By Eric Buratty | Published April 27, 2016
When you hit a plateau in training, one of the last things to come to mind as being THE weak link is grip strength. That’s too bad because if you can’t grip an object, you won’t be able to safely move it or manipulate your body around it. The key word here is safety–which translates into progress that’s sustainable and fun.
While this applies to both genders, this topic is much more sensitive for women who are afraid of losing their “girly hands” by performing moves that require considerable grip strength. CrossFitters and other seasoned athletes will instantly be familiar with the moves that fall in this category: deadlifts, pull-ups, farmers walks, and kettlebell moves. For everyone else out there who may not be as informed or who might be on the lazy side, these are the families of exercises that are incredibly effective in the physical/mental transformation process.
Originally, I was planning on explaining the connection between grip strength and neural activity and how they impact our workout progress with a “suck it up, buttercup” approach. But, after thinking about this further, I figured I’d reach out to some fit ladies in my network to get their more qualified perspective on the topic. I say “more qualified” since all the facts and studies in the world are pointless without a shared belief towards something that translates into practical experience and feedback for EVERY individual. In this respect, all you women reading this will definitely relate to the following question I had each of them answer (at some point in your health & fitness journey–if you haven’t already).
Do you wear gloves when you train? Why or why not?
Who knows, even if you’re a dude reading this, you may find further reassurance or even be surprised by some of their responses.
(I know some of you dudes out there (sadly) still use workout gloves. Don’t deny it.)
When I first started strength training, I used gloves because I thought women were supposed to do that in order to protect their hands and keep them looking feminine.
As I have become a seasoned lifter, I no longer “wear” anything but chalk. And that is just occasionally if the reps are super heavy OR high reps.
I’ve found that as I go heavier on exercises such as deadlifts or pull ups, gloves actually hinder my grip and make the bar begin to slip out of my hand. Chalk comes in handy if you really need it. It works much better for grips for things such as a max deadlift or high rep barbell romanian deadlifts. If you were to try doing kettlebell snatches or swings with gloves, it can be downright dangerous. Don’t try it! Take my word for it. Some things you just have to develop grip strength for over time. Plus, it makes you a bit more resilient outside of the gym when lifting heavy objects.
I see no difference in my hands now and from when I used to wear gloves. A large part of that has been taking hand care very seriously. At least once a week, I’ll use an inexpensive tool made by Revlon called “Pedi-Expert.” Yes, it’s made for feet, but it’s gentle enough for the smallest of rough patches that you may develop on the palms of your hand. It really keeps them soft!
If you are a female that enjoys adding weight to the bar [and/or getting stronger] on a regular basis, I firmly believe the way to get there faster is to work on that grip – sans gloves!
– Emily Ledford | Emily Ledford Fitness
And I do not allow clients to, as I address two things.
Physiological: Hands are sensory, you need them to learn.
Psychological: Properly cared for calluses do not feel rough. I inform them about hand care.
Never run into any issues afterwards.
– Joy Victoria | Fitness Baddies
At first, Eric’s question puzzled me. I hadn’t quite heard it put this way before. Even as a young child, I was a complete monkey bar maniac and had the same row of calluses that you see now. Fortunately, I’ve finally figured out a few ways to keep my hands healthy and ready anytime/ anywhere for the activities that I love: calisthenics (especially pull-up bar related), kettlebells, and outdoor adventures. Realistically, the last professional manicure I had was probably back in 1994 or earlier. So, there is a very good chance that these hands of mine are exactly what you are looking to avoid!
That being said, until hearing this question from Eric, I hadn’t even thought about hands being “girly” or “manly” much at all. I think about more what they allow me to do: have fun, lift, try new physical activities with confidence, and help me maintain my chosen ideal physique.
But, do not be discouraged, one of my best clients works in a healthcare setting with children. One time a kid saw her hands and decided that her kettlebell-callused hands were “ew gross.” So, we made some minimalist, fingerless gloves from small tube socks for her even though she had already been using a Ped Egg to trim down and maintain the calluses within a good working level. While these slightly “homemade punk rock gloves” were not the complete answer, they did help her specific situation.
It all really comes down to a choice of priorities—wearing gloves for kettlebells usually proves to be cumbersome, annoying, and—especially in the case of regular gym gloves—blister causing.
There’s a price for everything. The intense kettlebell and calisthenics methods that can cause callused hands are also some of the most effective body transforming, strengthening, curve-intensifying out there in the world. In the case of hands, we must evaluate our priorities. Even though I am genetically predisposed to growing some fairly epic calluses, the answer has never been in question for me. I respect that everyone is different. But each individual must decide what we ultimately want for our physical reality. Personally, I am more than happy to have some occasionally gnarly little paws in exchange for my abilities and confidence, physical and otherwise.
– Adrienne Harvey | SrPCC, RKC-II, CK-FMS | http://giryagirl.com