Wearing Gloves During CrossFit Workouts

Jason Khalipa (Image courtesy of CrossFit Facebook Page)

Jason Khalipa (Image courtesy of CrossFit Facebook Page)

“If you’re going to wear gloves, make sure they match your purse.”

Inside a CrossFit gym somewhere around the world, these words were once spoken and have since been echoed time and time again. As a result, members of “Team Glove”, or CrossFitters who regularly wear gloves during workouts, have become a disparate minority in any CrossFit class, left to hide their protected hands in shame before the familiar call of “3-2-1-go!” and miss out on jokes being told at the local chalk bucket.

I’ve been a proud member of Team Glove for the past year. Previous to wearing gloves, even as someone who did gymnastics in high school, my hands would rip about once a month from high repetition workouts.

How many times have my hands ripped in the past year? Not one time.

By no means do I consider myself to be anywhere near an elite CrossFit athlete. But for purposes of wear and tear comparison, like many CrossFitters, I’ve completed 20+ rounds of Cindy, max pull-up sets of over 40, strung together some muscle-ups, swung a few max effort sets of kettlebells overhead, and regularly performed high rep toes to bar sets on many occasions throughout the past 12 months.

Through all these skin-ripping movements, not once did I go to the chalk bucket, nor did I end up with blistered or bloodied hands. For those worried about grip strength on barbell movements, I actually take my hand protection a step further by applying runner’s Body Glide to my hands before I put on my gloves to reduce friction, the cause of most rips, between my skin and the gloves themselves. While not Herculean by any stretch of the imagination, I can clean and jerk nearly 1.5 times my body weight and can deadlift 2.5 times my body weight wearing gloves with purposefully slicked hands covered in Under Armour batting gloves.

WebMD recommends not popping blisters, as “the fluid-filled blister keeps the underlying skin clean, which prevents infection and promotes healing…Do not remove the skin over a broken blister. The new skin underneath needs this protective cover.”

Many CrossFitters often rip their hands before the skin has a chance to blister. When we do blister, we often do the complete opposite over the course of a workout – we rip the skin clean off. From a hygiene and avoidable injury perspective, this didn’t make sense to me. CrossFit is supposed to be a functional training program and there was nothing functional about ripping huge areas of skin off my hands on a somewhat regular basis.

Akinwale

Elisabeth Akinwale (Image courtesy of CrossFit Facebook Page)

How I came to join Team Glove.

I remember the workout that made me join Team Glove. It was Triple Jackie from main site on January 20, 2012.

After rowing 3000 meters, performing 150 barbell thrusters, and 90 pullups, I was left with seven deep, bleeding rips in my hands, despite wearing Again Faster grips. The rips stopped me from working out at my beloved gym for a week and it was extremely painful to eat delicious tacos with my good friend Justin that afternoon. Something had to change, not just because of the tacos, but because it didn’t make sense for me to miss out on 25% of my monthly gym membership because of rips. Instead of wearing my open wounds as a badge of honour, I realized there was nothing cool about ripping.

Rips are preventable injuries, like avoiding rope burns by wearing long socks. I had tried filing down my callouses, moisturizing my hands, adjusting my grip on the pull-up bar, and wearing grips “made for CrossFit.” For me and my skin, none of it seemed to work for extended periods of time.

From watching the 2011 CrossFit Games, I remembered seeing some of the sport’s top athletes like Spencer Hendel, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Jason Khalipa, Elisabeth Akinwale, and Katie Hogan wearing gloves at various points of the Games. Though fewer members than you can count on one hand wore gloves at our gym at the time, I gave it a shot and have never looked back. Even better, one of my good friends at our gym told me that the gloves the athletes wore at the Games were just batting gloves, not marked up “CrossFit gloves.” I realized it wouldn’t be a big financial investment compared to missing out on my gym membership.

