Hand Care – Preventing the Dreaded Callus Tear

This article was written for CrossFitters, but it applies to anyone using their hands during workouts. If you MovNat, lift, do gymnastics, or anything else involving lots of grip work you need to learn to take care of your hands.

JANUARY 21, 2013 BY 

Three things are inevitable in the life of a CrossFitter:

  1. Death
  2. Taxes
  3. Calluses

Due to the huge amount of work we do, sometimes our calluses tear.  A quick Google search of “crossfit hand tears” will yield thousands of pictures like the one below.  Contrary to popular belief, hand tears are not a badge of honor.  They are the result improper maintenance and lead to 1-3 weeks off of any type of training involving your hands.  They are not worth the picture that you’ll probably end up posting on Facebok.

CrossFit, you're doing it wrong.

“Look what I did at CrossFit today!”

In an attempt to save you the trouble, I’ll use this article to outline the steps you should take to maintain your calluses, prevent tears, and care for your hands after you’ve torn them to shreds.

Before we get started let me make one thing clear,  you may will develop calluses.  You’ll be putting your hands through a lot and, as a defense measure, you’ll sprout a few.  You should embrace these fleshy bumps because they signify all of the hard work you’ve put in.  Every pull up, every kettlebell swing, every snatch has earned you the right to wear your calluses with pride.  Your calluses are proof that you are making yourself more awesome.

Having said that, let’s get started with the whole prevention bit.


  • Moisturize: Use lotion, any lotion, to keep your hands nice and soft.  Dry hands will crack, rip, tear, and keep you out of the gym for weeks at a time.  Buy some lotion and use it often.  If you really want to get serious, use “corn huskers” lotion.  That stuff is the real deal.
  • Shave/sand/grind:  When it comes to keeping a callus maintained, the three easiest options are shave, sand or grind.  Pick one and do it regularly.  This is the most important preventative step outside of the gym.
    1. Shave: Get a callus shaver and use it frequently.  This is my preferred method because it’s easy to use and I don’t have to take a motorized sander to my hand.This is a life saver.
    2. Sand: Grab a pumice stone (guys, just ask your lady friend what this is) and scrub away.  I recommend doing this while taking a hot shower.
    3. Grind: Pick up a Dremel (or other rotary sander) and go to town.  I’ve never done this (and never will due to a natural aversion to using power tools on my flesh) but plenty of people swear by it.
    4. Bite *(BONUS)*:  It’s easy, it’s paleo and we come equipped with the necessary tools.  Despite those truths, it’s gross so I can’t recommend it as an official option.


  • Grip: Wrap the fingers, rather than the palm, around the bar.  The friction across your palms is what causes nasty tears.  The only drawback is that this grip requires more strength in the hands, forearms and especially the fingers.  You may struggle at first , but it’ll pay dividends later.

Is it just me, or does my left thumb look freakish large in that top-left picture?
No, just no. If you're caught doing this the penalty is 50 burpees.

  • No, just no. If you’re caught doing this the penalty is 50 burpees.Chalk: Take it easy on the chalk!  I cannot overstate this.  Just so we’re all clear, chalkincreases friction.  Increased friction = increased chances of you getting a tear.  Use small amounts of chalk and only use on areas where there will be contact with the bar (no need to chalk your whole body).  Also, wipe your sweat off before you chalk up.  This avoids the nasty sweat-chalk icing that never cleans up (your coaches/the cleaning crew will thank you).
  • Gloves:  As Mark Rippetoe once said, “If you insist on wearing gloves, make sure they match your purse.”  This statement, while hilarious, requires some clarification.  My opinion, and the opinion of most barbell affectionatios, is that gloves should not be worn during barbell work (deadlifts, cleans, snatches, etc).  However, I do respect the use gloves during movements like pull ups (especially the kipping variety).  The difference between the two is that a barbell will rotate with your hands and a pull up bar will not.

Times to avoid gloves: Barbell cleans/snatches/deadlifts/any other (barbell) pulling movement.
Times to think about using gloves: When a callus tear is developing or healing.
Times to use gloves (if you must): High rep pull ups/toes-to-bar/kettlebell swing/snatches/cleans.

Basically, gloves may protect your hands and they will reduce your connection with the bar.  If you really want to wear gloves, my recommendation is a pair of Mechanix-type gloves (mainly because they look more badass than the other types).  Make sure that the palms are soft leather or suede, not sticky like Football gloves.

  • Stop: If you tear your hands mid-WOD, stop!  Do not gut through the rest of the WOD slinging your DNA everywhere.  Go wash your hands with soap and warm water immediately, then wipe down anything you may have bled on.  After the bleeding is under control, go run 4x400m repeats as punishment for not following the previous steps.

