Calluses from Deadlifts are inevitable: the pressure of the barbell against your bones promotes callus formation, and wearing gloves will not prevent this. You actually must grow calluses because without this layer of protection your hands will always hurt whenever you do heavy Deadlifts, Barbell Rows or Pull-ups.
But it is crucial keep the size of your calluses under control – big calluses will get pinched under the bar and can tear apart. Since it can easily take 2 weeks for a torn callus to heal, here are 5 tips that I’ve found useful to minimize callus formation from pulling exercises like Deadlifts, Barbell Rows and Pull-ups.
1. Grip The Bar Correctly. If the bar rests in your palm when you Deadlift, your skin will fold more once gravity starts pulling the barbell out of your hand, and you’ll get more callus formation as a result. Solution: Deadlift with the bar low in your hands, close to you fingers, like I do in the picture below.
This grip technique applies to all pulling exercises like Deadlifts, Barbell Rows and Pull-ups (NOT on Squats/Bench/Press). Practice this for 3 weeks at least in order to get used to it. You’ll get less callus formation, and less torn callus.
2. Use Chalk. You’ll Deadlift more weight and form/torn less callus because the chalk will fill your skin folds and thus less skin will be pressed down. If your gym doesn’t allow chalk, get an eco ball which doesn’t leave dust.
3. Shave Your Calluses. Never cut them, you risk cutting too much and then your callus will bleed. Better is to shave them using a pumice stone or ped egg or in my case a foot file (the one women use for their feet). Some guys prefer to shave their calluses after they get out of the shower when their hands are wet, but I’ve always preferred shaving dry calluses. Some tips:
- Be Gentle. The goal is remove dead skin and make your callus smaller so they level with your hand. Don’t be too aggressive or you’ll weaken the surrounding skin and then it will tear next time you Deadlift.
- Not Before Deadlifts. Give your hands recovery time. Example: you Deadlifted Friday on StrongLifts 5×5, next Deadlift is Wednesday, then best is to shave your callus on Friday after your Deadlifts.
- Twice per Month Max. One, calluses don’t grow faster anyway. Two, you should always have tough patches of skin on your hands otherwise you’re overdoing it. Shave your callus every 2 weeks at most.
4. Moisturize Calluses. I really hate creams, gels, perfumes and other metro-bs. Unfortunately my skin is dry, easily irritates and is prone to eczema’s. So I have to moisturize my hands daily or they start cracking, especially since chalk dries skin. I’ve frankly had terrible situations where the skin of my fingers & thumbs peeled off, some allergic reaction from the chalk drying up my skin.
The only thing that I’ve found keeps my skin moisturized is Cold Cream. The stuff is super sticky so I only put it on before I go to bed. I don’t have any brand recommendations, this is generic cream I get from my local pharmacy. Cold cream soften calluses by the way, although you shouldn’t expect miracles.
5. Quit Playing With Your Calluses. Stop biting and ripping your calluses off with your nails whenever you’re bored. You’ll almost always end up ripping too much skin and then it will bleed, hurt, and tear further apart when you’re Deadlifting. Keep yourself busy with more interesting stuff and if you really can’t control yourself shave your calluses off so there’s nothing to play with.
Note that it’s impossible to have zero callus formation, even when using gloves. Calluses are a testament of your hard work in the gym. Sure my girlfriend would prefer that my hands weren’t that rough when I touch here, but she sure gets a kick out of my work ethic, and she knows that she can always find herself a fat dude who watches TV if she has a problem with that.
My point: if you want zero callus, stop lifting and start bowling. If you’re serious about strength training, you will minimize your callus formation as much as you can using the above tips, and be proud of the small remaining calluses.