Want to prevent getting your hands tore up from blisters, but you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing lifting gloves? It’s a dilemma that many of us have come across, especially if we’re lifting outside and/or in our garage.
In this article, I’m going to break down what causes blisters in the first place and how to prevent blisters without wearing gloves when lifting weights.
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What Causes Blisters From Lifting?
Blisters that form from lifting weights are what is known as a friction blister. It’s the same type of blister that forms when you’re breaking in a new pair of shoes or shoveling dirt in your backyard. Friction between the skin and an outside source over a period of time causes the skin to become damaged. The body reacts to this damage by building fluid under the skin to protect and heal it.
For us, the “outside source” causing this friction is either a barbell, dumbbells or a pull-up bar. Sometimes it’s all three.
Olympic lifters and Powerlifters will develop blisters from heavy and high volume pulling movements from the floor. Snatches, Cleans, Pulls and Deadlifts can all be big time blister creators.
If you’re a Crossfitter, high volume workouts that involve extremely high rep Olympic movements and/or pull-ups can quickly wreak havoc on your hands.
The second culprit that exacerbates blister issues is moisture caused by heat and sweat. In a cool climate-controlled gym, moisture is not generally that much of an issue. Sure your hands may get a little sweaty and blisters do happen, but it’s usually pretty manageable.
However, if you’re outside or in your garage with 90-plus degree heat like we have right now in Georgia, that’s a whole different story. Every part of my body is soaked before I even finish my warm-up, including my hands.
Moisture makes the skin softer. Soft skin is more apt to develop blisters, and more often than not, those blisters immediately lead to torn skin. When you combine both friction and moisture with high volume lifting as is common in Crossfit or other HIIT type training, you have a recipe for destroyed hands.
Prevent Blisters From Lifting Without Wearing Gloves
Well, the first thing you could do is wear gloves. But, you and I both know that’s not happening. Everyone knows that people who don’t wear gloves judge people who wear gloves. Even if you’re by yourself, in your garage, and no one can see you – you’re still being judged.
There’s also the very real reason in that wearing gloves removes the feel of the bar from the lifter which is detrimental in many lifts. If you’re a serious (or at least trying to be serious) Olympic lifter or Powerlifter losing that connection to the bar is something you definitely want to avoid.
Don’t worry though, there are other options.
Chalk, aka Magnesium Carbonate, has been used for decades by weightlifters, gymnasts and rock climbers to help with grip. There is a reason why so many people across different disciplines have used the same thing for the same purpose – it works.
Chalk helps us fight the good fight against sweat to keep our hands as dry as possible for the next set and the next rep. It helps keep our grip as secure as possible with the bar.
The looser your grip on the bar becomes, the bar moves more freely within the hand. This creates more friction which creates blisters. The tighter and more secure you can maintain your grip, the better chance you have at saving your hands.
In a hot gym environment like a garage in the summer, trying to keep your hands dry can feel like a constant losing battle. Applying chalk before a set (even if it’s every set) can become your best ally in fighting that battle with you.
One last thing that I have to mention every time the subject of chalk comes up. Keep the chalk in the block and use the block to run on your hands. Don’t break up the block into dust like a savage. That concludes this PSA.
Utilize Lifting Straps
Using straps is basically chalk on steroids.
There are a couple of drawbacks to using straps. If you’ve never used straps before there is a little bit of a learning curve with how to use them properly. You also don’t want to find yourself constantly relying on straps because it can hinder your grip strength.
Having said that, straps can absolutely save your hands from being destroyed. Straps work in two ways to help prevent blisters.
First, they keep you locked into the bar. We talked about using chalk to try to increase our grip and reduce the “looseness” of the bar within our grip. When used properly, straps almost completely eliminate any possible looseness with your grip. When you’re locked into a bar with straps, you’re locked in.
Second, they take some of the grip demand from the hands. When you take away some of that stress from the hands, you can ward off blisters for longer.
Personally, I try to hold off using straps for my snatches and cleans. However, if I’m doing pulls or RDLs, I’ll throw a pair of straps on. I feel like it’s a long-term strategy that helps keep my blisters and calluses under control.
If you’re looking for a good pair of straps, I tested 7 of the best straps you can buy and broke down the pros and cons of each.
When trying to prevent blisters, you want to either reduce friction, reduce moisture or both. Chalk and Straps, in my opinion, are the two most effective means of doing that. Here are a couple of other options that may help as well.
This might seem too simple to even mention, but hear me out: use a towel to keep your hands dry. I know that seems really basic, but most of us tend to use our shirt to dry our hands and face when we work out. Sooner than later, your shirt runs out of dry spots and then you’re SOL. If you’re really prepared, you use a towel.
What I am proposing is going one step further. I keep a small towel that I use just for my hands. It doesn’t touch my face, neck or arms. Just my hands. What I find is that keeps the towel pretty dry for the duration of the workout, so when I really start to need two-thirds into my lift it’s still able to dry my hands.
If for whatever reason you don’t have or can’t use chalk, there is an alternative product called liquid chalk. Personally, I’m old school and I like my chalk in a block in powder form. However, some people swear by liquid chalk. FrictionLabs Liquid Chalk has almost 1,000 Amazon reviews with a nearly perfect 5-star average and is less than $10. If you want to give liquid chalk a try I’d suggest starting there.
Finally, you could get some sweatbands. But, if you’re a person who doesn’t want to wear gloves then you’re probably not going to want to wear sweatbands either. So, never mind. Forget I mentioned it.
You’re never going to prevent every blister. Most lifters’ hands consist of one callus on top of another. I’m missing a callus on my left hand that got ripped off this morning doing cleans.
However, they can be minimized. By knowing how to prevent blisters without wearing gloves when lifting weights you can put in place processes to protect your hands as much as possible.
Do everything you can to keep your hands dry and keep your grip secure. Chalk, straps and towels can all help. If you’re in Georgia in the summer, I’d suggest using all three.