To read more: http://copperheadcrossfit.com/hand-care/


Also check out these Athletic Human original articles:

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  1. Great article and great tips. I had some serious issues this past year, and solved alot of them by caring for my hands daily. Now I carry a small nail file around and shave down the callouses when I can.

  2. Really don’t use gloves??? Idk about you by my old man likes my hands soft and not mechanic tough…I’ll keeps my gloves and my lotion.

  3. Pingback: Hand Care » CrossFit IRON WILL

  4. A course nail file is a great daily tool, plus I recommend when they do tear, coz they will use a burn band aid for a couple of days. I promise you, your hands will heal quicker and stronger :)

  5. Just use gloves. How hard is that? No need for an article, no need for debate, no need for any scientific studies… Get over yourselves, swallow your pride and Just…Use…The…Gloves…

    When your 40 and still lifting your kids, wife, will thank you for not scratching or cutting them every time you touch them…

    • You are correct that gloves can keep your hands safe and soft, however a glove does create a larger diameter you must grip and therefore reduces grip strength and impacts pull up numbers or dead lifts. However Olympic lifts can also be hard on the hands and gloves can be unsafe during these lifts. I’ve never seen a professional Olympic lifter use gloves.

      What are your thoughts on that?

  6. A lot of the advice here is great I subscribe to most of the maintenance work myself. Just to add though, as a CrossFit coach and athlete for over 4yrs, the tip suggesting a grip that uses just fingers as opposed to palms is actually going to result in potentially more flesh damage/tearing, as well as the likelihood for subsequently more injury. The small sections of the fingers are not structured to withstand and endure sustained, heavy pressure nor the average amount of torque created when doing pulling exercises found in volume during most common WODs. Specifically with kipping and butterfly pull-ups, the average CF athlete will find that forcing their fingers to be their primary grip on the bar will result in rapid loss of forearm strength, accelerated fatigue, increased frequency of failed reps, and ultimately more time going on and off of the bar. The sum of that = more time under stress on the fingers/hands, aka longer period of risk for injury to skin and all the downstream impacts on form, ROM, efficacy in performance, etc. Anyway, one last thing to add, the true culprit for what causes ripping of the skin in the palms is pressure. The longer the meat of ones palm is exposed to being the primary leverage point for supporting the weight of ones body, the more pressure the skin is experiencing. Add wrenching and torque caused by kipping the body up to the bar, the even greater the pressure. The OP is correct, calluses add to all of this negatively b/c they contribute to isolating that pressure to specific points on the hands…so be sure to shave them off!!!
    Hope this helps!

    • Agreed on the points above, and I disagree with basically all of the suggestions in the article… firstly tearing is usually caused by hands slipping, not necessarily with how you grip the bar. Secondly, the palm grip shortens the lever of your arm, allowing slightly more efficiency (think false grip versus finger grip). Thirdly, chalk is good because it helps avoid slippage therefore helping to avoid tearing. This article may work for some but you will have to have massively strong fingers and either way you cook it if you slip when you kip, your hands are going down.

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  18. This images about holding the bar is incorrect. Holding a bar across your fingers will mean your fingers will tear real quick, quicker than your palms. As a former world level gymnast and now a Crossfit athlete this is 100% incorrect. Try dead lifting 150kg on your fingers or hanging on the bottom of a swing on the gymnastics parallel bars on your fingers, that’s just suicide. Repeated kipping pull ups on your finger will cause them to rip after only a few reps.
    The same can be said about using less chalk. When hanging on a bar in Crossfit using less chalk may reduce the chance of your hands ripping but increases the chances of slipping off the bar. So split the back of your head on the ground or tears a callus. Your choice.

    • Hi Thomas, I agree entirely – experience (lots in your case) indicates that there is a “best” way to grip the bar… the article is misleading in that it represents an “okay” way to hold on.

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  22. How about wearing some damn gloves and stop trying to be super man. Callous is not a fun thing to have and bars hurt your hands when you have to hand on them regardless to what ever position. You not superman, Wear gloves and get better workouts and more training

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  31. I grew up on a farm and whe used a lotion on the cows udders wich tougens the skin but ceep it supple and is antiseptic. It’s cheap and can be bought at any agricultural store. Works wonders on the hands

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  35. I’ve been using Wodies for months now. I haven’t ripped once. Its full palm protection and wrist support. I know quite a few people at my box that uses them religiously. I found my pair at http://www.jerkfit.com. I suggest you check them out.