We know that CrossFit is about developing mental and physical toughness, pushing your limits, and discovering what you can do. Personally, I also have a regular office job that requires me to shake peoples’ hands without worrying about infection or grossing people out, and type comfortably without repeatedly reapplying band-aids, Neosporin, New Skin, or even salt. For me, I decided it was worthwhile to adjust to gloves because I never wanted to miss a workout or be forced to awkwardly fist bump friends at weddings because of a rip ever again.

Katie Hogan Using Gloves While O-Lifting

Katie Hogan Using Gloves While O-Lifting

After over a year of being a member of Team Glove, there are common assumptions, positives, and negatives to wearing gloves in workouts that I’ve considered and been asked about on multiple occasions.

“Wearing gloves significantly limits your grip strength.”

Even as a proud member of Team Glove, I do not wear gloves when going for a 1 rep max deadlift. Additionally, I’ll admit it can be difficult to maintain a snatch hook grip for extended periods of time while wearing gloves. That being said, wearing gloves feels completely comfortable when performing up to 90% of my 1 rep max on every barbell movement, which makes them fine to wear for most CrossFit workouts, which generally require repetitions at weights lower than your 1 rep max.

For high repetition pull-ups, toes to bar, muscle-ups, or even handstand walks outside on hot pavement, when you wear gloves, you won’t ever cut a set short because your hands got sweaty or too hot. While you might adjust your bar grip slightly as you get comfortable performing the movement with gloves, most athletes who claim to never rip without gloves have also adjusted their hand placement as well

If I was specifically working on heavy Olympic or barbell lifts all day, wearing gloves might make less sense. For the majority of regular CrossFit workouts, I rarely feel like my grip strength is compromised. Even if your grip feels slightly different on a pull-up bar or set of rings, you’ll have more than enough grip to perform the movements once you’ve adjusted and I can almost guarantee that your grip with gloves will still be significantly stronger than when you’ve fought through reps while nursing torn blisters using hands covered by layers of athletic tape.

“Gloves take too long to adjust and they’re uncomfortable.”

Want to instantly add two rounds to your Cindy or cut 30 seconds off your Fran time? Stop visiting the chalk bucket. When you wear gloves, you never use chalk and once you’ve adjusted, previous frequent chalk bucket visitors will find themselves setting PRs on every girl workout.

Even if you don’t do a full-on Lebron James chalk toss (video below) after each journey to the chalk bucket, the clock doesn’t stop for the round trip and hand clapping that comes with every trip to CrossFit’s version of the office water cooler. If your gym is strict about keeping chalk messes inside the bucket, as many more are by the day, you’ll also never be the criminal who left a powdered donut-worthy mess all over your gym’s rubberized floors.

If your gloves are uncomfortable, chances are they’re too big. For CrossFit, gloves should fit as snugly as possible, with your fingertips nearly, if not completely, reaching the limits of each finger and a non-padded palm area that sits flush with your palm. If you find the right set of gloves, they’ll rarely bunch up. At most, you’ll slightly pull them up before beginning your next set, in a fraction of the time it would take you to go through a chalk routine.

“A friend of mine used gloves and the gloves tore on the first rep. They’re too expensive to replace.”

Much like many pairs of Inov-8’s have been chewed up descending from rope climbs and some of the most expensive CrossFit jump ropes have been known to fall apart, both of which are somehow accepted facts within the CrossFit community, equipment fails every now and again. Shoes will rip, jump ropes will fly apart, barbells will bend, and with no exception, gloves will occasionally rip.

When choosing a pair of gloves, choose a high quality pair with a quality warranty. Under Armour has arguably the best clothing warranty program in the world – clothing can be exchanged at any time for any reason, regardless of when you bought it. If in fact your gloves rip on the first rep or even after months of using them regularly, if you buy a quality pair of gloves with a warranty, you can mail them back and replace them.

“Wearing gloves makes you look like an exercising Power Ranger.”

This is probably true.

Is Team Glove for you?

