Snatched in Six weeks starts May 6th! Click to sign up.

Getting a Handle on Grip Gripe: A Circus Girl’s Guide To Hand Care

by Stephanie Sine-Wilson, Ninja and Circus Girl

Ouch, My Fucking Hands Hurt!!

It happens…you’re pumped about getting your pump on, you get in off that steep wait list for the one Brian Patrick Murphy class you could take this month.  You breeze through that warm-up & laugh at the name game.  Then you go to grab your bell for swings & holy fuck…Your hands are fucked.  Red, calloused, tired, ripped and in PAIN!! It’s the worst feeling on the planet to know that you are strong enough to swing a 36 kg, but at this moment you can’t hold onto an 8 kg.

You’re not alone.

One of my circus coaches would often say, “Circus hurts, suck it up or take an art class!”  We would all laugh mid-air through gritted teeth.  The same sentiment holds true for swinging that iron.  Getting stronger is going to toughen us up in ways we didn’t even imagine. I wear my circus scars & calluses proudly.  Calluses are good!  Without them, I wouldn’t be able fly. Truly, I worked hard to build those calluses and they keeping me flying in the air, as well as giving air to my kettlebell.

Born to Hand-Job Baby!

Hands are everything.  We always talk about core, legs, arms, ass, but rarely do we discuss the hands. Caring for your hands properly will prevent rips and keep you swinging heavy iron.  We gotta build those good calluses!  Repeat after me, “Calluses are GOOD!!” Building calluses is a lot like building muscle.  Breaking down the tissue & then rebuilding it stronger (sound familiar?)

The key is to trim, shave or buff that top layer of skin regularly to prevent tearing & build calluses under a deeper layer of skin. Say it again with me, “Calluses are GOOD!” (TWEET THAT SHIT!)

Hand maintenance has become a daily event for me. I keep a pumice stone in the shower and use it every other day.  Put a dab of soap on the stone and work to file down the top layer of skin, while your hands are wet. You can also use a callus shaver, nail file, corn remover, cuticle scissors or, if you really wanna feel badass, grab a fucking Dremel! (MFF is not responsible for what may or may not happen should you choose to Dremel your calluses down.) When your calluses begin to get scratchy and less than smooth, it’s time to trim or file that shit down!  Not filing it down will lead you towards the path of ripped hands.  Aw shit, ripped hands are NO BUENO!!!  Side Note: Make sure to disinfect your pumice stone regularly.  I rinse it with a little rubbing alcohol weekly.


Ripped hands is a badge of honor in the circus/gymnasts world—but not necessary for Ninjas.  Preventing tears will keep you lifting and swinging.  However, should ripping occur, you’ll want to take care of it properly.  Clean the rips with alcohol (that shit fucking hurts, my eyes are welling up just thinking about it!), slather on that Neosporin and keep them covered for a while.  Bandage them up and change the bandage every day.   Side note: Hard-core, old-school Russian circus artists have been known to pee on their ripped skin, as a way of both healing and toughening up the calluses.  I DARE you to try it!

If you feel yourself on the verge of ripping, make like a trapeze artist and tape your hands with athletic tape.  Mueller’s makes a great brand in a variety of fun colors – hot pink is my fave.  If you have any leftovers, hand ‘em over to me, I also tape my lyra (aerial hoop) with them.  I’ve included this image for properly taping your hands.  It’s the same taping that gymnasts, aerialists and trapeze artists use.  It’s a little more work than just wrapping the tape around your hands, but it stays in place beautifully.

Accessorize with Gloves?

Wait, but what about those gloves?! You’ve seen plenty of bad asses lifting heavy with those gloves.  Well, on the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with that, (you do you, Ninja!) BUT there’s some talk about gloves diminishing your sensory perception and thus your ability to create greater amounts of “irradiation” throughout the rest of the body –this is a pretentious ass hole’s way of saying that gloves dull the brain’s ability to fully feel the tiny little receptors in the hands to the fullest effect. This might then have some negligible effect on the amount of tension and potential force created during heavy lifting (See Matt Wilson, I can be a pretentious asshole, too!). The same thing applies to working out without shoes…you can actually feel the floor and really be aware of those nitty gritty details, such as creating torque through the floor (spirals!) and gripping your toes.  For me, and I think most of our trainers will agree, working without gloves improves your grip strength and is far better for nailing your lifting technique. And to be perfectly honest, gloves aren’t necessarily gonna prevent chaffing.  If you must cover your hands, you can use the athletic tape OR make like Ms. Staci Jackson and cut the top of your tube socks off and wear them on your hands to give them a little bit of protection.

Chalk, chalk, chalk

Chalk it up – Every time I swing a bell, deadlift or grip a trapeze, for that matter, I chalk up.  Chalking will keep your hands from creating friction on the bell (or whatever iron you happen to be working with). It’s the friction and heat created from the friction that begins to break down the skin.  Chalking will keep the hands from fatiguing too quickly, keep your hands drier and slip-proof and lessens the chaffing.

Don’t Go Soft On Me!

It’s a fine line between soft hands and moist hands.  You want those good hard calluses, but want to avoid the dry cracked look.  For this reason, I put a little lotion on my hands at night after I’ve done my pumice routine.  If your hands are super dry, I would consider covering them up after lotion to hold in the moisture.  If you have rips, though, wait until they’ve fully healed before putting any lotion on them.

Hand Pain…Can you Hand-le it?

We forget that our hands have tons of tiny muscles, tendons, bones and nerve endings in them. Think about it, deadlifting is definitely working those hammies, but your hands are getting a workout, too!  Whenever we lift, row, swing and do pull ups, the muscles in our hands are broken down just like the other muscles in our bodies.  They need to be cared for the same way.  When your glutes are sore, you roll them out – why not roll out or massage your hands?  Arnica is also great for sore muscles….aaaaaand sore hands! If you have rips or open wounds, I would steer clear. When I’m training extra hard and I feel my hand muscles getting sore, I do an ice bath dip for my hand soreness.  It feels AwesFul – both awesome and awful at the same time.  Sometimes I follow it with a warm water dip.   Another great option is a warm Epsom salt bath.  You can relieve ALL those good muscles all at the same time—now that’s multi-tasking! **Side Note:  Epsom salt baths can dehydrate you.  Be sure you get plenty of good fluid before and after. 

In Conclusion!

Recovery is a part of any strength training regime.  This goes for your hands, too.  Making sure you are pushing yourself hard on your workout days is only going to serve you,  IF you give yourself proper recovery!  You’re no good to yourself if your hands are bleeding and you can’t make a fist.

If you are newer to working out with iron, building up hand strength and developing calluses is just part of the deal.  At some point, your hands are going to hurt, just like you’re glutes are gonna get sore.   In the words of my circus trainer, “If it no hurt, it not circus”.  It’s how you “handle” your recovery that counts.


Let’s get to know each other and see how we can help you!

Free class

Fill out the form below to get started with a free class!

By providing your phone number, you consent to receive text messages from MFF