The Importance of Hand Care with Increased Training Intensity or Volume

Ever been sore after a new workout?  We all have, right?  When we change or increase load on different areas of our body, it lets us know.  In turn, we tend to give our body special attention during our recovery and movement prep work during those times.  We may come in early to get in a little extra soft tissue work with foam rolling, head in for a massage, or give a little extra attention to stretching and warming up before our workout.

Well, the same can be said for our hands.  This is especially true when you increase training volume with pull-up and kettlebell work.  Ringing any bells, TSC participants?!

When your program involves high volume work with kettlebell swings, snatches, cleans, pull-ups or any of the like, prioritizing your hand care is as important to your program as any aspect of your workout or recovery process. 

As your hands start to adjust to the increased friction at high volumes you will quickly notice they will begin protect themselves with callouses.  That must mean callouses are our best friend, right?!  Sort of.  Well cared for callouses will give our hands the tough skin they need to get through your workout in one piece.  However, ignore your callouses and they will quickly become your worst enemy. 

Improper hand care is the enemy of a consistent training program.

When a callouses is left unchecked they will continue to build on itself (assuming you are continuing the activity that is causing this).  Thick callouses increase your odds of rips in your skin as it will allow the bar or handle of the bell to pull the skin away.  If you have never ripped a callous before, trust me when I tell you that you want to avoid this at all costs.  Especially if you are working towards an even that requires you to keep your training consistency high for success.  (Cough, Cough, TSC)

The good news is that you can stay on top of your hand care with just two easy steps!

  1. Groom/Minimize Callouses:  To do this you will want to find a pumice stone or some sort of skin file that allows you to address the callous without getting the softer skin surrounding the area.  This may require some trial and error on different tools but once you find one make sure you are staying on top this step.  Consistently make sure to file down, but not too far, which would lead to increased sensitivity. 

Pro Tip:  A great time to file you callouses down is right after a shower or dishes when your skin is softened by the water.

  • Moisturize:  Keeping hands and callouses from drying out is going to play a major roll in your overall hand health during training.  After grooming you callouses make sure to apply a high quality hand cream, paying special attention to the palms and massaging into the area around your callouses.  Moisturizers should be avoided near training time but it is a good idea to apply hand cream throughout the day and before bed.

Pro Tip:  If you are in the market for moisturizers for this purpose Corn Huskers lotion is one brand that is recommended.  In addition to using a good moisturizer for your hands you may want apply balms or salves directly to the callouses as needed.

So, what about chalk?  What role does chalk play in your training and hand care? 

Chalk can be used as a tool to help you better grip the bar or bell.  That may mean you reduce a bit of the friction on your hands and therefore at times reduce some of the wear and tear on your skin.  However, chalk should never be used as an alternative to proper hand care.  In fact, use of chalk with improperly groomed callouses can increase the risk of rips.

Regardless of how attentive you are to your hand care routine there is always a chance that you will end up with some degree of skin tear during some point of your training.  When this happens, we have a few tips to help get you through training until your hands have a chance to heal. 

First off, try to leave the torn skin on and covered for as long as possible.  This will give the fresh skin underneath a chance to grown in and get stronger with as much protection as possible.  Once the torn skin has started to dry and the skin underneath has had a couple of days to adjust it is best of cut the flap of the torn callous off clean.  You will then want to start your grooming on the ledge of the remaining callous gradually and with extreme care.  NEVER tear the skin flap away by hand.

In addition, there are a number of taping techniques that you can implement in order to protect the torn area of your hand during your workouts.  If you need tips on proper taping for kettlebell work check in with Emily or Mandy. That said, there is still a chance that you may need to take a break from certain activities for a day or two to let your body heal. 

One final tip:  Pack a “hand care” kit in your gym bag.  This kit should include athletic tape, hand files, chalk, and any moisturizers and salves you use on your hands.  While pre or post workout is not an ideal time to implement your primary hand care routine you will be grateful to have all of these items with you in case of emergency. 

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Written By: Mandy Haugstad – SFG1