While there is certainly validity to questions around grip strength with gloves as it pertains to max effort lifts, for 95% of all CrossFit workouts, you’d be surprised how much wearing gloves will not hinder your performance. In fact, for movements like high repetition kettlebell swings, pull-ups, and most CrossFit “Girl” workouts, there’s a good chance that wearing gloves will not only prevent you from ripping, but it could possibly improve your workout times by eliminating your trips to the chalk bucket.

Screen shot 2013-05-05 at 6.48.14 PM

CrossFit is meant to prepare us for life. For many of us, our life outside of the gym includes professional meetings, social gatherings with people outside of our CrossFit circles (really!), and using our hands for purposes other than repeatedly picking up heavy stuff and launching our bodies into the air, where an occasional open, oozing wound doesn’t illicit smiles as it might in our box. Much like you would wear long socks or shin guards to protect your legs from burns on rope climbs, wearing gloves during CrossFit protects your hands from a similar fate day in and day out.

For those of us who are dedicated to lifting heavy all the time, by all means, a membership to Team Glove may not be in your future. But for those of us who don’t want to be sidelined from a future workout or struggle through one because of avoidable painful rips and blisters, wearing gloves could be the answer, even if they don’t match your purse.

Dave Chung

Dave Chung

Dave is an active member of the fitness and CrossFit community in Northern and Southern California at NorCal CrossFit and Paradiso CrossFit. With a love for pop culture, Dave has written for Rotten Tomatoes, AmericanIdol.com, Google, Billboard, and is one of Examiner.com's top health and fitness writers. When he's not doing CrossFit or writing about CrossFit, he can be found making a mess in the kitchen or attempting to max height box jump onto various objects while wearing his work clothes.
Dave Chung
Dave Chung

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  • http://www.facebook.com/dave.webber.125 Dave Webber

    exercising power ranger – ha!

  • Kat

    Thank you, thank you, thank you says the girl who just mutilated herself after “Angie” and am looking for solutions. Every time I’ve asked about gloves, I get the it’s not cool answer or the it won’t build your callouses answer, but being out of commission and hurting myself because of it also makes NO sense to me. I’m giving gloves a try!

    • http://therxreview.com/ Michael: The Rx Review.com

      Kat when I started wearing gloves at my box people pretty much laughed at me. But when rope climbs come up or others cant do a moment because they have torn I know I made the right decision. I would prefer to wear gloves and not miss a workout then the alternative.

  • http://crossfitliveloud.com/ Philip

    I go glove occasionally, but rogues gear doesnt cause as much catching or friction…

  • Jenna

    Thanks for this article. I’ve been doing crossfit for about 15 months and finally have come to the point where I need to invest in gloves. I find myself repeatedly facing the struggle of “do I do the work out RX” OR “do I deal with ripped up hands for a week.” You are totally right that it sucks to miss a week of action because you did the “crossfit thing” and went hard till your hands ripped. My boyfriend, who works in a labor job, asked me one day why I don’t wear gloves. He stated that in his line of work, it would be stupid to work all day with a shovel and not wear gloves. Once you rip and cut the skin on your hands, it can start to scar and this repeated scar tissue can cause your hands to start to close up and become tight. This reminds me of the day we did 400 meters of walking lunges and I was the only one who brought a set of knee pads to the work out. Lunging is already killer, but who needs skinned needs from hot summer road? So crossfit community, lets loose the ego and start taking care of our bodies.

    Thus, I will be buying myself a pair of gloves once I’ve done the research. Thanks for the Under Armor Tip.

  • dang3rtown

    I love gloves! I suffer from a rare form of psoriasis/dermatitis that causes the skin on the palms of my hands and soles of my feet to fall off. a lot. even when I don’t workout. It really sucks and means I have to use gloves for almost all my workouts. As a consequence, I like to consider myself something of a crossfit glove expert. And the winner is… Golf gloves! Golf gloves are super tacky, tight fitting, thin and cheap. I buy a three pack of right handers and a three pack of lefts at costco for $20 each and each pair will last me around a month. They’re thin and wear out fast but the feel and grip is unmatched and $40 every 3 months really isn’t too bad. Give em a shot! The only down side, they look really dumb. I get called mickey mouse because of my bright white gloves.

