If you do any sort of heavy lifting involving holding on to a barbell or any other implement, with enough frequency and volume, calluses will form. You can even get calluses from doing pull-ups. But the most frequent sources of calluses in the hand from lifting is from the deaflift. Deadlift calluses are the subject of much misinformation, including what they are and how to deal with them. Many lifters wonder whether they should attempt to get rid of them, but, in fact, they are a natural protective response against trauma to the skin.
See also: Proper Deadlift Grip
What Causes Deadlift Calluses?
Calluses are caused by the same thing that blisters are caused by: repeated mechanical trauma to the skin in the form of pressure and friction resulting in a heat buildup. If the trauma comes too often and is too severe, a blister will form. A blister is a raised separation of the dermal and epidermal skin layers. These raised skin sacs (vesicles) are filled with a clear or serous fluid. They form to act as a sort of padding to protect the underlying tissue from further damage.
Well, when the mechanical trauma is repeated, but not for too long or too severely, a callus will likely form instead of a blister. So, a callus can be thought of as a more permanent and positive adaptation to the stress on the tissues.
Calluses Hurt When Deadlifting
Although many experts write about how to get rid of calluses or care for them, most athletes would rather have a callus form than a blister. They are usually asymptomatic except for pain caused by large calluses pressing on underlying or adjacent tissues. These large problematic calluses can be quite a nuisance but this can often be prevented. For instance, over-large calluses on the feet in painful areas are usually caused by poorly fitting shoes. The moral, if there is one, is that even good things can sometimes come with a cost. Many lifters never have a problem with their deadlift callus, but for some, they overgrow and, during the lift, press on the underlying tissue causing a lot of pain or discomfort.
Ripped Callus From Deadlifting
Overlarge calluses may also frequently rip off during deadlifting, severely impacting their training ability until the skin heels. And other people rarely think about their calluses except to be thankful they are there to protect their skin..and to display as a badge of lifting honor. It is difficult to be sure why some people have problematic calluses and some don’t. Part of it, however, is incorrectly gripping the bar so learn about how to properly grip the bar for deadlifts. A proper grip can help keep your calluses from ripping and even help prevent them from over-growing. Since nothing is guaranteed, we may be able to tease out the rest of the problem by understanding more about callus formation.
The first thing I want to point out is that deadlift calluses are subject to a very harmful myth: Many people seem to think they rip off every time a breeze blows. This is absolutely not true. Some people never have a problem with their calluses ripping. However, they are more susceptible to tears because the area of skin that forms the callus is thicker and less elastic than the surrounding skin, moving as a unit. When tears happen, it is not the callus, of course, that is tearing, but this large unit being pulled away from the surrounding skin. It is more likely that heightened activity or friction (perhaps because of frequent failing of grip) causes a blister to form underneath the callus. Yes, a blister can form under a callus. This weakens the integrity of the callus, making it prone to being torn.
Caring for Calluses
If you develop overly large calluses on your hands from lifting, and this causes pain, you can gently file them down with a file or pumice stone. But if your calluses don’t give you any problems, by all means, leave them alone. Moisturizing your hands will soften your deadlift calluses. While this may help with pain, it will not help the calluses do what calluses do.
Weightlifting Gloves for Callus Prevention & Protection
If calluses or rough and sore hands, in general, are a big problem for you, then, by all means, consider protective weightlifting gloves. Many gloves have a textured palm for enhanced grip and special pads for the base of your fingers. An example are the bestselling Weight Lifting Gloves from Fit Active Sports. They are ventilated and offer full palm protection with extra callus padding.
Do keep in mind though that gloves may help you grip by providing extra friction between your hand and the bar, anything which provides a padding to your hand, even if thin, can actually increase the grip challenge by widening the grip. It’s as if you are gripping a slightly thicker bar. If you are lifting very heavy weights or using tremendous volume, this can and will make a difference. If you generally have no problem with your grip and being able to hold onto a barbell, or pullup bar is not an on-going concern for you, then gloves may be a good solution.