We have addressed this topic in the past but now may be a great time to address it again.
In CrossFit we perform a great deal of volume with barbells, pull up bars, rings, and kettlebells. It is important to establish a plan on how to prevent rips and tears as well as how to care for them if they do occur.
First, allow me to say this, a hand tear is an injury. It is not a badge of honor of how BAD ASS you are. If you tear your hand, you may be derailing your ability to train for the next few days. Oh, your significant other is not going to allow you to put your hands on him/her either so now you are really out of luck!
Prevention is Key
First, go to your local pharmacy and pick up either a pumice stone or a callus shaver in the foot care section. I personally prefer the callus shaver as it slices those babies down really quick and easy. You may prefer both to smooth over any edges left by the callus shaver. Take the shaver or stone and cut down any built up calluses as needed. Once per week does the trick for me. Others need heavier maintenance.
Beyond, keeping the calluses down you can also be sure to apply lotion to your hands to ensure that your skin does not become too dry with cracks. This will lead to rips and tears as well. I am not a big lotion guy. In fact the only time I use lotion is when I am rubbing some on my wife’s feet and legs. But hey, maybe you like the stuff!
Friction is The Enemy
The reason the calluses build up and ultimately tear is due to friction. If your skin is constantly being rubbed along a surface it is going to be build to protect itself until it finally tears because it is too big. How can we minimize this? The first is obvious with using chalk.
There is such a thing as TOO MUCH CHALK. The substance is not supposed to be caked on your hands. If you are an excessive sweater then you need to have a towel to dry off your hands and forearms before applying additional small dosages of chalk to your hands. Don’t be a chalk whore. I have also heard of applying body glide to your hands and then a little chalk on your hands before hitting the pull up bar or barbell. I have not personally tried this yet but it makes sense. Marathoners and distance events use body glide all the time to prevent chafing brought on by friction.
Gloves are another option. Wait, gloves? That is being a sissy right? Set aside your macho ego. If you tear and tear regularly, get a pair of gloves. Buy the smallest size of batting gloves you fit into, they will stretch, and practice your grip. It will be different and you may have to make some small adjustments.
Build up your grip strength. This is a huge reason for rips and tears. Though we don’t want to have a death grip on the pull up bar when we need to finish 100 pull ups, we also don’t want our forearms and grip to crap the bed after 15-20 reps. Look for another post coming soon to address grip strength and programs to follow that can easily be applied 2-3 times per week at the end of your workouts.
In the Heat of the Battle
While you begin following the guidance written above, what about today? Tomorrow? Here is one basic rule I follow. Don’t go to failure on any set of pull ups, high volume snatches, or cleans. Once your grip begins to fail, you WILL rip your hand. Work smaller doses of sub maximal effort. Though it may seem counter intuitive, you will actually be able to finish your WOD faster due to less no reps and needing to take extra time for the muscles to recover. As you apply the grip strength work and continue training the number of reps you can complete will increase.
One last thing. If the WOD calls for 100 pull-ups and you know that the volume is too much for you, don’t “suck it up” and go after it. Build up your capacity over time. Scale it down. Know your limits, work to the very fringe of them to keep pushing further, but be smart. Then you will be able to continue training and improving your fitness instead of sitting on the sideline and having to go to sleep with latex gloves and moisturizer.