Tearing or ripping of the hands at the gym seems to be a bit of a right of passage. It is going to happen to everybody eventually, however, that does not mean it should happen or be glorified. As a coach whenever someone rips their hands I get that upset feeling in my stomach because it means I failed in keeping that person safe and injury free.
Tears and rips are much more common during hot and humid days. This is due to all the sweat softening the skin, followed by lots of friction, resulting in the skin tearing. Tears in the gym usually occur around large calluses due to the enlarged surface area that bar is able to pull on.
1. Proper Grip
A barbell and a pullup bar are the two main issues when it comes to ripping.
The barbell - Deadlift is the main culprit for tearing on a barbell. The issue is over gripping or trying to dig in the flip/alternate grip to "dip" into the hand. If the barbell is pulling down on the callus then the likelihood of a tear goes up. The bar needs to be put directly on the calluses.
Mark Rippetoe on barbell pulling grip - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTqNSgCmM2s
The pullup bar - Friction is the enemy. When the thumb is on top of the bar there are two issues (1) there is not a secure grip and (2) there is increased movement, which means increased friction.
Carl & Kelly Hook Grip Part 1 - http://youtu.be/WYogzb2DHHk
Carl & Kelly Hook Grip Part 2 - http://youtu.be/wE3uyUlQoP0
2. Use Your Hands
In order to make the hands tough, you need to use them. If gloves, tape, and hand guards are constantly being used, your hands are never going to get tough enough to handle the bars.
When using your bare hands, keep them dry with a towel and a bit of chalk (not the whole bucket). Over time you will slowly build tougher hands.
For specific workouts and/or before your hands are conditioned it might be appropriate to use gloves, tape or hand guards, especially if there is a lot of grip and/or hand intensive movements.
3. Monitor Your Hands
When using a bar during a workout it is very important to keep an eye on your hands and look for signs of possible rips and tears. Soggy skin, redness, minor tears, minor pain, defined skin folds, etc can all be signs of potential rips.
Gloves, tape, hand guards, and movement scaling are all temporary ways to help prevent ripping. If you feel like a rip is coming let your coach know and use one of the above methods to prevent it from happening.
If you are in a competition things are a bit different but in training RIPPING IS NOT COOL or FUN.
4. Callus Shaver
Calluses that build up above normal skin is where problems occur. With the increased surface area, a bar has more skin to pull on. To keep that surface area down, shave that skin off.
It is a bit of an art when shaving calluses and it will take time and practice to get good at it. The key is to start slow and small and take skin off in small batches/layers. The goal is to have the harden callus flush with the normal skin.
This item is basically just a curved razor blade. Be careful, be smart, and just a little bit at a time.
5. High Quality Lotion
This is probably the most over looked step in maintaining healthy, tough hands. A regular lotion is not going to cut it (however something is better than nothing). Spend the little extra and get a high quality lotion.
Lotion should be applied right before bed so it can soak in and do its job ALL NIGHT LONG.
Optional. Pumice for your Significant Other
Using a pumice stone will not remove enough skin in order to reduce the surface area of the callus compared to the shaver. However significant others will enjoy a smooth hand better than jagged calluses.
The pumice should be used in the shower after the hands have had time to soften. Once softened with mild pressure scrub the rough areas of skin. A little redness is alright but excessive scrubbing is not good.
If you have any questions about hand care for the gym or any questions in general shoot us an email.