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Get a Grip: How to Treat Blisters, Rips and Callused Hands

By Gabrielle Kassel | 09. May 2019

 

Craggy palm, scratchy finger beds, and blisters are about as pleasant as going spread eagle with your legs on Spread Eagle. But if barbells, dumbbells, pull-up bars, or kettlebells are part of your Tough Mudder training regimen—and we’ll take the over that they are—then blisters, rips, and calluses are par for the (muddy) course.

Unfortunately, these common conditions can cramp your training. Plus, Mudders are good folk, but no one's gonna wanna grab your hand and pull you over Everest if your paw looks like the backside of a deli counter.

That’s why we reached out to experts for their tips for preventing and treating calluses, rips, and blisters. Here's what they had to say. 

Get a Good Grip

First off: Did you know the way you’re gripping the bar can increase your likelihood of ripping? “If you grab the bar with your fingers, you’re more likely to rip than if you grip the bar with the meat of your hand—which is what you should be doing to generate the most force and power when you lift, anyway,” says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company. “Try gripping the bar right below where your fingers join your palm.”

Nearly everyone has an opinion on the lifting gloves vs. no lifting gloves debate. While stubborn, purist Mudders may argue that gloves are an interference, Wickham says they could enhance your workout if you’re not worrying about ripping or feeling pain in your hands, and therefore gripping the bar correctly. “Gloves provide a barrier between your hand and the equipment,” he adds, “which can help prevent calluses if that’s a big concern for you.” But if you try wearing lifting gloves and notice that they keep you from really feeling the bar, consider using athletic tape or performance chalk as a barrier instead.

Ditch The Lotion and Rings

It may sound counter-intuitive, but moisturizer and lotion can actually make your hands more susceptible to ripping, says Tony Carvajal, CrossFit Trainer with RSP Nutrition (who has plenty of experience with barbell battle “scars”). When you lift you want your hands to be dry and hard because it will be easier to grip the bar. Moisturizer makes the skin soft and therefore more susceptible ripping from the friction and rub of your hand around the bar.

Wickham agrees with the no-lotion rule. “Nobody wants to walk into work with really rough hands,” he says, “but if you can, avoid moisturizing.”

And if you’re a married bad-ass or just a jewelry fan, keep your rings at home (or in the locker room). They could pinch the skin and increase the likelihood that it rips, says Wickham. A good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t want to lose it in Mud Mile, don’t wear it weightlifting.

Keep Calluses In Check

Some callus build up is inevitable, Mudder Nation, so wear them loud and proud like your finisher headband. “Calluses are proof your hands are getting used to gripping the weights,” says Carvajal. “That’s just the nature of the beast.”

But once you have a callus, the skin will continue to thicken, so you need to take preventive measures to keep the rugged ridges from tearing. “If the calluses get too thick they will eventually get caught and snag or rip, causing a gash on your hand,” says Carvajal.

So what can you do? File them down to prevent them from ripping. If you’re lifting three or four times a week, Carvajal recommends using a hand and finger callus file once a week. “Just be sure not to file all the way down to the raw skin.”

A pumice stone works, too. “Gently use the stone after soaking your hands in warm water for at least 5 minutes,” advises Yoram Harth, MD, a board certified dermatologist and medical director of MDacne.

Don't Rip Your Rip

What if you do get a rip? “Do not trim it," Dr. Harth says. "The remaining flap of skin is the best healing bandage you can have.” He suggests leaving it in place, washing the area with soap and water, and covering the rip with a sterile gauze pad or a bandage.

Even if you’re training to be the Strongest, Baddest, Most Epic Mudder of all time, if you’ve got an open wound on your hand, it’s probably best to call it a day and leave The Gauntlet prep for another day.

But if you are going to try and tough it out through more obstacle prep, make sure to keep your hand wrapped or bandage your hand up. While it might hamper your workout, not having a rip covered could cause it to bleed or rip further, which will only prolong healing.

Pop Blisters—Carefully

Blisters happen when pressure builds up between the skin and the weight or bar, explains Dr. Harth, usually from gymnastics movements or barbell cycling. “The fluid in the blister is the colorless fluid part of blood, and it is considered sterile.”

You don’t want to let your equipment do the popping job for you. That can damage the skin over the blister, which Dr. Harth reasserts, “is the best healing bandage you can get.”

Instead, he recommends puncturing the bubble with a sterile, very sharp, very thin needle to let the fluid out. “Do not try to cut or remove the blister roof,” he says. Again, once you sustain this injury, you'll probably want to call it a day.

But if you’re going to work out, cover the punctured skin accordingly—with grips, gloves, or tape, says Daniel P. Friedmann, MD, a board certified dermatologist with Westlake Dermatology. Also consider a Nexcare™ Blister Waterproof bandage to protect it from bacteria. “But ideally, you should wait until the area is relatively healed before potentially returning to those same activities to prevent re-traumatizing that area,” he says.

 

Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based fitness and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 trainer. When she's not lifting heavy sh*t, playing rugby, or getting downright dirty, she can be found reading memoirs and guzzling cold brew. Follow her on Instagram.