    • http://therxreview.com/ Michael: The Rx Review.com

      Very cool. Yeah I know a few people who do this and all said the same as you dang3rtown. Seems like a good option.

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  • StrongerRx Worldwide Corp

    As a maker of Athletic Gloves or as some call it Crossfit Gloves.
    I have to say comments from forums and public chats are highly respected. Just
    wanted to fill in some information since studies have been done from this
    particular issue. Do you always need them: That depends on the user, some feel
    more comfortable using them allowing them to finish the workout and fatigue
    your muscles for improvement which is the ultimate goal.

    We have seen many who just won’t use it for various reasons. Needs
    to match your purse, excess material, hand fatigue, need to build callouses for
    stronger skin, not very Manly ect. All
    of which is Ok and respected. It goes back to, depends on the user.

    Some reasons to use it or have handy in your gym tool box.

    There are professionals who just can’t have their hands ripped or
    exposed especially in a business environment, just not very pleasant especially
    if you have to shake someone’s hands.

    Another serious reason to use gloves is for doctors or nurses who
    crossfit. A ripped hand is not very hygienic especially when you are dealing
    with sick people and potential bacteria all around.

    I have seen numerous hardcore athletes over the years turn
    positive on the attitude towards gloves in crossfit. One especially is in
    competitions after grueling movements over and over many hands do rip spewing
    blood all over and hanging skin from the hands.
    In these cases many athletes use the glove to cover the injury and
    continue in their movements effectively. Which was the case with some crossfit
    games athletes last year.

    I remember a time when weight belts where frown upon using in
    crossfit and remember seeing blogs and forums giving reasons why not to use it.
    With the evolution of the sport of crossfit it is now more common seeing it in
    competition especially for their safety. The same goes with gloves as you saw
    in last year’s games with many athletes wearing the reebok gloves. Yet as these
    gloves where given to them by Reebok for being recognized as the top in the
    world, the athletes knew when to use it and for what movements.

    It is still essential to train your hands rough on the bars and
    take care of the callous. It’s a critical part of crossfit training.

    Yet, at some point hands will give and rip the skin maybe around the
    softer skin taking with it the entire callous and surrounding skin with it. An
    Athlete should know when and what bar will cause that.

    Don’t use chalk it will dry your hands and increase damage to
    them. It will feel better with grip to a point but will certainly rip the skin
    right off if movements start to bring more friction and continue get demanding
    on the palms. There is a time for this if performing certain gymnastic moves or
    performing one rep maxes. That’s ok.

    Again you use gloves as you wish. Its preference. If performing
    one rep maxes, low volume movements or even trying to develop your rough hands
    a glove is really not that important.

    Once the volume picks up especially in certain movements then it’s
    a matter of preference for bloody hands or not.

    We have seen over and over many Athletes who never used gloves say
    with frustration: they are tired of ripping their hands and just want to
    workout as it make no sense to continue to damage their hands for specific
    movements.

    When StrongerRx created the RTG Gloves all those complains,
    frustration where taken into consideration to create the perfect glove for
    crossfit. No hand fatigue, eliminating bar disconnect, better grip, last longer
    and all around protection. All done with
    one thing in mind. Protection. But again, it just boils down to what an
    athlete wants.

    In conclusion, we are all different. We like different foods,
    different shoes and drive different cars. Such as, base models or others with
    all-out technology packages. Some find the technology packages useless and
    unnecessary. Yet, others can’t live without them. Same applies here.

    Your gym bag is a tool box. Sometimes you need a wrench and
    sometimes you don’t. Always nice to keep handy plenty of different tools for
    different situations.

    We wish you all the best in this year’s coming competition :-)