What does the way you use chalk at the gym say about you?
This is an image you’ve seen plenty of times at your gym: just before lifting or grabbing onto the pullup bar, Crossfitters at your gym dust their hands with a white powder known as gym chalk. This powder can help increase grip strength, keep palms dry and get more reps. For most athletes, this tool it’s a must and they have developed creative ways of making the best use of it. We have noticed certain patterns of chalk use among female CrossFitters that we would like to share with you. We are going to try to figure out how efficient are those multiple uses of chalk and who knows, maybe you can give it a try on your next workout.
What is chalk and why is it useful?
Gym Chalk is a white powder made out of magnesium carbonate. Since the early days, chalk has been widely used by gymnasts, and power and Olympic lifters for heavy barbell pulling exercises. This study conducted in 2018 found that 100% magnesium carbonate helped improve weight-assisted pull up performance by about 16% compared to no chalk. The authors suggest that chalk be used to increase performance.
Chalk has two main functional benefits; it absorbs perspiration and reduces friction, which helps to secure a proper grip by soaking up the moisture on your palms and fingers.
Another interesting benefit is that applying chalk can provide a calming effect. When athletes apply it in the middle of their workouts, they take a short pause to rub it on their hands, slowing their breathing and calming down their minds. This can explain the multiple times you chalk up for single heavy reps!
Chalk can also have a social benefit. When there are chalk bowls available at the gym, it’s common to see a couple of athletes gathering around the bowl and sharing some tips or just chatting while applying chalk.
How much chalk you should apply is debatable, but have in mind that, in certain conditions, it can be harmful. The particles of chalk in the air are not good for our respiratory systems. So moderation and good ventilation is important.
While chalk is the most popular tool to keep a firm grip, some athletes also like to wear palm guards. In this article you can find information about the best hand grips for CrossFit. Another alternative to powdered chalk is liquid chalk, which does the same job as chalk but is not as accessible.
8 Types of Chalk Abusers at the Gym
This is an attempt to identify certain types of chalk users among the female CrossFit community. Maybe you resonate with one or several types? Let’s find out!
The Clapper is the festive butterfly of the gym. Always, after applying chalk to her hands, she gives a big clap turning the gym into an Indian Holi Celebration, where people throw colored powder into the air and splash them on others. In this case, the Clapper fills the air around her with white particles giving a magic sensation, maybe as an anticipated celebration for her triumph over heavy weights.
This CrossFitter lives up to standards, she grabs a brand new block of chalk and wipes it around the gripping area of her barbell. The result, an even layer of white powder exactly between the knurl marks of the barbell (the crosshatch pattern of the barbell). This gives the Wiper an image of perfection and a sense that she has her lifts under control.
The wiper always keeps her blocks of chalk inside a tupperware, ready to be used and in proper condition.
This CrossFitter LOVES to crush stress by smashing a new block of chalk between her hands leaving almost no solid forms in the chalk bowl. The Crusher knows how to release tension in the middle of a workout. When she feels that her heart is pounding very fast, her face is red-hot and dripping sweat, she walks to the chalk bowl and with all her rage she crushes the chalk. After that second of joy, she feels relieved and ready to smash the barbell this time!
Ironically, the Writer has always had a hard time figuring out how to keep track of rounds during workouts. She doesn’t want to slow herself down by writing on her fitness planner. No worries, she just grabs a piece of chalk and starts marking her rounds on the gym floor. Sometimes she even applies chalk directly to the equipment like on top of boxes or on the rig posts. Either way, the writer always finds a surface to mark her rounds with chalk.
The “Just because”
Seriously, this CrossFitter just loves the feeling of her chalked hands when doing every movement at the gym. This applies to squats, box jumps, running, sit-ups, you name it! There is no explanation needed, it’s just because she enjoys the feeling of having a dry grip ready to be used. And who can blame her? If your brain likes it, your body will feel safe and ready to perform better.
This CrossFitter is well known for her creativity. Besides using chalk to improve her grip strength, she likes to chalk individual fingers, forearms, every centimeter of her palm or any other part of her body that might be exposed to friction with the bar, like the chins and sometimes even the armpits (maybe here there is a deodorant related need). The result is sheer, almost like white eye shadow over her body, making it a good option for body paint. One of the risks is that unwillingly she can leave behind some white tags around the gym or handprints on her body (mostly on the booty).
Something that this athlete is fascinated with, besides CrossFit, is the art of tagging. She loves to leave her signature (or her pseudonym name or logo) on every surface she finds. Normally she uses markers, paint sticks, chisel tips, steel heads, you name it! But at the gym, she has realized the potential of chalk for her artistic purposes. She decides to apply chalk on her hands for working out but also to decorate the equipment and make the walls more interesting while performing wallballs. Every time, the locations for these chalk tags become more inventive and more challenging to reach (look over the pegboard).
This CrossFit athlete also is a huge fan of LeBron. King James, as she calls him, initiated her into the chalk ritual. As LeBron does, she applies chalk to her hands to keep them dry and just before the workout starts gives a strong clap pulverizing all the chalk particles into the air. She attacks the workout feeling like a big star athlete and that spreads to her peers. They are waiting for that clap and some of them also dare to follow the ritual of the chalk.
I hope these fun caricatures have brought some smiles into your CrossFit journey. It was fun for me to make a list of the types of chalk users and realize that I check a few of the categories. But no worries, these are all assumptions. What I want you to take with you is that you don’t need a lot of chalk to secure your grip, you just need a thin layer; don’t underestimate the benefits of traditional chalk that can help you maximize grip strength and keep your hand dry in an easy and cheap way; and you don’t need to use chalk for exercises such as squats, leg extensions or abs! Chalk should feel smooth and secure. If it feels slippery like baby powder, it won’t work the way you want it to.
Although there are a lot of alternatives to chalk, I recommend you stick to the traditional chalk powder. Liquid chalk is also a good idea (unless you’re a gym owner, then you might hate it while trying to clean your rig). Avoid letting your creativity fly away like this gymnast who used honey mixed with chalk, and others who used golden syrup or, on one particularly unusual occasion, melted-down gummy bears. Better, save those gummy bears for a post-workout snack and enjoy your recovery!
Giuliana is a yoga instructor and Crossfitter from Peru who is currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand with her Crossfit Coach (and husband) Tim.