Man working out on weight machine

People who take pride in the work they do with their hands—weightlifters, guitar players, bricklayers, and more—wear their calluses as a badge of honor. Calluses are evidence of your hard work and dedication, and they testify to your continued efforts. You should be proud; your body’s literally needed to toughen up because of your training. However, treating calluses and caring for them (and, when needed, taking steps to prevent calluses) is essential when it comes to avoiding painful tears that can put a stop to your workout.

Developing an initial layer of callus is a natural part of your body’s response to your exercise. They’re your body’s protection against the folding and friction between your skin and the bar as you lift weights. You’ll want to spend just a little time to prevent calluses and care for hands to keep them from getting out of control. Take a look at these popular methods, and try a few to find the ones that work best with your routine.

At the Gym: Prevent Calluses

Protective Accessories

An easy way to avoid injuring your hands is to use protective gear especially made for athletes. Gloves or handgrips are available in a variety of styles and materials. Alternatively, you can use grip pads. Instead of wearing them, you’ll place them between your hands and the bar. These are useful if you need something temporary to protect a sensitive injury.

Keep in mind, though, that using grips or gloves comes along with a trade-off. The added material between you and the bar means your grip will be slightly altered, and you’ll have a wider diameter to hold. Gym owner and kettlebell instructor Mark Hofman told Men’s Health: “Gloves hinder proper technique, especially with kettlebells. Your lifts can be stronger without them.” Because you sweat in exercise gloves, they’ll also need to be cleaned between uses, which means they get a lot of wear and tear and will eventually need to be replaced.

Chalk

Performance chalk, also called gym chalk or lifting chalk, can’t be switched out for school or sidewalk chalk. The chalks made for working out use magnesium carbonate to absorb sweat and increase your grip, while everyday chalk will wash away with sweat and leave your hands slippery. In addition to protecting your hands from blisters, tears, and painful calluses, using performance chalk to improve your grip can increase the number of reps you can complete and help you focus on proper form.

You can find chalks made especially for working out at sporting goods stores, on Amazon, or at Walmart sold in wrapped blocks, balls, or as powder. Use a bucket, box, or zipper bag to transport your chalk and keep mess to a minimum if yours doesn’t come with a container.

Whichever type you choose, use chalk sparingly. Coating your hands with tons of the stuff won’t make it work any better. In fact, it may increase the friction you’re working to prevent. Some gyms have banned using chalk because it can be messy, so be sure it’s allowed before breaking out the chalk where you work out.

Grip

The grip you use has a lot to do with whether or not you’ll experience painful calluses or torn blisters. If your calluses hurt during your workout, that’s a signal that you need to alter your grip. (Pain before you’ve developed an initial layer of callus is normal regardless of your grip.)

For exercises that use a pulling motion (rows, deadlifts, pull-ups, etc.), one technique is to keep the bar gripped between your midpalm and the base of your fingers. Try placing the bar in the crease between your fingers and palm to minimize the risk of injury and calluses. The farther toward your palm you hold the bar, the more of your skin is folded and pinched, leading to friction and calluses.

Another approach is to go with a slightly lower grip in the midpalm that puts the bar over your existing calluses. If you experience pain with one grip, try the other. Optimally, proper grip technique will prevent the skin pinching and folding between your fingers and palm that causes pain and excess calluses.

At Home: Callus Care for Hands

Even if you take steps to protect your hands, you can count on encountering calluses as you build strength and your routine becomes more demanding. You’ll want to take care of them when they appear to prevent tears and other injury.

  • File down callused areas regularly. Using a tool such as a pumice stone, Ped Egg, nail file, or shaver made especially for calluses and corns, carefully file away the tough excess skin that forms calluses. You can soak your hands in warm water (some people like to add Epsom salts) to make the calluses easier to remove—for maximum convenience, take care of calluses right after showering. The filing process should not be painful. Remove excess skin that gets in the way or could easily tear while leaving a protective layer to keep injuries from happening. When you’re done, use a lotion or moisturizer.
  • Treat torn calluses ASAP. If a callus has already torn, cut away any dead skin that’s easy to remove. Leaving flaps of skin or gluing them down increases the likelihood of tearing again. If a blister has formed, allow it to drain. Then carefully clean the area, let it dry, and bandage it. Give the area with the broken skin a break and allow it to heal before continuing to use it in workouts.

Your hands are your first point of contact with the bar, and a torn callus or open blister makes every rep painful, from the time of injury to the time the wound fully heals. Whichever methods you choose, treating calluses and taking care of your hands before, during, and after a workout is vital for making the most of your training.

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