The Importance of Hand Care As An Athlete

Published: 7/18/2021

by malia warren, JEN WIRTH

*THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES*

You know the feeling.

You chalk up, hop on the pull-up bar, ready to rock. Fran has NO chance this time.

On the second to last pull-up your hand rips. Maybe it’s just a blister that hasn’t popped, or maybe it’s a full on bleeding rip that stops your workout.

But little did you know, this rip was going to happen eventually, Fran or no Fran. In this article, with the help of Jen Wirth, MSN, owner of WOD Balm, we’re going to go over how rips happen, how to take care of them, and most importantly, how to prevent them in the future!

How Do Rips Happen?

Rips or tears in the skin can happen in any number of ways.

Skin can crack due to dryness or cold weather, or by accidentally falling down and scraping yourself up. Skin is the biggest organ on our bodies, which makes it more susceptible to both external and internal stressors. Stress, dry weather, stubbing your toe on the bed post, all of it can take its toll.

But what about when it happens during exercise?

Kristin doing a Toes-to-Bar movement

We’re referring to hand rips or tears here. If you’ve ever watched a competitive CrossFit competition, you have definitely seen it – the nasty, bleeding hands.

Usually, a hand tear will start with a blister, caused by friction between the skin of your hands and the pull-up bar, dumbbell, or barbell.

If you have gotten a hand tear before, it’s likely that before you even started the workout, your hands were on the dryer side. When you apply chalk or wear gymnastics grips with no chalk, your hands get even drier.

(We’ll talk about gymnastics grips later, too!)

When you continue to apply friction to the area, such as repping out pull-ups or toes-to-bar (a movement where you’re hanging from the pull-up bar and use your core to swing your feet up and tap your toes on the bar between your gripping hands) you risk the inevitable tears.

They start as innocent little calluses or dry skin. Then you feel a sort of pull on your skin when you release the bar and notice a new blister. If you keep on exercising, the blister may pop.

Now you have a hand tear.

These hands just did pull-ups naked (no grips) but can you see the blisters thinking about making an appearance?

Sometimes hand tears are just painful popped blisters, with a flap of loose, dying skin over a very tender lower level of skin. There are some people that will keep on working out past this point, because #adrenaline.

There are other times though when the skin rips all the way off and the skin underneath rips as well, and bleeds. But some athletes just keep going on their workouts when this happens.

It’s ok #RipsHappen, but what next?

How to Care for a Rip?

Well, now you went an ripped anyway because you just *had* to do those final few reps RX, huh?

It’s cool. It happens to the best of us. Now we’ll walk you through how to care for your rip or tear. You want it to heal as quickly as possible, right?

According to Jen at WOD Balm, the overall goal is to keep the injured area clean and protect it from painful bumps and bangs while you’re healing.

Will you just look at this MAGIC!?

The first step in caring for a hand tear is to clean the area as thoroughly as you can. A stream of hydrogen peroxide over the injured area is a great way to clean it, although grinning and bearing it through some good ‘ol fashioned soap and water works too. Go for a mild smelling soap, sometimes the really perfume-y ones sting even more!

When the area is clean and disinfected, use a skin repairing balm, such as Tear Repair and then bandage the area as well as possible. Jen formulated Tear Repair with Lavender Oil, which helps hands heal faster, as well as Tea Tree Oil, which has broad spectrum antibiotic properties.

Simply apply to the tear and watch the magic happen. Some clients, and even Jen herself, have seen improvement in 1-3 days.

If you don’t have Tear Repair on hand, you can use other disinfectant ointments, like Neosporin, on your tears. Whatever you choose, it’s definitely recommended that you bandage the area up until you’re able to move/use your hand without pain and a nice dry coat of skin forms over the injured area.

In the first few days after the tear, it’s good to keep spare bandages and Tear Repair on hand. Reapply as needed to keep the area hydrated and healing.

The healing process is different for everyone and may vary for each individual, but it’s safe to say you are healing once you get to the point where you can wash your hands and do most activities without pain.

Should you keep working out after a rip?

Honestly, it depends on the person.

If you’re in workout two of an all day, four part CrossFit competition, you don’t have much of a choice except to keep going.

Bandage it up, and finish out the day.

But if you’re able to take a few days rest while it heals, that would be best. Best for the healing process and for avoiding potential infections.

I personally will feel a bubble blister forming and stop or modify the exercise, because I know what it means. It means days without a barbell in my hands and ladies and gentlemen, I just cannot.

As a CrossFit coach and personal trainer, Jen saw it all.

She saw people stop, saw people keep going and embrace the tears like an old friend, and she saw people bleed so bad they had to send in a hazmat crew.

Kidding about the last part. Mostly.

I mean, you have to be a little bothered when you tear your hands in three or four places, right? But sometimes adrenaline will push you through and make you finish the workout.

I dunno about you all, but I would probably push through a hand tear on Murph day.

But hey, hands are on their own schedules. What if they tear in the beginning of a workout?

Jen recommends cleaning and bandaging your hand tear quickly, and then getting back into the workout, but modifying the exercise that gave you the tear. If it happened on pull-ups, you shouldn’t be adding that body weight friction to the tear. Instead, try Ring Rows and take care to not put too much pressure on the wound.

If you were doing toes-to-bar or hanging-knee-raises, consider substituting sit-ups, V-Ups, or GHD sit-ups. If you were doing muscle-ups, sub Burpees or work on any other of your weaknesses. There are so many exercises to choose from, it’s not hard to find a substitute exercise that will work your muscles and help you make gains, without re-injuring your hands.

Ask your coach if you’re not sure what substitutions you should make, should you choose to continue to workout with a hand tear.

