Oh, this post is going to just ooze and drip with irony.
Not because it’s about what iron can do to your hands, but because my mom has been telling me for years to take better care of my hands. (I was chastised just this past Sunday for the calluses that are dwelling upon my hands.)
To be perfectly clear before continuing: calluses are not bad. They are your friends! They help you grip the bar/kettlebell better and they’re proof that you work hard. Soft-hands are a mark of a serious lack of real work in one’s life. It’s when those calluses get out of control, catch on something and tear open that they are not so pleasant. We’re going to talk about how to avoid the dreaded tear (and the terrible stinging and burning that results whenever water/soap comes in contact with your hand for the next few days) but still maintain tough hands.
- (Wo)Man up and work hard. Yep, that’s right. If you don’t have calluses yet, work hard to develop some. Usually, if one is picking up heavy things and swinging kettlebells on a regular basis, calluses will naturally form. There is a brief period of pain when the calluses haven’t toughened up to the hard skin that characterizes a good callus. Too bad. Get over it and keep lifting. It’ll get better.
- Callus scrapers are excellent tools for preventing calluses from getting their own zip code. I kid you not, my mom has bought me one every year since I started lifting weights (about 9 years now). I think she’s trying to tell me something. Don’t be silly like me and ignore the advice of my mother.
After a shower, or after soaking your hands for about 5 minutes in warm water, gently file the calluses down enough so they’re not protruding like the Rocky mountains from your palms.
- Post-callus scraping, apply some thick lotion to you hands. This will keep your hands from drying/cracking. This is best done before bed, I don’t recommend this process immediately prior to a lift.
What about blisters?
If you can help it, don’t pop them. They’ll eventually recede and either disappear or the top layer will tear off harmlessly in 1-2 days. Popping a blister only increases the risk of an infection as the protective outer layer is compromised. It’s very easy for dirt, grime, chalk and, in the lifter’s case, iron dust to grind into the tender skin underneath. Ouch.
What about a rip?
Whoops, that blister or callus ripped open, despite your best efforts. Now what? I speak from much experience in this department (training for the RKC wrecked havoc on my hands as our kettlebells do not have smooth handles. And this was before I started using the ingenious sock grips: more on those later).
1. Stop what you’re doing, clean the ripped area (YEOW! That stings!), trim away any excess skin and cover with a bandaid (and tape if you’re planning on continuing training).
2. Keep anti-bacterial ointment and bandaid over it until it’s healed enough to be exposed to soap without stinging. Once you can do that without wincing and dancing in place with you hands under water (I never do that…), then it’s healed enough to leave the bandaid off.
3. DON’T let it dry out. Use antibacterial ointment until it’s healed and then lotion, once the skin can tolerate that, to prevent it from drying and cracking open. If that happens, back to step one…
Can gloves be worn to prevent this “callus thing”?
Two reasons: a) gloves don’t really improve your grip as much as people think. B) people who are serious about getting stronger don’t wear gloves.
However, for those of us who are swinging a lot (and this should be everyone quite honestly) or doing a lot of snatches, there is a solution to preventing the never-ending stream of blisters and rips that can occur. (Ok, so technically, in kettlebell work, the bell handle shouldn’t rub the palm and thus, blisters shouldn’t happen there. But, as I said before, the kbs we have at SAPT are thick-handled and very rough (and I have small hands). No matter how perfectly I transfer the bell in my hand, they’re always bloody and torn after high-rep swings or after a snatch workout.)
Cut the top 3-4 inches of a sock’s neck. This should cover the palm and stay in place pretty well for high-rep kettlebell work. I actually used ankle socks (my hands are small though so it was big enough). Man oh man, I wish I had used these sooner!
These are the only acceptable form of hand protection as they don’t interfere with your grip strenghth and they allow you to perform more swings. Double bonus in my book!
Hopefully all that was helpful in the quest to protect and care for your hands. Don’t be like me and poo-poo the advice of my mom. Busted hands prevent lifting heavy things. Not a good thing!
Last thing: I’m starting a deadlifting experiment which I’ll be tracking progress and will reveal the results and details in a future blog post. Stay tuned!
Have a great weekend everyone! May the iron be with you!