Let me start by saying that everyone’s hands are very different and his or her regimens should be their own in regards to how they take care of them. This is what I have learned in the past year and a half, about what works for me, and I hope you can take something from it.
The Backstory –
It was July of 2017 at the Ft. Knox Spartan Sprint in Louisville, Kentucky. I had been taking OCR seriously for about 6 months at that time. On my second lap, I ripped the calluses on both of my hands finishing Twister. After the race I was proud to show them off and I felt as if it proved my “grit” and “mental strength”. I even posted to Instagram as soon as I got home to show them off.
A few days later someone wrote me on Instagram and said, “McCauley, Congrats on your race but those hands are not anything to be proud of…it just means you don’t take care of them….” I realized that this person was right. Our hands are just as precious as our feet when considering the world of OCR. We all know how hard every obstacle becomes when our hands are falling apart. You can be the strongest person in the world, but with ripped calluses, a simple pull-up is brutal. So, in the end, the person who finishes the race with intact hands is the person who prepped the most (in most cases).
From that moment on, I started researching what professionals do. I looked up gymnast recommendations and even some of the American Ninja Warrior pros. I started trying many different things and eventually narrowed it down to, again, what worked for me.
My Routine –
I am not a runner and therefore obstacles are my favorite part of OCR. As some of you may or may not know, I have several homemade obstacles I have built and installed on my garage ceiling and usually work on grip strength/hang time 3x a week. Much bigger obstacle garage coming soon! As you can imagine this wears on my hands greatly.
These are the steps I take directly after this type of workout:
1.Fill sink with warm water
2.Wash hands with soap
3. Soak hands for 30 seconds
4. Repeat 3x
5. Dry hands of completely with a towel
6. Use a pumice stone or file to smooth calluses
7. Moisturize with lotion or I really like Joshua Tree Hand Salve
This has made a big difference for my hands and how quickly I get thick calluses. The thick ones are the ones that will rip. When it gets to the height off of your palm that can “snag” onto a bar it will usually stay on the bar. I judge this by taking my other thumb and pulling under the callus towards my fingers to see if it pulls the callus with it.
Now when these calluses get to that point I do use a callus removing razor. (Pictured Below) You have to be careful with this tool as they are extremely sharp right out of the box. It is very important to note that you do not want to dip into the callus and cut. You want to keep the blade parallel to the skin. Maintain the contour of your palm and pull gently and slowly. I sometimes rotate it left and right to control how much I cut off at one time. I also try not to cut the entire callus down. It is okay to have a callus but you just don’t want the tall thick ones! After I get them all trimmed down, I pumice or file them smooth and then moisturize.
When in training, there are of course a few things that I’d like to add. You can train or even race with gloves. I personally do not have any luck with gloves. I have spent hundreds of dollars on many different brands and types and have had zero success. I lose my grip, they shift or move, they get wet, and typically I sweat in them which is worse for my callus integrity. If they work for you then I am jealous. However, they can be a great thing to train in because they do protect you from rips and tears prior to a race. I use climbing powder in my training because it absorbs the sweat and does not allow my callus to get stuck on any of the grips I use. The negative here is that you have to keep applying. Liquid chalk is also another good one but just know that it can be messy and also give you a false sense of real grip strength.
Race Day Prep –
Every single race I run, on the morning of, I apply Liquid bandaid or something similar across the area of my calluses (just distal to the 1-4 digits). I just put a thin coat on and it provides me with an extra layer of protection. I guess it is my version of gloves. It has helped me greatly and although some of it will shed before the end of the race, I feel as if it is my last line of defense against ripping my skin because it builds a smooth transition the way it settles.
I really focus on the map the night before a race and try to memorize it the best I can. I focus on where I need to keep my hands as dry as I can and therefore during the race I typically know what the next obstacle is to prepare. In barb wire crawls and the occasional burpee I always make fists instead of allowing my hands to get dirty.
On the rolling hills and dunk walls, I also make fists and keep my hands high and sometimes the dunk wall has an opening between the water and the wall where I always keep my hands dry by putting them through first. Example: Recently in West Virginia, the left side of the dunk wall had 3 inches of space where I knew my hands could make it through dry and “Olympus” was the next obstacle. Of course you cannot always keep them clean and dry, therefore, I use the hay (when present) at the obstacles to dry/clean them like most others.
I will throw one tip in there that I have learned accidentally. I think it was at a California Super, but I was trying to get some electrolytes in with a Gu packet during a running segment prior to monkey bars. Well I ripped the packet open so quickly that the gel went all over my hands. As you can imagine I tried to get the most out it in my system but it was quite difficult. I rubbed my hands together and even wiped them on my shorts. I then came up to the monkey bars and felt like spider man So I am not recommending it but it could accidentally be very helpful on a tough obstacle.
When You Rip Them –
If I do get a rip after a race, I cut the skin away. There is a huge debate about this but I have had better luck cutting the rip off and exposing the underskin. I clean them really well with soap/water and with alcohol (Ouch!). Then I apply whatever type of A&E ointment or healing ointment you prefer, I use Aquaphor, and protect them with gauze. At night I remove the bandages and clean them again. I reapply a generous amount of A&E or Aquaphor to the area and then put on Cotton gloves with the fingers cut out. Laugh all you want and my wife also thinks I am weird but the gloves protect your sheets and pillows while allowing the rips to breathe. Repeat the process each day and night until healing is complete.
I am still in the learning process of what is best for me but so far I have not had a rip anything like the Ft. Knox race last year. Thanks for taking he time to read and I hope you tailor a program that works for you and your hands. I wish you all nothing but the best of luck on your next race. Go Legendborne!
by Ambassador Michael L. McCauley
find him @mc_ocr