The Strongman’s Guide to Hand Care and Maintenance

All strength sports have one unifying factor: they rely almost entirely upon healthy hands. Without them, the show just cannot go on, regardless of how much you want it to. The most common injury, of course, is the torn callous. These have forced CrossFit® athletes, strongmen, powerlifters, and weightlifters alike to throw in the towel before the competition is over.

This seemingly small injury is the least glamorous and most frustrating way to have a competition you’ve trained long and hard for cut short. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have never suffered a nasty tear before, it’s easy to look on at someone else’s small tear and quietly think that a bit of blood wouldn’t stop you.

The reality is very different, and it’s amazing how such a small small injury can incapacitate you. Not only does the cut make it difficult for you to apply any real grip strength, but the blood is likely to make the bar slippery and even more difficult.

If you’re still skeptical on the torn callouses ability to slay giants, look no further than legend of the strength world Mikhail Koklyaev (World class Strongman, Powerlifter, Olympic lifter) who in the 2013 World’s Strongest Man finals, tore open his hand on the frame carry. Watching the competition footage, he doesn’t even try and continue. As soon as he looks down at his hand and sees the damage, he smiles, resigned in the knowledge that there’s nothing he can do now.

You can avoid suffering a similar fate though by following a simple hand care routine.

Day to day care.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail as the saying goes, and maintaining those mitts is nothing but preparation for the big day. Each night once the day’s training has been and gone, get out an emery board file. Going along the callous ridge gently sand down any rough bits that stick up, if untreated these will grow and eventually acting like a lid cause a tear. Don’t go mad and rub your hands into oblivion, just get rid of the areas that could become problematic in the future. Once filed down, moisturize your hands, ideally before bed. This is not so much to stop those big rips but more to prevent your skin drying out and cracking another common problem in lifters, especially in extreme climates.

In the gym itself, the key is to be sensible and not get carried away with the session at the expense of an upcoming competition. (Something you should never do.) If you feel a callous beginning to go, ask yourself this: “Is getting a few more deadlifts, pull ups, snatches in today worth me being out for at least a week?” The answer should almost always be no.


My misspent youth was spent desperately trying to be a rower, despite being far too short. I was always struggling with my hands, especially on the longer rows, after a few miles they would inevitably look like ribbons. As a young impressionable rower, I was told a supposed secret of the  national team athletes, they applied super glue to their hands pre competition. Of course I lapped it up. The theory was that the oar would rub through the super glue leaving your hands relatively unscathed. Hindsight is a glorious thing and these days my advice is very different. Keep it simple, look after your hands in the preparation and make sure you chalk up for everything that needs it.

Other than that all you can do is hope that your hands hold up because in competition, you’re unlikely to even notice that your hands have ripped till the bar has slipped from your hand and for some reason you’re covered in blood.

Fixing the tear.

If you’re fortunate and the tear isn’t too bad you may be able to salvage it in time for the next event or lift. I’ve heard a plethora of methods of how to bodge it back together, although the one that makes the most sense to me once again involves “superglue”.

  • Clean out the wound.
  • If there is still a flap of skin, firmly reattach to the rest of your hand with a hefty amount of superglue.
  • Let dry.
  • File down any obvious edges.
  • Cover in tape if desired.

Not everything can be fixed with superglue though and if the wound is bad and you’ve had to pull out from the competition, your main priority is to get your hands back in working order again. The best way to do just that is to follow the advice of multiple World’s Strongest Man competitor Matjaz Belsak.

  • Clean the wound thoroughly .
  • Remove any flaps of skin with a razor blade.
  • File down any edges.
  • Apply baby powder to the affected error.

You can’t completely eradicate hand tears, luck still plays a part but by following the above advice you can give yourself the very best chance.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.