The callus, “the natural medal that you are being given as a reward for your hard work in the gym”. Or so was I told by one guy after I posted a video on YouTube on how to remove them. I used to share the same views.
When I was younger I thought it’s pretty cool to have calluses on my hands and that they were supposed to serve as a proof to people around me that I have worked very hard in the gym. Just an overall sign for somebody badass. However I grew out of that and realised that calluses are just dead skin and nothing more. Getting rid of those corns is a sign of good hygiene, caring for your own body and for the people around you. Nobody enjoys seeing calluses around them. Even though I am supposed to be used to them it still disgusts me when I see somebody with big calluses.
That’s why in this article I will explain about the calluses, how they form, why are they not good for you and your training, and essentially how to remove them!
1. Calluses And How They Appear
Calluses and eventual corns would appear as a result from all workouts that involve you grabbing onto hard objects(bars, barbells, gymnastics rings, rope, etc.). This is a common thing for all athletes that happens for many other people as well. For instance one of the first calluses that I remember appearing in my life would be the one from holding onto a pen. Then another one from when I was helping my grandfather plow our corn field with a hoe.
The common thing in these activities would be the irritation onto a particular part of one’s body. As a result the body would toughen up the irritated part so it could handle the constant pressure over in that spot. The way for the body to do that is by covering that part with a layer of dead skin.
Calluses’ purpose as explained in the previous part is to protect that part of the skin that’s exposed to constant irritation. And it manages to do that by the formation of a callus because in its nature the callus experiences no feeling as it is dead skin. However it could cause some serious problems which I will explain below.
2.1. Discomfort And Pain
The obvious question here is where is the pain coming from if the callus is insensitive. Didn’t we just say it is dead skin? Well, exactly because of the fact that it is dead skin it will toughen and harden in order to protect the layer below it. However when you are putting a lot of pressure on that one spot(ex. doing pull-ups/chin-ups, dips, lifting barbells, etc.) the dead skin will be pressed against the sensitive layer of skin below. As I said the callus will harden and thus the more pressure you put on it the more it will feel like it’s trying to cut into your skin. That will often cause a lot of pain and discomfort during an athlete’s workouts. Sometimes even making one unable to finish the set he started.
2.2. The Causing of Wounds
Once in a while the callus might get softer depending on the moisture of your skin and thus kill the discomfort. Sometimes even small pieces of the callus will tear apart making it smaller in size. When that happens one will forget about its presence and conduct a normal workout.
However as I just mentioned it tends to tear off. The constant pressure against the callus during training will make parts of it fall of. In addition the rubbing from the pull-up bar, rings or even a barbell is very similar to the action of peeling. So sometimes the small piece that’s tearing off the callus may turn into the whole callus peeling off of your palm or finger taking with it the layer of live skin below it.
This photo was taken right after one of my gym sessions on still rings in 2009. The callus peeled off and you can see how a wound opened below it.
The only option that one is left with from here is to get rid of the layer of skin that’s hanging there. Try to cut it off carefully, taking it completely off. Now the serious problem that remains is an open wound on your palm. Usually these wounds are not big but are situated in an area that is being constantly exposed to outer factors like rubbing and pressure(when you use your hand) or watering(when you wash your hands). Once the wound closes the rubbing from the daily activities won’t matter much. However washing your hands will make the wound open over and over again thus keeping it there for quite a while. That’s why you have to be careful every time you wash your hands, trying not to put any water over the wound or dry it really fast after you wash or take a shower. In short having a wound there is a serious pain(literally and figuratively)!
3. How To Prevent The Callus
The only way to prevent a callus is by not irritating the area where it appeared. During the 9 months of my elbow injury I stopped working out completely in order to recover. The calluses on my palms from working out disappeared completely. After my comeback in the gym they re-appeared.
Some people wear gloves believing they will protect them from the calluses. But that’s not true, the callus will still appear even if it’s a bit later. Besides the gloves will make your hands really gentle thus if you forget them home when you go to the gym, you will find your workout very painful. Not to mention that they make athletes look like clowns on a fashion show. And that sweating in them is really not hygienic. In other words I am fully against gloves, one should always feel the bar or the equipment he is training with in his hands.
4. What To Do With The Calluses Then?
Well there’s one very simple solution all gymnasts use. They cut them off. The formation of a callus is not a problem until it starts growing. Once it gets bigger one should consider cutting it off. You can cut it off with a razor, nail clippers or by using any other sharp tool for cutting. I saw the Chinese gymnastics national team using nail clippers in a video once, tried it and it just felt very natural and easy. So I am sticking to this method ever after. Above you can see a video with a step-by-step illustration of how to remove the calluses safely from your palms.