Having ripped hands is a major bummer, it is considered an injury, and it shouldn’t be looked at as a badge of honor. If your hands are torn and they hurt, doing almost anything in CrossFit (or everyday life) is a challenge.
There are very few occasions where a workout is important enough to finish once your hands start to rip. But, there are ways to toughen up your hands and prevent tearing in even the most grueling workouts.
First, to toughen up your hands. Get used to hanging on the pull up bar. You will find that not all pull bars are the same. Some are zinc-coated (usually silver) and smooth, others are powder coated (usually black) and have a rougher texture to them.
Generally, people seem to have less issues with hand tearing on the smoother zinc-coated bars. Either way, get up on that bar and practice hanging there. This will also work your grip strength and, if you do it right and hang with your core tight and shoulders engaged, you’ll also strengthen your shoulders and lats. Win-win!
The next step after hanging from the bar is to slowly work in some movement. Beat swings are a good way to work on toughening your hand skin and also working on your kip at the same time.
You can take that a step further and work on your grip strength as well. We want to toughen the hand skin, but we also want to toughen all the muscles that do the grabbing. Farmers carry with kettlebells and pinch grip carry with plates are great ways to work on that.
If your hands are sweaty during a workout, chalk can help. Friction is what causes the tearing. If your hands are free to move across the bar smoothly you’ll have less issues. This is part of where the increased grip strength comes in.
If you have a strong grip and are confident in your ability to support your weight, you won’t have to death grip the pull up bar. If you aren’t death gripping the bar, your hands can move across it more easily and the skin won’t get stretched and pulled and eventually tear.
Another option is to use grips or gloves (this is my least favorite option.) This puts a barrier between your skin and the bar and prevents the friction. Sometimes people feel less secure on the bar though, so be sure to try it out before using them in a workout.
Grips and gloves may also interfere with other movements in the workout. You may want the grips for the pull up bar, but cleaning heavy weight on a barbell or swinging a kettlebell may be more difficult and you may not want to have to stop and take them on and off between every movement.
Simple athletic tape across your hands may be a good solution. It provides a barrier for your skin, allows movement across the pull up bar, you can still securely grip the bar, and it isn’t likely to interfere with other movements in the workout. Just put one strip around your hands right below where your fingers attach to your hands. Make sure the tape is loose enough to expand all of your fingers.
Be sure to keep calluses under control. This is a big one. You need strong skin on your hands, but as your calluses get too big, they are more likely to tear off in the middle of a workout. There is a sweet spot as far as calluses go. Strong enough to support you without pain, not too big that the whole things tears off once you start moving on the pull up bar.
You can get an actual callus shaver to help with hand maintenance. It’s basically a razor blade on a handle. They are pretty safe and it is difficult to shave too much off.
The other recommendation for keeping calluses under control is a pumice stone. You can get these at drug stores. The best way to use them is to just keep them in the shower and the last thing you do before you get out is grab it and rub it across your soft, water-soaked hands. The top few layers of the callus dead skin will be exfoliated.
Be careful callus shaving or pumice stoning too much before a workout that requires a lot of pull up bar work. That newly exposed skin can be a little tender for a day or so after working on it.
And, unfortunately, even doing all of the right things, you may find yourself with a nasty hand tear at some point. If you feel your hand tearing mid-workout, stop and do something about it! Get some chalk, put grips on, tape your hands, or even modify the movement.
Once you do tear, be sure and clean it out thoroughly. This is going to suck. It will hurt a lot. But you need to get that exposed skin clean to avoid infection. Consider a spray antibiotic as well.
Keeping your hands open to the air so the spots can dry out and heal is your best bet. If you have to cover them, use band aids and medical tape to protect the areas. They even make some products that facilitate healing, like liquid skin, which protects the new skin while it heals.
There are whole industries built around the care and curing of ripped hands. You really don’t need a lot though. Most of the things you can do and take care of yourself with minimal amount of accessories.
Take care of your hands. They are important for everything you do – inside and outside of the CrossFit gym.