PART A. the immediate rip.
so you’ve finally achieved crossfit nirvana and ripped your first callus. all those hours practicing kipping pullups, muscle ups, and perfecting your hook grip and now, you’ve finally succeeded at providing evidence to the world of your hard work. now what?
i. you may or may not finish your workout, it’s up to you, your pain threshold, the level of injury, your squeamishness. either way, you will need to address it as soon as you are done with activity. first, pack the wound with a little chalk, to prevent more dirt from entering the wound. if there’s tape around, it might not be a bad idea to wrap it up until you can fully address the issue.
ii. please go clean off your equipment. blood on a bar is not attractive or sanitary. part of keeping the community healthy is all of us being responsible enough to keep the equipment we all share clean and safe for everyone to use.
iii. you may want to get home quickly to take care of the rip. once you get home, first thing to do is to cut off the flapping piece of skin. nail clippers or tiny scissors work well. next, clean the wound out with soap and warm water. this will sting. now, soak your hands in warm salt water. yes, the age old adage of “putting salt in a wound” has a negative connotation, but a little salt water is actually a great antiseptic. so just use a little bit in warm water goes a long way. remember that saline (the solution used in hospitals to clean out wounds in the ER and in the operating room) is essentially a weak salt water. again, not the most comfortable but it will help leech out all the crud and provide first-line anticeptic. this will help it heal tremendously. now let air dry for an hour or two.
iv. once things have calmed down, it’s time to rub in a little antibiotic cream in the wound. you won’t need to do this throughout the duration of the heal but definitely at first. it’s an open wound, let’s make sure we get some antibiotic in there to prevent infection and promote healing. the typical OTC antibiotic is actually quite effective at killing a broad range of bacteria. cover it up while you have the antibiotic in there, but only for the remainder of the day, and overnight. the next day, let it air dry.
v. it’s day 2 or 3 and the wound is drying. hopefully, you’ve been wrapping your hands during training sessions? nothing’s worse than ripping a new rip. taped hands can be good enough to prevent injury, even though it still may hurt a bit. but you do crossfit so you’ll suck it up. as the new skin comes in, it will be dry and brittle. make sure you are applying a good vitamin E rich lotion or vasoline in the area as much as possible to keep it from drying out. this is the period where the rip is most vulnerable.
PART B: prevention.
first off, remember that the more you do grip intensive activities, the more your hands will adapt to the abuse. but not if you don’t keep up with your hands. even the most veteran of crossfiters will occasionally suffer from the rip.
i. recognize when you rip. everyone pretty much knows when they are about to rip. prevention is the best maintenance! let go of the bar early instead of holding out and getting a couple more reps. there are certain do or die situations and unless you are in one of those, just let go.
ii. don’t wear gloves. unless you wear gloves as part of your job, most of our hands can’t handle the friction. gloves provide an extra layer of friction for your skin to move on. as your hands get sweaty, they glide against the inside surface of the gloves. as the gloves are achieving grip on the bar, your hands are freely moving against the inside surface, causing blistering of the skin and ultimately, ripping the skin. there are some alternatives to grips that work well, such as the below diagrammed tape method (1).
iii. use the appropriate amount of chalk. once you powder up, dust off your hands into the bucket. caking chalk on will create a thick layer of friction. the right amount of chalk does 2 things: provide just enough tack to grip onto the bar, and almost more importantly, keeps your hands dry. just like the same reason gloves are not advantageous, the lack of chalk will make your hands wet from sweat, and causing blistering of the skin and ultimately, ripping the skin.
iv. better grip position. let us revisit a video by coach rip (3) about the theory of grip location:
keeping your core tight on kips vs. flailing uncontrollaby. development of your skills on the barbell or pullup bar will tremendously impact your hands. the athletes that have most controlled of pull ups and muscle ups rarely deal with hand issues.
to quote a crossfit journal article (2) by Pär Larsson about grip:
“When doing pull-ups, keep your metacarpals in line with your proximal phalanges; i.e., your hand bones and the first bones in your fingers. This sucks because it’s harder to do pull-ups with your center of gravity an inch lower, and it takes more finger/ forearm strength. The first week or two or five, you might have to go back to using a band sometimes, or doing jumping pull-ups on a box, or using an easier band. I understand this might hurt your pride, your ego and your self-esteem like it did mine, but as long as I get the workout I need I see no need to care much if I beat my friends in an everyday training environment… Plus, I don’t have to worry about caring for ripped and bleeding hands.”
also, as you “float” from your kip, a slight readjust of the grip substantially helps prevent ripping the skin. it’s the firm death grip of the bar that causes skin to be blistered and torn.
PART C: maintenance.
maintain those hands. use a callus shaver or pumis stone and keep the callus formation down. best case scenario: have a consistent, smooth palm surface, without noticeable ridges or fluctuating thicknesses of skin. if you can pinch a callus that’s raised, they will eventually blister and tear. if this is the case, it needs to be filed down. to quote CF journal (2):
“Ideally, your entire palm surface should be one thick callus with no bumps or ridges in any one particular area. In order to do this, groom your hands always after a hot shower or bath (this allows the calluses to swell up). While the calluses are still “swollen,” I take a double-edged razor and very carefully shave the dead callus bumps down a little at a time until the bumps are about even with the thickness of the rest of the hand. With my younger students, I simply ask them to get a callus stone (you can buy one at any drug store), and gently sand the callus down even with the rest of the skin. Remember, whenever you groom or shave your calluses, don’t overdo it, since you don’t want to go too deep into your skin. Always leave enough thick skin so to facilitate your workout the following day. The goal is to maintain an even and consistent thickness of hard skin throughout the entire palm.”
tools you can use to help trim the skin:
in conclusion: use just enough chalk, not a mound of it. adjust your grip positions. leave the gloves at home. stay mobile in the grip when you are kipping. get off the bar when you feel your skin pulling.
this is just one man’s opinion and some of the information is anecdotal, but i’ve been rip-free for almost 18 months and this has seemed to help a lot of people in our gym population and those more experienced than us. (dang it, i said it out loud and karma is coming for me)
1. georgia southern athletics. diagram for taping hands.http://academics.georgiasouthern.edu/cet/SB/Gym/TapeGrip.jpg
2. larsson, par. “blood, blisters, sexism, and pull ups.” october 2010.library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_Larsson_Handcare.pdf
3. rippetoe, mark. “rip on grip” youtube video. november 2009.http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bTqNSgCmM2s
4. various images from theworldofgymnastics.com, modified and diagrammed.