Around CrossFit, we tend to treat torn hands like a badge of honor. Not that this is a bad thing, just having the determination and drive to push your body to the point when the flesh on your hands gives way is a very admirable thing and something that anyone should be proud of. That being said, torn hands suck! They hurt, they heal kinda slow, and worst of all, they force you to modify your training, and that is never a good thing. Lets call it what it is, an injury. Injuries should be prevented at all cost, and when they happen, they should be cared for properly. This will allow you to get back to your training as soon as possible, so you can keep setting those P.R.’s!

First lets talk about preventing hand tears. There are many people out there that think: “I need to build up some callouses, so my hands are tougher!”. In CrossFit, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Callouses on your hands are exactly what lead to hand tears. When you build callouses, the layers of dead skin build up over time, creating thick patches of hard skin on the parts of your hands that see the most abuse. While this is a good thing when you are digging a ditch, or swinging a hammer, doing high-rep pull-ups and kettlebell swings is a very different story. Let’s take a workout like “Eva”. 5 rounds for time of 800 meter runs, 30 two pood kettlebell swings, and 30 pull-ups. If you have callouses on your hands, every time you swing that heavy kettlebell, or do those pull-ups, the handle on the kettlebell and the pull-up bar start tugging on those thick patches of skin that you have built up. Now, if your entire hand was thick and tough, this might not be an issue. For most of us however, this is not the case. Those patches of hard skin are surrounded by soft, regular skin. The first couple of rounds you are probably okay, but as the workout continues, that soft skin starts to stretch more and more. Every rep pulls a little more on those callouses, and before you know it, that bar or kettlebell gets real slippery! You stop to look, and sure enough, you see blood all over your hand, and a big flap of skin where that callous used to be. Oh, well. Too late now. May as well rub some chalk in it and finish the workout! That is what CrossFit is all about, right? We never quit, and that is a good thing!

What if we could have prevented that from happening? Then we would not have to avoid pull-ups for the next week while our hands heal. If callouses are the main culprit for hand tears, and in my experience they are the main cause of most(not all, but most) hand tears, how do we prevent them? Well, when you lift, push, pull, and generally work your butt off on a daily basis like we do, then callouses are going to form, we can’t stop that. We can, however make them go away. There are many different methods for removing callouses, I will touch on just a few. Some people like to just use a razor blade or very sharp knife, and cut them off. This is not as bad as it sounds, as long as you are careful not to cut into live skin, you can cut off the dead layers and shave them down to a point that will help. This is a little risky in my opinion. Not the best option. Another method is to get a bucket or large bowl full of warm water, soak your hands for several minutes to soften them, and use a butter knife or similar object to scrape the callouses away. This is a better option, as you don’t run the risk of accidentally cutting your hand open with a razor blade. The best option, in my opinion is to use a callous remover that can be purchased in the beauty section of most drug stores. It resembles a small, very fine cheese grater with a handle(see pic). Keep this tool in your shower at all times. At the end of a long, hot shower, use this little cheese grater to shave down the callouses on your hands until they are baby-butt smooth. The shower will soften the skin so it should grind off with ease. Do this on a regular basis, at least twice a week. You may find that you need to do it more depending on your training, but the point is to never let those callouses build up. If you do, you know your affiliate will be programming something with 150 pull-ups that day, and you will be sorry! Another item worth mentioning is that chalk can contribute to the problem. You don’t need to cake it on, just a light dusting of chalk on your hands is usually all you need, and your gym will thank you for not spreading it everywhere!

Now, even with all this good advice, sometimes you may get a hand tear anyways. Maybe you forgot to shave your hands, or maybe it was just an unusually brutal workout. What is the best way to take care of those wounds so that they heal in a timely manner? It starts as soon as the tear occurs. If you are in the middle of a workout, and don’t want to stop, that is fine. Just tear off the skin flap and keep going. How you tear it off does matter, however. Do not tear in the direction of the flap, or it will make the wound larger. This is not a good thing. Tear it off in a circular motion around the perimeter of the wound. This will help keep it from getting larger. Now, rub a little chalk in it and get back to work! I know it hurts, but that is no reason to quit a workout, and taking a break does not make the pain go away, actually if you let yourself cool off and the adrenaline from the workout wears off, it will hurt worse, so get back in there and finish that WOD!

So you did it, you didn’t quit and now the workout is over, now what? The first thing you need to do is trim off any remaining skin from the perimeter of the wound. You want it to be as smooth as possible, with no little ridges of skin sticking up that might catch and open up the tear any further. You can use fingernail clippers for this, but I have found that cuticle trimmers seem to work the best(see pic). Now, as soon as you get home, mix yourself up a nice batch of warm salt water and soak your hands for 10-15 minutes. Believe it or not, the salt water doesn’t hurt any more than regular tap water. The salt water has antiseptic properties that help initiate the healing process. I am not sure how this works, I just know it does. After a good soak, all that remains is to let the wounds heal. In order to make this process as fast as possible, keep the wounds moist and clean. A little anti-bacterial cream and a band-aid should do the trick. A band-aid on my palm, you say? That will never stay on. Actually, I have found that Band-Aid brand Tough Strips stay on quite well. If you don’t have access to those, the Band-Aid brand Flexible Fabric Strips work almost as good. Make sure you keep them moist and clean. If you allow your hands to dry out, the skin will crack, and you will add another 4 or 5 days to your healing time. It is most important to keep them covered at night, or your hands will dry out in a relaxed position, and when you wake up and open them up, they will split right open.

So, remember, get rid of your callouses to prevent tears, and if you do tear, follow a few simple steps. Trim, soak, and keep it moist and covered. If you follow these directions, your hands should heal up fairly quickly and you will be able to get right back to your training with minimal interruption.