Hand Care for Weightlifters
Preventing calluses and blisters can be as simple as fixing your grip.
While your dedicated lifting regimen rewards you in strength, it’s doing few favors for the palms of your hands: blisters and calluses take residence after a round of intense weight-gripping. While both skin conditions are “normal physiologic responses,” to training, they are formed in different ways, says Dr. James Collyer of Modern Dermatology in Seattle. "Calluses are created because of repetitive pressure and rubbing [against a bar or dumbbell handle, for example]; Blisters are due to shearing forces that separate the top two layers of skin,” Collyer explains.
In both cases, it’s not just the most experienced lifters that are impacted. Even lighter weights can give you grief, unless you’re just as dedicated to keeping those mitts soft. Here are a few ways to do exactly that, plus what to do if you’re hands are already pretty gnarly.
In the gym
The obvious way to protect your hands is to invest in a pair of weightlifting gloves. Collyer stresses the importance of finding a pair that fits properly; otherwise you might get blisters as a result of extra slack (or a lack thereof) tensing itself around the skin. Try brands like Fit Four or GripPawz, suggests Tom Cole, CSCS, a Tier X coach at Equinox West Los Angeles.
Gloves or not, it’s important to consider your grip. “Most people damage their finger pads because they're loading the bar too far up on their palms, then closing up the hand which creates a clamp between the fingers and the bar with the pads in the middle,” says Cole. “Add some weight and you've got a callus or, even worse, a skin rip,” he adds.
“To avoid this, load the bar [or dumbbell handle] into the space immediately outside the palm on the finger pads. Then close the fingers, wrap the palm, and lock it with the thumb,” Cole advises. “It takes some getting used to but it will pay dividends.”
In your day to day
Particularly if you’re picking up weights that have used been others, it’s key to regularly wash your hands. But, “certain soaps can overly dry-out your skin,” says Collyer. For home use, look for brands with moisturizing ingredients, like L’Occitane’s Soap with Shea Butter Extract. Collyer also advises against over-using hand sanitizers, which are often alcohol-based and can dry out the skin.
Keeping hands moist is also important, but instead of hand lotion, athletes concerned with calluses should consider moisturizing morning and night with a dense ointment balm or cream, which is more absorbent than a lotion. Try Dr. Rogers Restore balm or Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream to thwart drying, cracking, and hardening of skin.
If it’s too late…
To soften existing calluses, get a nourishing product with salicylic acid, urea, or ammonium lactate. Any of those three ingredients will help exfoliate and soften callused skin. Collyer recommends CeraVe Renewing SA Lotion. As an alternative, he also suggests hand creams that incorporate ceramides, which help fortify the protective, outermost layer of your skin. (For this, try Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream.) Apply morning and night, after showering, and as necessary throughout the day.
If your calluses are intense, you might consider “shaving” them down. Most shavers are built for feet, like Tweezerman’s. The brand also has an easy-to-use callus stone. Or, you can buff them with an electric remover, like from ArtNaturals. If you’re concerned or you notice anything getting worse, see your dermatologist.
If you get a blister, keep it covered with a bandage or gloves. Small blisters—minor bumps—can be popped with little concern, while anything larger requires dermatologist inspection and professional draining, per Collyer.