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How to Avoid Blisters from CrossFit Pull-ups

Good pull-up gripSorry, I feel the need to rant a bit today. I just keep seeing too many tweets on Twitter about how proud some CrossFit folks are of their blistered and bleeding hands from doing pull-ups. They are usually referring to high reps of kipping pull-ups. Bleeding hands from pull-ups aren’t some CrossFit “badge of honor”. It’s actually an indicator that you aren’t gripping the pull-up bar correctly and you probably use way too much chalk. Now, before you get your hackles up and puff out your chest, I had the same problem. When I started CrossFit last year and began doing a high volume of pull-ups, I built up calluses and blisters. I noticed that it kept hurting more and more as that new callused area was getting pinched between the top of my palm and the bar. So, I did some research before it became a bleeding issue and I’ll share what I found below in some photos and a video. You really can avoid it! It’s all about your grip style and it builds up your grip strength and toughens up your hands more evenly.

Perhaps at this point, you’re saying; “Why should I care? I’m a tough guy/gal and I love showing off my bleeding blisters.” Well, have you ever stopped for a moment to think about what’s happening with your wounded paws when you work out? Unless you have your own personal gym, you are sharing equipment. That means you’re sharing that pull-up bar, that Olympic bar, those kettlebells, etc. You’re getting your blood all over that equipment. And, you are grinding dirt, sweat, and probably the blood from someone else’s wounded hands into your open, raw blisters. Nice… Hope you have great medical coverage.

Maybe you think I’m a germaphobe. But, I’m actually not. However, I am aware of the issues and I don’t take unnecessary risks. Maybe you should read this article about how easily serious skin infections can be transmitted at the typical gym.

A recent paper released by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association said that close quarters combined with general poor hygiene practices make athletes prone to getting skin infections.

According to The New York Times, these diseases range from mild to severe, including MRSA, a very dangerous staphylococcus infection that is resistant to most antibiotics.

Now that you hopefully care, here is my advice for getting rid of those nasty blisters and wounds on your palms:

  1. Stop using so much chalk! It makes your hands stick and creates too much friction (hence the blisters).
  2. Change the way you grip the bar (see photos and video below).

BAD: Don’t Grip the Bar Centered in Your Palm

Most people naturally grip the bar in their palm. Not good.
Notice how the skin is compressed between the bar and base of fingers.
The pressure and friction from pull-ups then creates painful blisters.

BETTER: Center the Bar at Base of Fingers

Instead, grip the bar so it centers across base of fingers, not the palm.
Wrap fingers around the bar tightly and “roll” it into your hand.
I like the “gorilla grip” with my thumb on top of the bar. It takes some getting used to, but my hands seem to flex better when kipping.


So, give this new grip a try the next time you do some pull-ups. Practice it and get comfortable with the grip before you go crazy with high-intensity kipping pull-ups. You don’t want to fall off the bar! Good luck!


My Video on Correct Bar Grip

Mark Rippetoe on Bar Grip

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