One of the most frustrating things I have experienced in my CrossFit training is having to stop in the middle of a workout because of hand rips. At the moment when you realize your hands are wounded, there is not much pain. Your adrenaline is ruling your senses, but you know you can’t ignore it. The bloody red tears on your palms warn you to stop. At this point, you might even feel like a warrior or an Amazon woman. You worked out so hard that you bled! But, Amazon or not, at this point, most people stop because it’s annoying (having a wound is never fun and eventually it will hurt) and your performance is hampered.
Having ripped hands for an athlete is a serious thing. Besides keeping us away from our beloved gymnastics and barbell movements, continuing your workout can cause bigger problems: you can worsen the wounds which will take longer to heal and prevent you from training properly or, even worse, you can get an infection. Let’s be honest, even a clean gym is not particularly sterile. The last thing you want to do with your ripped hands is to wash them constantly because it burns like hell! But if you don’t clean and protect them properly, bacteria can enter the wounds and lead to infection. Bacteria may come from the surrounding skin, the external environment, or dirty gym equipment.
The purpose of this article is not to scare you. We want you to be your best self. And for that you need to learn how to also take care of your hands. In this article, you will find information about what causes rips and how to prevent and treat them. So the next time you are finishing your last set of toes to bar, you can be the first one to clap with healthy hands to your mates for their (and your) great effort.
How do we get ripped hands?
First, what are hand rips?
Hand rips are wounds caused by skin tearing off your hands, most commonly on the palm or near the knuckles. The skin on your hands can get rough and, in the worst scenario, rip open. The friction created by lifting weights or hanging from bars will often lead to rips. This explains why hand rips are one of the more common problems CrossFit athletes come across.
There are two qualities that make your hands more susceptible to ripping: soft hands with little or no callus build-up, or too much callus build-up that gives the unattractive look of bumps or ridges on the surface of your hands. Palms with too much callus are much more susceptible to ripping.
As most things in life, balance is the key. You need to build-up medium callus—deep but smooth and supple. This well build-up layer will protect your hands and keep them in good shape when working out.
How to avoid getting these annoying rips?
Let’s take action and prevent our beautiful hands and bar workouts from getting damaged.
We are going to use Robin Ribeiro’s, former gymnast and the owner of RipFix, advice. She knows all the elements of good hand care for athletes whose performance depends on the grip of their hands. Robin says that keeping hands healthy “is about every day hand maintenance, not just the rips.”
The first thing to keep in mind is the position of your hands when you are using the bars. Robin suggests “try re-gripping at the top of a pull up and avoid having a death grip on the bar.” This means, try gripping the bar at the base of your fingers. If you do that you will see that your hands are less compressed between the bar and your fingers, and you’d be able to move more easily while performing on the bar.
Now, take a look at your palms, how are they?
- If they are soft, thin-skinned, you must slowly and gradually build up your calluses. You definitely need to keep working out using your hands, but don’t go crazy! Building up calluses takes time and what is more important, in this process you don’t want them to rip. Develop good healthy protective calluses by gradually building up the thickness and toughness of the skin.
- If they are thicker in certain areas but not in others, and you have some kind of “ridges” of thick skin, you need a hand grooming tool. For this Robin says “use a pumice stone or a razor if you need to. A good time to file your hands is after a shower when your calluses are a bit swollen and soft. File until you no longer feel hard edges. Your skin will still be thick, but it needs to be smooth and consistent.”
Your goal: Ideal CrossFit hands have a consistent overall thickness of the skin on the hands and the surface is smooth.
- Every night before going to sleep apply a moisturizer. Robin thinks “athletes’ hands should be smooth and supple. Your hands don’t have to be ugly. I apply moisturizer to my hands and feet every night. It keeps the callouses from hardening and adds moisture back into my hands after chalk has dried them out.”
One of the best ways to protect your hands during a workout is with gymnastics grips or Hook Grip tape. Personally, I use the Roo Grips because the leather is soft and it fits my hands well, but there are many available to choose from.
Protecting your hands with tape during a workout
I know how easy it looks when other CrossFitters tape their hands before the workout, but when you do it, it’s a complete mess and waste of tape. Don’t worry! With this guide you will learn how to do it perfectly so the tape will stay in its place until the last rep of your workout, and it won’t take too much precious time.
This taping method is suggested by Phil Savage, gymnastics coach, who was interviewed by CrossFit Journal. Phil shows this method to his gymnasts, not only for prevention, but also when the athletes are healing from ripps (as early as one day after).
- Tear off a 14-inch length of 1½-inch athletic tape.
- Split the strip of tape lengthwise from one end to about the midpoint.
- Place the tape on the hand with the solid half directly over the rip on the palm and with the start of the split right at the base of the finger. Press the tape down against the skin, starting from the inside of the wrist all the way to the split tape on the back of the hand and the top of the wrist. You can add a second layer of this tape grip on top of the first one for additional protection.
- Use some more tape around the wrist to wrap the loose ends of the tape grip. This will “lock in” the tape grip covering the rip, and keep it from moving and coming off the hand. You only need to wrap around the wrist twice. The first time around is to hold the tape grip down, and the second time around, you can tuck in the loose extra ends of the tape grip back over the taped wrist and then tape over those extra ends. When the grip is complete, the hand should be able to open completely.
Ouch I got a rip, what to do now?
Follow these easy steps:
- Carefully pull the hanging skin off by using small nail clippers or small scissors and carefully cut as much of the skin as you can away from its point of contact.
- Wash your hands with soap and water. Yes, it’s going to be painful, but this will lower your risk of getting an infection. Soap and water will remove any blood and other impurities and cleanse the area of possible bacteria.
- Keep it clean and moist: apply an antibacterial ointment (like Neosporin), which also acts like a lubricant to replace the lost natural skin oils that were washed away in the cleansing process. Some athletes also recommend to use a product with Vitamin E or anything from Vaseline to Bag Balm.
- Before going to bed:
Wash your hands with soap and water one more time.
Apply a generous amount of Neosporin to the fresh wound.
Cover the wound with a small bandage or tape. This will allow the Neosporin to do its job overnight to keep the area moist and prevent infection.
- The day after:
When you wake up the next morning, with clean hands apply a generous amount of
Neosporin or vitamin E to your wound. In this step, I personally recommend you to use vitamin E oil. It does a wonderful job in healing your hands and it acts quite fast.
- Keep your wound covered for at least 5 days. Research shows that when wounds are kept moist and covered, blood vessels regenerate faster and the number of cells that cause inflammation drop more rapidly than they do in wounds allowed to air out.
Little piece of advice: don’t use Superglue to keep the torn skin on the hand, this is what some gymnasts do but, as far as I know, it doesn’t have a medical backup.
Please don’t wait until your hands are ripped to take care of them. Start today, following the easy steps we have shared with you. Use hand moisturizer every night before bed and don’t forget to file them down or shave them. Another good idea that a CrossFit friend gave me is to always have a hand care kit in your gym bag. Don’t forget to put some antibacterial ointment like Neosporin (easy to use and cheap), some bandages or gauze and athletic tape.
Last thing, if you found this information useful, share it with your CrossFit friends! Let’s support each other for a better training experience and health. But please, please stop posting photos of your ripped hands full of blood; no one wants to see that. It’s not good that you ripped your hands. It’s not something to admire and it doesn’t look great for your progression as a badass CrossFit athlete!
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Giuliana is a yoga instructor and Crossfitter from Peru who is currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand with her Crossfit Coach (and husband) Tim.