MTOD #10: Hand Care for Movers (Climbers, Gymnasts, Crossfitters, and Apes)


This month, Ido Portal is doing a hanging challenge (original blog post, facebook group). That means thousands of people all around the world will be hanging and brachiating for 7 minutes every day this month.

Our shoulders are designed for climbing, hanging, and brachiation. We need it for shoulder health. But down the kinetic chain, our hands can give us trouble when we’re first starting to do a lot of climbing, hanging, or brachiation. Your hands will have some adapting to do, and I don’t encourage using gloves or tape 100% of the time. In fact, if you’re not in danger of tearing a callus, getting a blood blister, or otherwise doing some damage to your hand, I suggest you don’t use tape, gloves, or anything else.

Practically, this means starting off your session without any hand protection, but it may mean you add it later. Don’t rob your hands of the stimuli they need to adapt. And don’t give them so much stimulus that they tear or otherwise suffer damage.

Anyway, here’s the practical things I do to prevent destroying my hands in my movement and training.

Tip #1: Avoid hamburger palm – this is paramount.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’re not in competition or about to break a PR or something, STOP if your hands are about to tear. This is PRACTICE, not some high stakes competition. Live to move another day.


Tip #2: Pre-Movement Callus Management

Calluses are necessary and important, but if they get too big, rough, or uneven they have a much higher chance of tearing.

Use a callus razor, sandpaper (160-200 grit – available at your local hardware store), or pumice stone to get your callus smooth and down to size. I usually groom my calluses in the shower. That way, the skin is soft and easier to manage.

Tip #3: Mid-Movement Techniques

A. Do not overgrip the bar (or branch, or rope, or ledge).

By overgripping, I mean grasping the bar with more effort than is needed to keep you from falling off AND gripping the bar too deep in the palm.

Notice in this photo how the gibbon grips (king of all brachiators…can reach speeds of 35 MPH [~55 KPH] swinging through the trees).

Gibbon, King of Brachiators knows how to grip
Gibbon, King of Brachiators knows how to grip

The rope is seated in the gibbons fingertips, not deep into the palm. Here’s another (entertaining) example of how a gibbon grips:

The lesson: Grip as much as needed, but as little as possible. This will help prevent tears, and make you more efficient in the hang. Overgripping is a huge problem with beginning climbers and leads to rapid muscular fatigue and more frequent tearing.

overgripping 1


proper grip open

proper grip closed

I’m a practical guy and the truth is that “overgripping” may not be a problem for you. It may even be needed in certain circumstances. I use it sometimes, but just know the difference, and realize that with added volume and intensity you are much more likely to rip your skin if you overgrip.

Said another way: Use a PULLING grip, not a pushing grip. Mark Rippetoe also explains this well as it relates to deadlifting, but the same principles apply to hanging and brachiating.

B. Use hand protection preemptively. 

Athletic tape (available at local sporting goods store) and gardening gloves (available at your local supermarket, garden, or hardware store) are two practical and economic solutions.

The best human climbers and brachiators will use hand protection before irreversible skin damage occurs. If it’s too late for that, tape over the damaged/torn skin.

athletic tape grip

If you want a more detailed explanation of how to make tape grips click here

If you want to spend a bit more, you can buy a pair of WODies – hand grips made specifically for crossfitters. Again, your hands need to adapt, so I suggest you only use tape, grips, and gloves if you realistically anticipate a tear.

C. Use a variety of different objects and textures for hanging/brachiation

The more variety you have, the less likelihood of a rip. A single width of bar always puts the stress in the exact same place, but if you use skinny bars, fat bars, ultra-fat bars, branches, ropes, and everything in between, the skin of your hands will have a lower chance of ripping. I like to brachiate on playgrounds because you can often find many different grip textures and widths.

Tip #4: Post-Movement Techniques:

Once you’re done with your climbing, hanging, or brachiation it’s time to wash the chalk off, re-groom the skin and calluses, and keep your hands moisturized so they’ll heal faster. Dry hands lend themselves to cracks and tears.

Coconut oil, olive oil, or shea butter are all great choices. Any good quality lotion with minimal ingredients will work. I like climbOn.

Have you found this useful? Am I missing anything? Let me know in the comments!


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