Aikido · athletes · cycling · weight lifting

On the wearing (or not) of gloves and the care and feeding of calluses

Tracy and I were chatting over lunch today about engaging (some would say “sexy” but we try not to)  blog topics and those that aren’t so engaging. Indeed, there are bits and pieces of sports participation that aren’t at all attractive or engaging (think smelly running shoes and what to do about them).

So today I’m taking on one of those topics, the care and maintenance of calluses.

There are many different ways to classify sports. Some require aerobic fitness, some anaerobic. Others are team sports, while others are lone pursuits. Some are endurance efforts while others are all sprint and recover. You get the idea.

But this year I’ve got a new way to classify sports and physical activities.

Do they require developing calluses?

I do just one sport with gloves–cycling– and others without–rowing, power lifting, soccer, Aikido, CrossFit, and Olympic lifting. A number of the ones without require calluses and calluses require care and attention. Who knew?

And yes, I know it’s not very ladylike to have calluses. Real ladies had servants do their manual labour and gardening and develop calluses on their behalf. (See Do ladylike values clash with the norms of sports performance? for some discussion on this blog of the tension between being a lady and being an athlete.)

Let’s get cycling out of the way first since it’s my only warm weather glove wearing sport.

We can review the reasons offered for wearing gloves while riding a bike. First, it’s tricky to grip with  sweaty hands and gloves help. Second, some people think gloves help protect your hands in the case of a tumble. Third, gloves help with vibration and its effects on your wrists and arms. The best feature of gloves, I think, is the ability to brush glass and debris off your tires while riding. Oh that and wiping your nose and dealing with sweat. (For more reasons read What Bike Gloves Are For: The Seven Ways Bike Gloves Help Your Riding.)

I ignore the only partially tongue in cheek Rules of the Euro Cyclist. I occasionally even wear MTB gloves with my road bike. I have a  nice pair and they fit well and the black is more practical than white. (Rule 26 says, “MTB gloves are FORBIDDEN in all instances. Cycling gloves will be slick, white (in accordance with kit), and have minimal padding. Padding will be beige or white in colour.”)

And of course, as a result of wearing gloves for a summertime outdoor activity you do develop funny tan lines. See this great graphic I found at the blog of the Middle Aged Cyclist.

With rowing it’s essential not to wear gloves. You simply don’t have a good enough grip and dexterity required if you’re wearing gloves. But that means you do develop calluses and toughening up your hands is essential to not developing blisters. See

With lifting, again you don’t wear gloves and you use chalk to keep your hands from slipping if they get sweaty. Over time again you develop calluses and if they get too big, they are in danger of tearing. That’s painful and messy and to avoid it many people file down their calluses using a nail file.

For how to prevent and treat torn calluses, see here.

Why not wear gloves when lifting weights?

“Well, apart from the macho answer (lifting weights is madness and pain) there is a good reason. Gloves actually interfere with your grip; they make whatever you are holding thicker and therefore harder to grip, and they remove your contact with the bar, meaning that you can’t feel when the bar starts to move in your hand (early sign of impending grip failure).” (For more see Callus care and why gloves are for sissies, ignore the title, this is actually pretty good)

In my Precision Nutrition group recently we took to posting pictures of damaged hands, proud battle scars from having completed tough workouts.

You also can’t wear gloves in the body weight/gymnastic elements of CrossFit. I once got mat burn on my hands from too many burpees (any number greater than ten is too many, in my opinion). And my hands find hanging from a bar tough too.

I also do martial arts, barefoot of course, and as a result I develop serious mat induced calluses. But they’re essential to doing martial arts. When I go away and come back, it’s a challenge. Sometimes, without them, I get mat burn and blisters. That’s worse.

Do you do sports that involve developing calluses? Any hints?


