I have my mother’s hands. They’re a bit bigger and not quite as attractive, but if you put our hands side by side, you would know we were mother and daughter.
Like my mother, I am very capable with my hands. I sew and knit and I can undo any horrible knot.
When I was ten years old I met a boy with no hands. And for a long time after that, I thanked God for my hands every night before I went to sleep. Sometimes I still do.
CrossFit has changed my hands. As soon as I fell in love with the feel of a barbell, I developed calluses and tears. I’ve ripped and healed and ripped again. I felt pride and awe the first time my hands bled from too many toes to bar. But after that I realized the injuries to my hands kept me away from the pull up bar and made the barbell painful to hold.
I’ve tried gymnastics grips, gloves, athletic tape, grippers. But nothing felt as good or worked as well as feeling the cool, chalky bar with my bare hands.
I soon learned that the best treatment for a rip is to prevent it.
Robin Ribeiro is a former gymnast and the owner of RipFix. When I asked Robin if she’d talk to me about hand care, I expected her to chime in at the end – at the rip…fix. Instead she walked me through the elements of good hand care. “RipFix is about every day hand maintenance,” she says. “Not just the rips.”
It starts with the grip. Although adjusting your grip on the bar won’t completely prevent callouses, it will reduce them. If you currently grip the bar with your palm, try gripping the bar at the base of your fingers. This way less skin is compressed between the bar and your fingers, and you’re able to move with the bar more easily.
“How you work the bar is key,” Robin adds. “Try re-gripping at the top of a pull up and avoid having a death grip on the bar.”
(Easy for a gymnast to say, but I”ll give it a shot)
The combination of bars and chalk and friction make the development of callouses unavoidable. The more we work, the bigger and harder our callouses become. Chalk dries out our hands and causes roughness. Rough, hard skin gets caught on the bar and rips.
So how do we prevent our callouses from turning on us mid-WOD? “File them down or shave them. Use a pumice stone, or a razor if you need to,” says Robin. A good time to file your hands is after a shower when your callouses are a bit swollen and soft. File until you no longer feel hard edges. Your skin will still be thick, but it needs to be smooth and consistent.
Applying a moisturizer before going to sleep every night is also a good idea. “Your hands should be smooth and supple,” says Robin. “Your hands don’t have to be ugly. I apply RipFix to my hands and feet every night. It keeps the callouses from hardening and adds moisture back into your hands after chalk has dried them out.”
And yet, when we do rip (although we swear we’ve followed all this great advice)…?
Clean first. Wash your rip with soap and water. (And wash the barbell – or rig – too. No one wants to share your hand slime or blood.) Cut away the skin as close as possible to the rip. Leftover skin gets hard and will catch on the bar to cause another rip. “Pack in the RipFix,” adds Robin. “Really pack it in. Then wrap your hand with some gauze. You want to protect the tear but you also want some air to get in.” Don’t have RipFix on hand? You can use a topical antibiotic like Neosporin. The idea is to keep it clean, treated and covered.
One of my favorite products for bandaging my hands is Nexcare gauze wrap. I wrap some normal gauze around my hand, then secure it with the Nexcare. It doesn’t slip off like a bandaid, and it doesn’t get all grimy and stiff like normal medical tape.
Robin recommends sleeping with a sock over your hand. It’s a good way to let the wound breathe, and it prevents RipFix or Neosporin from getting on your sheets.
“You have to keep treating your hands while they heal,” Robin says. “Athletes make the mistake of not treating a rip like a real injury. Your hands needs to recover just like the rest of you.”
But what if we can’t stay away? What if we can’t resist? How do we protect our hands while they’re healing and still get some time in at the box?
You can make some grips from athletic tape. Here’s a chart on how to do it, but you can also Google “how to wrap hands” for different methods. Making your own grips to use for WODs with a lot of bar work can also help prevent rips.
Remember 14.4? All those toes to bar? I knew I was in trouble when I started to see flakes of skin falling from the bar. By the time I was finished, my hands were torn and bleeding. I had never used RipFix before, but I had some in my gym bag. I immediately washed and dried my hands (hellfire!), and packed in the RipFix. For the next few days I applied RipFix regularly and within a week my hands were good enough to go back to WODing.
In all honesty I was stunned at how well RixFix worked. I hadn’t expected to see such good results, and I’ve kept RipFix in my gym bag and on my nightstand ever since.
Don’t wait until the next rip to start taking care of your hands. They’re an important part of your training and progress.
A special thanks to Robin for answering all my questions about hand care and listening to my “Ooooo nasty! Gross!” comments without telling me to shut up. And, truly, I’m going to try that top re-gripping thing.