grip strength, and would need to kip far less aggressively to get your chin over the bar. The more controlled your kip is, the less your hands will move on the pull up bar; the less friction between your hands and the bar, the less risk you will have of tearing. Not quite sure how to layer this all together? Here’s where I’ll insert a plug for individualized coaching. We create the training progressions for you, so all you have to do is show up and put in the work!
Gloves and grips can be a useful tool to help protect your hands. As an infrequent aid, they are effective. However, they should not replace putting in the work to develop your grip strength and toughen your hands over time. You should not need to use protection every time you get on the bar. If you keep looking for a better way to protect your hands but haven’t been willing to put in the time to develop your strength, you’re not setting yourself up for long-term success. Put in the work to earn the amount of volume you want to do.
What should you do if you DO end up ripping?
Safety first! Go wash your hands. Think of all the people who have sweated (and maybe bled) on the pull up bars before you got there. I’m sure they’re all great people, but you don’t want their germs. Go wash your hands.
Fitness second! After you wash your hands, let your coach know you ripped. We can help you find a nonstick or gauze pad to cover the tear, then help you tape over wherever the rip is. Yes, you can finish your workout! Substitute ring rows for pull ups, or sit ups for toes to bar. Depending on where the rip is and how much of the workout you have left, you might be able to change your grip (see above) on the bar and keep working. Take the long view and remember that it’s usually not worth it to interfere with a week or more of fitness just for the sake of one workout.
Safety first! Use a Clorox wipe to clean off your equipment. This includes pull up bars, barbells, kettlebells, and anything else you might have gotten blood on. Few things are more ick-inducing than looking at your hand after grabbing a pull up bar and realizing there was someone else’s dried blood on it. Don’t be that person.
Wash your hands again. Apply Neosporin or another antibiotic ointment to the wound, then keep it covered for the rest of the day. If there is a flap of skin still attached, don’t cut it off — use it to help cover the wound. Once you get home for the day and are no longer in a place where you’re worried about germs, uncover it and let the wound breathe. I generally keep mine covered until they are dry to the touch and not tender. When you go out or are in places where germs abound (e.g. when you’re back in the gym), make sure it is covered to keep it clean. Just like any other break in your skin, keep it clean and watch for signs of infection.
Keep the wound moist, especially if you ripped in the crease of one of your fingers or on a line in your palm. Once I’m out of the Neosporin phase, Aquaphor is my go-to for this. It’s currently winter, and the combination of indoor heating and cold weather means it’s easy for the skin on your hands to dry out. If the skin gets too dry as it heals, it will crack and re-open, which is about as fun as it sounds. One winter in Boston, I had a tear in my palm that took months to heal, since I kept letting it get too dry. It was painful, gross, and definitely interfered with my training. I don’t recommend it.
- Working Out Post-Rip
Accept that holding on to things will be more challenging until your hand heals, but you don’t have to stay away from the gym. Unless you ripped on one of your fingers, using a fingertip grip (fingers around the bar instead of palms) will generally feel ok. Strict movements should also be mostly fine. Eliminate or reduce kipping and other dynamic movements for about a week. Be aware that movements like kettlebell swings and snatches, as well as multiple reps of hang cleans, will be tough for awhile! If you’re not sure how to modify a workout, ask your coach. This is one of the things we are very good at. Most importantly, be patient and wait for the rip to heal. Plan on about a week before you’ll be operating at 100% again.
We want our members to push the limits of their capabilities — and if you push your limits hard enough, at some points you will surpass them and things won’t go to plan. That’s not a bad thing! I certainly don’t want to discourage our members from trying harder things and pushing their boundaries. It is GREAT to want to try for bigger sets of pull ups than you’re sure you can do. Don’t be afraid to push yourself during workouts. Do keep an eye on your overall trend. Ripping once or twice is one thing; ripping every time you do pull ups in a WOD is another. Be honest with yourself about whether your approach to workouts is helping you improve in the long run, or if it is giving you a short term sense of accomplishment that won’t lead to long term gains.
Have questions about calluses, hand care, or pull up progressions? Comment here or on our social media channels! Want to hear some of Monica’s failed hand care stories involving straight razors and super glue? You’ll have to ask her in person, as some things really don’t need to be committed to writing….