Woman in a rowing boat, about 1890

Collection of National Media Museum/Kodak Museum

from Flickr, Creative Commons

24 thoughts on “On the wearing (or not) of gloves and the care and feeding of calluses

  1. I haven’t developed callouses on my hands from weight lifting quite yet – although they are there in baby form – but my feet are covered in callouses from running, and I do my best to protect them and keep them intact because without them my feet turn into a forest of blisters. In fact, I have turned down several invites to get pedicures with friends for this reason. So yeah, my feet are kind of gnarly and not at all pretty to look at, but the trade-off is that they help me do what I need to do to be successful at my sport.

    1. Exactly. I’m used to that with my feet from Aikido but the rowing calluses are new. Better than blisters, as you say.

    2. My feet are also callused, but I do go for pedicures on occasion. They never remove them completely, and I’ve never developed blisters as a result of having the calluses filed down a bit once in awhile. Just saying.

      1. But you don’t do martial arts in bare feet. Even when I come back from holidays away from the mats I get mat burn and blisters if I’m not careful. I can file them down a bit with a pumice stone and that’s fine. Let them get too thick and you run the risk of a rip. Ditto with hand calluses from lifting. Callus management is a hot cross fit topic!

    3. How are you with your toe nails? I think that’s more gruesome than calluses. I’ve lost a couple from running and cross country skiing and I know some marathon distance runners get them removed altogether. In New Zealand and Australia I knew a lot more barefoot runners and they had more calluses but no toe nail issues.

      1. I have actually only lost toenails twice – the same one, two times. I don’t know how I have gotten so lucky. *knocks on wood*

  2. I admit it. I wear gloves when weight training. Alot of guys do. Alot of guys don’t. I lift fairly heavy and I’d have ripped my “worked-in-an-office-all-my-life” hands to shreds without them. Alot of the better gloves out there provide very decent grip. As for gloves being for sissies, some NFL receivers wear gloves out there on the field. Why? Because for some albeit not all NFL receivers, it increases their performance potential. The gloves increase my performance potential, simply because without them MY hands would be in shreds. You have to know yourself. That said, I don’t power lift. I do more of a combination of bodybuilding and strength-to-body weight type exercises for about an hour 5 or sometimes 6 days a week, with aerobic and interval training thrown into the mix for an hour as well, 5 or 6 times a week. But I don’t do any weight-bearing exercises for the cardio and interval training, so I don’t really get any truly problematic calluses on my feet. Perhaps in powerlifting you do need that extra sense of exactly what is happening with your hands. I wouldn’t know.

    1. So no dead lifting? I’d miss that. Yeah, there’s no gloves at Cross Fit and there is lots of chalk. I don’t think gloves would work for most of the stuff we do but I’m not sure.

      1. Deadlifting is easier with gloves and with straps, in my opinion, Sam. Why would you think I don’t deadlift because I don’t technically powerlift, and because I wear gloves? Bodybuilders do squats, deadlists and bench press. What they don’t do is train to lift maximum weight in a single rep. Powerlifters also as I’ve always understood it don’t wear gloves because they’re not allowed in competition as they give you an unfair advantage. I never before heard that grip is actually compromised by wearing gloves, but never having powerlifted, I wouldn’t know. That said, I know some powerlifters who do wear gloves some of the time when training. I’m going to ask them about this whole glove thing.

  3. From pole dance/pole fitness, weightlifting and aerial rope, I get a variety of callouses and so try to keep them. Whenever I take a break and get back to it, it hurts for a bit.

    There are gloves marketed for gymnastics and pole dance (with I think some kind of rubberized coating), but I haven’t tried them. In general, instructors will say that they are unsafe because they don’t have the same grip for bodyweight aerial moves. In pole we use Dry Hands, Itac or other grip aids (similar for weightlifting) and in aerial rope and silk, rosin (the same as what you’d put on a violin) is used. I like the rosin best because it seems to develop calluses and rough up the hands in a non-painful way. Having a secure grip is more important to me than having smooth hands. When you’re 3-4 metres in the air, knowing you can hold on tight is a must!

