Hand Care 101
“If you feel like you’re going to tear, come down off the rig and change up your scale to keep your hands in tact!” This is a phrase I am constantly yelling out in classes on days chock full of pull ups, toes 2 bar, or muscle ups in an attempt to save someone from a nasty rip. But if you have never had a tear before, then how do you know what it feels like to rip? And what if you are about to set a new personal best on Fran with just 3 pull ups to go so you throw caution to the wind and end up with a tear for your efforts? This article is here to answer all of your hand care questions to help you in the future so you can swing around on the rig to your heart’s content.
As you get more and more volume in on the rig, you will probably start to notice some calluses developing on your palms. The first step to hand care is making sure that these guys do not grow totally out of hand (pun drop). If left unmanaged, your calluses can grow to the extent that they will tear off in giant, nasty chunks. You can simply shave them down in the shower using a razor (super gently) or a pumice stone to keep them under control. If your hands start to feel painful by simply hopping up on the rig, then you probably need to shave them down. I generally shave mine down every other day or so.
Another pre workout trick you can get done is finding a pair of solid grips. There are tons of options out there for gymnastics grips that give your hand some protection. You can go with a more expensive but durable option from a company like Bear Komplex or Victory Grips. One of my personal favorites is the premade tape grips from the Natural Grip. You can go the even more economical route by creating your own tape grips (search YouTube for tutorials).
During the Workout:
Change up your grip slightly throughout workouts with a lot of swinging to avoid wearing out the same part of your hands the entire time (switch it up between gripping with the fingertips and the palms to disperse the friction).
If you start to feel hot spots on your hands or feel a bit of separation of the layers of the skin, then you are likely getting close to a tear. I highly encourage people to make a change to the workout at this point. For pull ups, move to ring rows or lower the reps with strict pull ups. For toes to bar, switch to a hollow rock or toes to rig scale.
After a Rip:
Even if we do our best to avoid them, rips are likely to happen at some point. If you end up with a rip, the first thing you should do is clean out your hands really well as soon as possible. Do not wait until you get home, head into the bathroom and get it over with. This will sting but it is important to get the open wound cleaned out. You should also let your coach know that it happened and work together to make sure any equipment you used is also cleaned off.
Once you have cleaned it out, the next step is applying an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin. This will help with avoiding infection. If your tear has a big flap of skin dangling in the wind, have someone you trust help with cutting away at the excess skin. Sometimes, a tear will only partially happen. In these cases, you will want to leave that skin on as long as possible as it can act as a sort of bandage for the wound. If you start to notice the area around the tear getting red, swollen, and painful, then it may be time to seek medical care.
Continue to keep the area clean and moisturized with ointment or bag balm so the area does not dry out. A mix of covering the rip and letting it breathe is my usual recommendation. This will help the skin to heal up back to normal as fast as possible. If you are going to workout through the tear, then avoid movements that may have caused it in the first place and use hand protection to keep the tear covered up. You may want to avoid gripping movements altogether for a brief time to get back to normal sooner. Usually a week will be enough time to let your hand heal, a perfect opportunity to take switch up your routine and head to yoga for a week!
Tears happen with the movements that we practice in classes, but they are not a badge of honor or a test of your toughness. Tearing your hand open should be treated as a minor injury that we are trying to avoid as often as possible. If you find yourself ripping every other week, then it may be time to reevaluate how you are treating your hands and how you are approaching your workouts.