It’s also totally ok to stop. Just come back and do the workout when your hands heal #noexcuses

How to Bandage

Straight from the nurse: if you choose to continue to workout with a hand tear, bandage it with a small piece of gauze and some athletic tape. Even just the tape will do as a temporary *maybe might possibly work* solution.

Be sure the area around the wound is clean and disinfected. I know it’s not ideal mid-workout, no judgement here, but it’s best to get the would cleaned and bandaged as soon as possible.

Change the bandage as needed while also applying skin healing balm, like Tear Repair.

Side note: Jen, AKA the Nurse, recommends that if you have experienced a skin tear during a workout, please make sure to wipe down your pull-up bar, barbell, Dumbbells, and the rest of your workspace well with antibacterial cleaning spray. Always pick up any bandaids or tape that you drop on the floor during the workout.

Dried out blister that will eventually form into a callus if not filed and hydrated

Nobody likes leftover skin on their workout bar. Just saying.

Shop Gold Bond on Amazon

How to Avoid Rips Going Forward?

It all starts with the callus.

We all get them. Be it work-related or work-out related, calluses are caused by repeated pressure or friction on an area of skin. The skin essentially dies and then forms a hard protective layer due to continued friction. I mean, you can’t blame your skin right? It’s just protecting itself, like a how your body protects you from illnesses with your immune system.

Keeping your calluses (and the skin around them) from drying out is one of the most important things you can to to prevent your hands from tearing again in the future.

You could use gloves, tape your hands, wear grips, etc., but hand tears, for some athletes, are just a way of life. But if you want to prevent tears, you have to give your hands some love. Keep them hydrated with lotion when you’re done working out for the day, try some reparative lotions like the Gold Bond Intensive Care line.

Keeping your hands hydrated with lotions is so important when trying to prevent rips, but even more important if you live in a dry climate (like I do in Colorado).

We recommend making this a post-workout routine: wash the chalk and dirt off your hands and apply a little bit of lotion. If you have hard calluses forming, you can follow a callus protocol:

  1. File calluses using a pumice stone – You can find these at any grocery store in the body wash section, but you get one with the Callus Care Kit from Wod Balm, so give that one a try!
  2. Apply lotion – as mentioned earlier, a skin formulated lotion is great but you could also apply some Tear Repair, which doubles as a preventative.
  3. Protect them – in addition to the steps above, you will want to do some added protection if you plan on doing some bar movements. Check out our Lifting the Dream Gymnastics Grips, which provide a protective layer and no holes so you can easily transition between movements during a workout! Grips are great for protecting hands during daily workouts, but nothing will take the place of proper callus care – so make sure to keep hydrating your hands!


As Short Bit about Grips

We will write more in depth about grips and how to use them, but I thought it would be appropriate to bring it up here because of the topic of hand care.

I used to be a Grip Hater.

Fingerless grips allow for a more natural grip on the bar.

I tried them, and hated them. I tried the sticky wod papers that protect your grip and they’re ok, but not a long-term solution. I remember tearing in CrossFit and it ruing my Olympic lifting training for a day or two while it healed.

If you’ve ever tried to snatch with a tear, you know of the pain I speak of.

Of course the underlying issue is that my hands were too dry. I live in Colorado and unless you’re always putting on lotion, your skin will dry out. Tears on tears on tears happened before I tried fingerless grips. With enough chalk (on both sides btw) I was able to get through bar workouts with NO tears or blisters.

So, now I’m a convert. I don’t hop on the bar without my Gymnastics Grips. Be sure to wet them with a spray bottle before applying chalk. This makes the chalk stay on longer in the workout and avoiding having to reapply it so much.

Use grips, or gloves or tape (even tape the bar itself!) to avoid ripping, but the best advice to prevent rips is to keep them hydrated. As they say, the real work is put in in the off-season. This also applies to proper hand care: When you’re not WOD-ing, you’re hydrating.

Stay hydrated, my friends!

I’m so gracious to Jen for her contribution on this post! If you are looking for some rad hand care products, check her out, you won’t be disappointed!

If you have any questions or you would like to be a guest blogger, please email us at hello@liftingthedream.com 

Have you ripped before? How do you take care of your rips?

Jen Wirth is a salve expert and former owner of Wildcat CrossFit in Tucson, AZ.  She has years of experience creating effective, powerful salves from all natural ingredients. She discovered her balm skills after tearing her hands badly in a CrossFit workout and then needing to wash her hands frequently the next day in nursing school. Ouch! She then spent time developing one of her most popular products, Tear Repair, which is part of the WOD Balm Family. You can find Tear Repair and other natural skin care products on her Etsy site. Check it out on Instagram too @wod_balm

Jen Wirth, Owner of WOD Balm and author of Pick Up a Poop for Your Neighbor, available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon

Lifting, Lifting Knee Sleeves, Knee Sleeves, Knee Braces, Compression, Crossfit, Crossfit Knee Sleeves, Weightlifting, Powerlifting, Knee Protection, Neoprene Sleeves, Knee Wraps, Knee Support, Motivation, Workout, Don’t Give Up, You Got This, Body Positivity, Self Love, Love Yourself, Hard Work, Workout Motivation

Malia is the owner, and mamapreneur, of Lifting the Dream. When she’s not lifting heavy weights, she’s doing some fun shit outdoors with her family or attempting to make rollerblading cool again. She is a Cali girl born and raised, with salt water in her veins and sunshine in her heart. She and her family now reside near Denver, Colorado, soaking up the 300+ days of sunshine and breathtaking (literally, altitude) views.

Stay Lifting My Friends,

Bee Tee Dubs (BTW). 

CROSSFIT, INC DOES NOT ENDORSE, SANCTION, APPROVE OF, OR SUPPORT THIS WORK OR ANY OPINION EXPRESSED HEREIN.

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