  4. I always wore gloves for weight training in the past, but my trainer advised against because of grip. And I know Nia Shanks, whose book I’ve been reading lately, recommends chalk instead of gloves for grip. I find that my hands sometimes get sweaty and then my grip is compromised without gloves, and sometimes the bars with the rough finish on them hurt my hands. I’m not a big fan of calluses. If the only reason for them is to protect my hands so that I can lift heavy weights, frankly I’d rather wear gloves and not have the calluses (as long as the gloves don’t compromise my grip). So the right gloves, it seems to me, would be a reasonable solution (even if they don’t go for gloves in crossfit — but crossfit seems to have its own culture).

    1. On weight lifting, I think it depends what you’re doing and what your style is. I like the feeling of my grip on the bar and wouldn’t want to lose that. See

      I’m not sure about pull ups etc with gloves.

      And for rowing, it’s not allowed. No one wears gloves because you don’t have sufficient connection to the oar and gloves can slip. There the development of calluses is crucial.

      To each his or her own, but it’s a new thing for me to think about…fitness and skin care!

  5. I agree with you completely, Tracy. You have to know yourself. Alot of this anti-glove talk is just macho garbage in my opinion. So unless you competitively powerlift, or need to train to get enormous grip strength because you are: (1) a serious mountain climber; (2) James Bond; or (3) you care about people in a certain culture or setting laughing at you because they all think gloves are feminine, wear gloves if you feel they’re right for you. Some people (mostly men) think being vegan or vegetarian is for over-sensitive, laughably puny cry-babies. Did that stop you from becoming a vegan?

  6. My first sport was rock climbing so calluses were just part of the sport. Ever since then I just tell my hands to htfu. Also I stopped wearing gloves a couple years ago for cycling (road, cyclocross, mtb) when the weather allows it. They just get in the way for me.

    Some professions require hands to be protected like surgeons and doctors so context is important.

  7. I love my rowing calluses; they’re a reminder that I’m doing something that I love and that I’m working hard.

    There is a woman on my team who wears gloves to row… I couldn’t handle not feeling the oars, but it seems to work for her.

    My coaches experimented with rubbing wet tea leaves into their hands to toughen their calluses. I have no idea if that had any effect, but you could try it.

    1. Hmm. Regarding rowing and callouses. And blisters. There is a new glove on the market designed specifically for rowers. Sweep rowers, scullers, erg people. You don’t need to get a blister in order to develop a callous anymore!

  8. I have callouses on my feet from Roller Derby due to the way your foot contacts the skate when you push out, one U shape around the back of my heel and one on he inside of the ball of my foot. I pumice them down almost daily bc if they build up too much it’s actually painful (super sensitive skin here) but they never actually go away now after 3+ years of playing and have protected me from blisters when running stupidly without my smartwool socks.

  9. At first I stopped wearing gloves due to the “wimpy” factor; I didn’t want to be a girly girl with gloves. But now bare hands is a necessity in Crossfit! I can’t imagine trying to grip with gloves or doing pull-ups without actually feeling the bar properly!

  10. I adore my calluses, but sometimes I wear gloves when lifting anyway — if I haven’t lifted in a while, the calluses will have subsided somewhat, and I’ll need the gloves as a crutch for a while to stop my hands from hurting too much to do the exercises.

    Some things I always do bare-handed: pull-ups, dips, rowing, outdoor labor like raking, digging (I do these last two bare-handed with the express purpose of helping develop my calluses, LOL).

    However, I find that doing curls with a curl bar (and other things with said bar, like tricep extensions, reverse curls etc.) usually works better with gloves on, because the bar doesn’t rotate in my hands and change the position of the weight relative to my hands. If my calluses are particularly well-developed, I can get this tight grip bare-handed, but most of the time I can’t.

    Why do I like my calluses? Part of it is gender-based … I am female but decidedly masculine, and I like for my body to have masculine-coded features; but part of it is that it’s just useful to have hands that can do more without getting blisters or having to stop.

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