So you wanna get strong, do you?
That’s awesome. Fewer goals are nobler nor have the capacity for so much good in your life. Lift on, my friend, lift on.
As you travel this less traveled road of strength and strength sports you’ll notice a few things, obvious things, like the change in the fit of your clothes, delayed onset muscle soreness (AKA DOMS) and a new sense of humor about that soreness, and not so obvious things, like confidence and pride.
As your abilities increase your body will change reflective of those changes. For many of us that’s the whole point, for others it’s a pleasant side effect. One of the most immediate changes that new lifters experience is in their hands.
If you stop to think about it that’s pretty obvious. After all it’s your hands that make immediate contact with the bar so, of course, they’re going to be affected first.
For most of us, living as modern, relatively affluent, Westerners we don’t get much of an opportunity to work with our hands. That means they’re fairly soft. The knurling of the bar is going to create calluses.
To many this is cause for celebration, a sure sign that weakness is vacating the premises and we are getting stronger. We have calluses! And they indicate that we have done hard work. Understandably, at first you may be tempted to covet your calluses. You’ll relish in that rough sand papery feel of the pads under your fingers, maybe even finding yourself from time to time running your palm over your forearm or cheek just to feel the rasp of your hard work and dedication.
It’s okay. Celebrate yourself. You have worked hard and you deserve the kudos for it. Just don’t expect anyone who doesn’t lift to understand. This is a private little party of one.
There comes a point, however, when those calluses become counter productive. They’ll begin to shred and fray. Multiple layers of skin will get sheared by the bar and eventually the entire callus can come off. Some gyms fetishize this whole thing and post pictures of hands with multiple torn calluses as some sort of testimony to just how hard that last workout was.
Except, a torn callus hurts like hell. Until it’s healed it will affect every future workout as it makes merely gripping the bar an unnecessary exercise in pain.
I don’t know about you but I cam here to train. Any workout that makes future workouts difficult or impossible is, in my opinion, a bad workout.
Fear not fellow strength enthusiast, there is another way.
Proper hand care can go a long way to preventing hand injury and ensuring that you keep lifting workout after workout.
The first thing to know is that gloves won’t help. If your goal is to get strong gloves will actually hinder your progress. That layer of leather or synthetic what-ever-the-hell-they-make those-out-of interferes with your contact with the bar. That limits your ability to actually feel the bar. Strength is as much a neurological function as it is a muscular function. That means you need feedback. You need to feel what your gripping. Additionally, that layer of glove between your hand and the bar will slide making your grip more difficult.
The best route is to lift with your bare hands, protected by a healthy layer of lifting chalk. The chalk serves to keep your hands dry which limits slipping which cuts down on the formation of callus in the first place.
Lifting chalk, magnesium carbonate, is available at just about every big box sporting goods store (Academy, Dick’s), through any serious online weight training retailer, and even Amazon.com.
Once you’ve got your chalk you’ll need something to keep it in. You can buy an fancy chalk holder or just use a bucket depending on your aesthetic and the decor of your gym. I use an old wooden box that used to hold artillery shells for the army, but that’s how I roll.
Some lifters opt to bring their chalk in little plastic baggies usually because their gym doesn’t provide it. If your gym doesn’t allow lifting chalk it’s time to find a new gym.
There are two main schools of chalking, powders and painters. Powders take a block of lifting chalk and immediately crumble it into a fine powder. They scoop this up in their hands and rub them together to distribute the chalk.
Painters prefer to take the solid block and “paint” the chalk onto their palms, into the webbing between thumb and forefinger and on the backs of their thumbs (very useful when employing the hook grip). Do NOT completely powder a painter’s block as it will make them very angry.
In the end the differences are negligible but you’d be amazed how fanatic people get over tiny details.
All of this does not mean you won’t get calluses. If you lift with any degree of half seriousness you’ll get them. It just means that ideally it will slow them down and more importantly cut down on the shearing forces which will cause them to tear.
When you do get them there are steps you can take to keep them from getting too big or tearing and that’s keeping them moisturized and trimmed.
I usually combine these two steps in one by liberally applying a good hand lotion and then running a single bladed safety razor over my calluses. Yes, you read that right–shave your hands (insert inane masturbatory joke here.)
You don’t want to eliminate the callus entirely. It actually serves a purpose in protecting your hands. What you want to do is cut it back so that the excess doesn’t snag or tear.
And now, the final question, how often?
As much as you need. I usually find that once or twice a month is enough to keep them under control. Your mileage may vary.