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

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