There are a lot of lifters out there who have calluses on their hands.
Sometimes these calluses can make it difficult to grip onto a barbell and they will tear off when you attempt to lift something heavy. This is why some people use chalk to help them get a better grip.
However, this may not always work for everyone and when calluses are left untreated they might impair how well you’re able to hold onto weights in the gym.
So how can you deal with calluses from lifting weights? You can deal with gym calluses by wrapping your fingers with athletic tape before lifting and using chalk or powder on your palms while you lift. After lifting, it’s recommended that you use a pumice stone to remove the calluses and apply lotion to soften the area.
In this article, we will go through how calluses occur, why it is important to manage calluses and strategies to deal with calluses whilst you’re training and care for them outside the gym.
How Do Calluses Occur?
Calluses form on the hands when a person repetitively grips an object. This is because calluses are made by build up of excess hard skin that’s been rubbed so hard and for such a long period of time, they have no other option but to grow over the area where they have formed.
The hardened skin is nothing more than an extra layer of dead skin. If left unmanaged can lead to painful calluses that can rip or even turn into a blister.
When lifters grip their barbells tightly during training, it can lead to callus formation on their palms.
It may take some time before these occurrences happen, but as soon as you start noticing them growing more frequently than usual, it might be wise to invest in strategies to manage them.
Calluses are an unavoidable side effect of lifting weights and they come with the territory.
Two Types Of Calluses You Get From Lifting Weights
There are two types of lifting calluses:
- Superficial callus
- Deep/Intense callus
The first type is a “superficial” callus, which occurs when there has been too much pressure applied to one spot on your palm from weightlifting.
The second type is a “deep” or “intense” callus, which is more typically found in powerlifters who have been using heavy weights for many years. This deep callus can actually be painful if you don’t take care of it correctly and can even lead to ripping if not properly cared for.
The most common places on your hand where you might develop a callus would be on the top of your palms and occasionally around fingers and thumb. Thumb calluses tend to be more exclusive to individuals who hook grip.
Why Should You Manage Gym Calluses, Anyways?
Calluses are a debatable topic with regards to whether you need to do anything with them. They also seem to appear to occur slightly differently in different people. This is because people have different size hands and fingers, as well as different ways of holding onto barbells.
Some lifters will not need to manage calluses due to the way they hold onto the bar and hand sizes. Some lifters will need to tend to them. If you are one of those lifters who need to tend to them but do not, here is what could happen:
- Callus could rip off completely and bleed
- Callus could be digging in too hard causing pain
If you end up with a torn callus, it will stop you from being able to continue lifting comfortably and you will likely be stopped by the gym owner or your coach for exhibiting a health and safety issue. It will take more than a week for a torn callus to recover properly.
Calluses are inevitable. The goal of managing your calluses is not to eliminate calluses as such but more so to reduce the calluses, and then prevent them from tearing or ripping off.
Are There Benefits To Having Calluses On Your Hands From Lifting Weights?
As a lifter, you need to have a certain amount of callus on your hands. There are benefits to providing a sustainable amount of calluses, including:
- Protect your sensitive layer of skin from being damaged by knurling
- Provides a level of resilience from pain from gripping weights
- Allows you to grip harder and lift more
The key is not letting them build up to the point where it’s painful or having a risk of them tearing mid-lift (like when you’re grinding out the top-end of a deadlift).
If you have issues with your deadlift grip, then read my article on How To Improve Your Deadlift Grip.
5 Tips To Deal With Weightlifting Calluses
Here are 5 ways to deal with calluses:
- Use a Pumice Stone
- Apply Moisturizing Lotions or Petroleum Jelly
- Wrap your thumbs and fingers with athletic tape
- Use lifting chalk
- Use lifting straps
1. Use a Pumice Stone
A pumice stone is a small block of natural volcanic rock that produces an abrasive surface when rubbed against something else. The dust and particles created by the grinding action can be used for many different purposes. Some people use it to remove skin cells from their feet or to get rid of foot odor-causing bacteria.
Others use it on their hands as a way to soften calluses and roughened skin caused by repeated contact with weightlifting bars or heavy objects like rocks during outdoor activities such as climbing or hiking. The process of using the pumice stone involves rubbing it over your skin in gentle circular motions.
2. Apply Moisturizing Lotions or Petroleum Jelly
Using skin moisturizing lotions or petroleum jelly are good options for post workout hand care for managing excessive callus on your skin. Using such products works to either trap and/or restore moisture levels within the skin. This will leave your skin softer and smoother, which will overall lead to reduction of intensity of bad calluses.
This strategy is best done at night when your hands will not be disturbed through everyday activity.
- First wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, dry the area completely.
- Apply your chosen moisturizing lotion or petroleum jelly across the callused regions on your hand that you wish to deal with.
- If you want to go one step further, you could potentially wear some gloves to trap the applied products on your hands.
3. Wrap your thumbs and fingers with athletic tape
Fingers and thumbs can be particularly sensitive areas to have intense callus grow on them, especially the thumbs. I have seen many hook grippers rip calluses from their thumbs during deadlifts.
Using some form of athletic tape can be a very easy and useful strategy to deal with excessive callus around these areas. Ripping the thumb will render gripping the bar impossible and inappropriate due to health, safety and hygiene reasons for bleeding onto the bar.
Two popular choices of tape types are athletic tape and vet tape:
- Choosing a quality tape such as Hamptom Adams Jiu Jitsu & Climber Finger Tape will help you last throughout your training session without having to unravel repeatedly.
- Vet tape products such as WePet Vet Wrap will offer a much more flexible tape that is not as sticky as the finger tapes. These vet tapes are much more popular among Olympic weightlifters.
4. Use lifting chalk
Just as much as calluses are useful but you do not want too much of it, the same applies to using chalk too. For the purposes of managing calluses, I recommend using block chalk over powder chalk balls and definitely avoid using liquid chalk.
By using block chalk, you can fill in the gaps and cracks in your hands and the chalk will mould onto the knurling when you grip the bar. Block chalk does a better job than powder ball chalk at this. The problem with liquid chalk is that when it is applied and dries on your hand, the chalk left almost behaves like another layer of skin on top of your callus and makes your callus worse.
5. Use lifting straps
Using lifting straps takes a huge demand off of your hands and your skin and thereby reducing the stimulus for more callusing of your skin. Using lifting straps can be a useful way of you temporarily changing the stress on your callus whilst you give your callus time to heal up a bit.
This is especially important to do when you notice that your callus is on a brink of tearing off completely. Lifting wrist straps are not to be confused with lifting wrist wraps or lifting hooks. It is also worth noting that lifting wraps also come in different materials including cotton, nylon and leather.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Okay To Cut Calluses Off?
Yes, you can cut the calluses off with a purpose designed callus shaver. A firm reminder is that you want to reduce the callus not eliminate it, because if you attempt to eliminate the callus, you risk accidentally cutting into your skin and bleeding.
Can Calluses Be Permanent?
Calluses can remain for long periods of time even after not lifting weights or a while. As long as you continue to lift weights, you will continuously be triggering calluses to appear on your skin.
It is not realistic to expect calluses to be removed completely so long as you engage in weight training. The goal for dealing with calluses is to keep it reduced to the amount that makes weight training as comfortable as possible. Having some callus will be beneficial to reducing the pain on the skin during holding barbells and dumbbells.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com