If you’ve lifted weights or had to use your hands to any extent you’ll know them well: calluses. The small patches of hard skin that build up on your hands. As annoying as they are, without them our poor hands would get torn up and even more sore than they do now – building hard skin is the body’s protection response to the repeated pressure of gripping weights and hanging from bars.
Unfortunately, if the hard skin builds up too much it can hurt or worse, rip off. Rips happen fairly occasionally but when they do it tends to be in the middle of a gruelling WOD when you could really do without the pain of inconvenience of torn hands! They’re agony and the worst rips can stop you training for weeks.
Thankfully, you can look after your calluses to keep them flat and you prevent tears, and there are things you can do to look after your hands once they’ve ripped – but try to stick to the following to prevent tears as they are really no fun at all.
Hand Callus Maintenance
I try my best to maintain my calluses once a week, after training on a Saturday – this is the final day of a tough week of training for me, so my calluses tend to be at their worst then. If my calluses don’t hurt then visually I can tell they need looking after: you can see from the above that the callus underneath my ring finger is prominent, and the one under my little finger has cracked a bit and I’ve picked at it (eew, bad habit I know, try not to do this!).
First up, with my hands as dry as possible, I use a nail file to shave the callus down as flat as possible. Some people use a pumice stone, which will do the same sort of job; or a callus shaver, but I would worry about shaving away too much and leaving it raw. I think it’s best to do it as slowly and gradually as possible – it’s our skin after all, and just one layer too deep and we’ll be left with raw skin.
Keep filing until the callus is flat but there is still a layer of hard skin.
Thanks Lookfantastic for letting me borrow the marble slate, I need to get me one of these! The cactus is all mine.
You could leave it there if you wanted to, but I’ve had good results from moisturising afterwards. First I apply Carnation Hard Skin Remover pen* in targeted areas, which helps to soften using glycolic acid, then I use What Skin Needs Cracked Skin Cream* all over my hands. This cream stops the calluses getting rough any cracking, preventing any infection and also stopping me getting my fingernail in to pick..! (I’m a serious picker, remember)
Like I said, calluses can’t protrude too much else they’ll hurt and rip, but we still need them, so both of these products help the areas become supple and stops them drying out without them getting too soft. I honestly wouldn’t want a “wonder product” that stripped away all the hard skin – I’d be back to square one growing them again.
Dealing with a Hand Rip
This has happened to me a few times now, but only badly once after doing “Randy”, which was 75 power snatches for time. Both the calluses under my little fingers ripped off no more than half way through! It was absolute agony but I do feel it’s a rite of passage as a new CrossFitter to get your first rip.
I wanted to carry on with the WOD so I stuffed the rips full of chalk and carried on, but it’s totally up to you whether you carry on after a rip. Everyone knows how much they sting so nobody will think any less of you (even if you do get ripped by your boxmates – no pun intended – for a little while). Rips are sometimes just the top few layers of skin, though sometimes they can draw blood, so the priority here is to stop the bleeding. Running a wound under cold water usually slows down bleeding but this will be agony on a rip – it’s best to apply pressure using a swab from the First Aid box.
Sometimes a flap of skin can be left over. It’s your decision, but most people say to leave it as in the first instance it’ll help the rip from being too sensitive and help keep it clean. That flap of skin could even mean you can carry on with the WOD or train again in a few days. It’ll fall off eventually, or some choose to use sterile scissors to cut it off. Whatever you do, do not pull it. And this is coming from me, Queen of Itchy Fingers – I love pulling and picking at any spare bit of skin, but not in this situation – the stinging will be absolutely unbearable and you might even draw more blood.
The best thing I’ve found for quickly soothing the pain and beginning the healing process is Savlon Healing Gel, available from most supermarkets – it creates a thin film over the top and is good to put on at night to simultaneously dry out and heal the rip. After our last partner competition at the box, where one partner had to hang while the other did pull ups, the Savlon was passed around from athlete to athlete in an attempt to soothe rips. Not everyone agreed it worked, but for me it helps to dull the stinging, and the last time I used it my rips were healed within days.
Be kind to yourself as your hands heal, and try to do exercises that don’t involve holding barbells or hanging from the rig. That endurance class you’ve always wanted to try? Now’s the time! Once they’re completely healed start again with the hand maintenance. I can’t promise it won’t ever happen again, but hopefully by looking after your hands better callus rips will happen less and less often.