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Trainer Q&A: Why Do I Get Calluses?

Our expert explains what causes calluses—and how to get rid of 'em fast.
Calluses from strength training

Mark Rippetoe is a strength training coach, former competitive powerlifter, owner of Wichita Falls Athletic Club in Wichita Falls, TX, and author of Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training. He recently helped us get to the bottom of why calluses form on your hands and how to manage them properly.

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Men's Fitness: Why do I get calluses on my hands from working out?
Mark Rippetoe: Calluses form—anywhere on the body—as a response to stress from pressure or abrasion. The soles of the feet and the palms of the hands are areas that are specifically designed to callus because those are two surfaces of the skin that have evolved to adapt to pressure. We contact the environment with the soles of our feet and the palms of our hands, so they callus. It’s normal to develop calluses; they protect the structures under the skin.

Should I wear gloves to prevent calluses from forming?
If you’re training hard enough to get anything accomplished, your hands are going to callus. Gloves are an impediment to the effective formation of calluses and they shouldn’t be used for that reason. The glove is also a problem because it is an unstable layer of material between your grip and the load. It is a safety hazard that can allow the load to slip. 

How do I manage my calluses?
A thick callus can catch onto the load and become a problem during a deadlift or any other lift with a pull. It will result in a wound on the hand, which will interfere with training while it heals. So, calluses have to be managed. The most common way that calluses are managed is with a callus file. Once or twice a week, hard training athletes will trim their calluses by sanding them down to a manageable thickness. As a general rule, a callus should not be elevated above the surrounding skin.

What do I do when a calluses tears?
When a callus tears, it has to be trimmed back as close as you can get it to the live part of the skin. And it will have to be kept covered until it fills back in. This process takes at least two weeks. That’s why you don’t want them to get out of control and tear because it sets back your training.

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