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Get a Grip

Gloves or chalk? Is either what it’s chalked up to be?


Most athletes would say that they’re chasing a good sweat when they go to work out. And yet, as always, too much of a good thing can be … not so good. And if there’s one thing that can ruin a perfectly good WOD, it’s excessive sweating. 

Now, no CrossFitter is going to cry about a shirt that’s wringing wet, but sweaty palms can be downright dangerous. If you’re in the middle of a kettlebell swing, someone in front of you may be in trouble. If you’re performing overhead presses, you could find yourself in desperate need of a helmet. To combat grip loss when sweating, as well as to protect hands from ripping, athletes often use gloves or chalk during training. But there can be confusion about which is better, so here’s what you might consider about these two common methods of grip enhancement.


There’s no question that gloves actually do make it easier to grip the bar when your hands get sweaty. This allows you to continue to train, thereby providing greater stimulus to muscles, which in the end results in greater muscular adaptation. However, don’t expect them to keep your hands baby soft — gloves won’t completely prevent calluses from developing or hands from ripping, though they do cut down on the incidence of both.

 Friction is what causes ripping, and that can include the friction between your palms and the inside of your gloves. (Lotion on your palms inside your gloves can help even more.) That said, gloves do help protect your hands if you have a ripped callus, especially one that’s open. And try to pay attention when your box gets a new shipment of equipment. Bars with a particularly rough or sharp knurl (particularly new bars), can cause serious hand damage. 

There is a downside to wearing gloves, and that’s that grip strength is reduced, primarily because the material of the glove adds to the diameter of the bar you’re gripping. Plain and simple, thicker bars are harder to grip. Just ask a woman who goes from using a women’s bar (24 millimeters in diameter) to a men’s bar (28 millimeters in diameter). Even 4 millimeters makes a big difference. The exercises that will suffer the most are pulling movements like deadlifts, pull-ups, cleans/snatches and rows. Remember: If you can’t hold it, you can’t lift it. 

Furthermore, gloves can compromise technique. The bar’s increased thickness can cause you to struggle to keep it in the same plane as your forearm and wrist joint in any pressing movement. As your wrists accommodate this new diameter, they tend to go into extension; your fingers can roll back with the bar, causing pain and excessive stress on the joint. And of course, gloves are often not allowed in competition, and wearing them can aggravate certain conditions, including pompholyx eczema (the development of itchy watery blisters on the insides of your fingers or palms).


Chalk (magnesium carbonate) is used in any sport in which maintaining grip is important; weightlifting, gymnastics and rock climbing are just three examples. There’s one big advantage to using chalk over gloves: It absorbs moisture and prevents sweat from building up between your skin and the bar or weight, and it does so without adding to grip diameter.

Simply put, rubbing chalk on your hands absorbs sweat, allowing you to maintain a better grip. However, chalk will not prevent an open tear from becoming infected, so be careful to cover any wound first before applying it. And if you’re sensitive to the dust around the chalk bin, look for “liquid chalk,” which dries on your hands and works the same way as regular chalk without the dust or need for frequent reapplication.