ninjanation-warpedwall3 ninjanation warpedwall3 at a Ninja Warrior gym in Melbourne, Australia.

– Written by Luke Ha

Maybe some people are just born with more resistance to tears or maybe not. I’m not sure and I don’t know if I can call myself an expert. However I have trained in gymnastics since I was 8 – 18 and moved into a career as a professional circus performer until recently. I worked with Universal Studio’s Japan, Franco Dragone’s The House of Dancing Water and Circus Oz. And while becoming a TV and Film Stunt professional I also have been around the Ninja Warrior scene a lot since 2016… So maybe… just maybe you could call me an expert… ?

When I was in gymnastics, training competitively my friends often got blisters more than me. Mostly from highbar is where we would get them. Maybe I didn’t train as hard! I certainly got callouses though. Then, during my circus years I trained on Chinese pole a lot, as well as Straps. Chinese Pole involved a lot of hands on poles, climbing and again more callous build up. Straps gave me callouses on my wrists. Then working in a water show for 3 years really softened those callouses. I’ve had plenty of rips, and bloody ones too, but here I will share how I think to avoid them and why I think I don’t get them much anymore.

It may well be I don’t train as hard anymore! But there could be something in that, when I do train. I don’t train like I did when I was in my prime gymnastics days, going until I ripped. Now I know that if I rip, it takes a while to be able to get back on the bar… So I simply follow my hands and how they feel more. I train a little till it gets sore, but not till it rips, and I train more frequently. If they do start to get sore. I’ll tone down the intensity and/or find other things to train that are core or leg based and involve less hanging by hands.

Taping up before training in my opinion doesn’t let you feel the obstacle or allow your hands to build some callouses up. But if you want a barrier to save from the pain, tape before training. Or as you do get sorer during the session, then tape. At least you’ve gotten into a bit and are building that pain threshold and building up the hand resistance.

As those callouses do build up.. it is more likely they will tear and you will have a huge bloody blister exploding everywhere and you have to stop training for a while until your skin can take it again. So I actually think having too much callous is a bad thing, in my honest opinion. Some yes, but huge dry cracking mountains? No thanks. To me that’s asking to tear and rip. I have a bad habit of picking at callouses when I sit, or am waiting. I use my finger nails to pinch and pull, tearing skin off. Biting the callouses off. YUCK. But strangely satisfying. However I find this very detrimental. Often biting, picking or tearing it off on purpose takes off more skin than you intended and you go too deep! So I try not to do that anymore.

Instead, I and other gymnasts and professionals I know, take a razor or sharp knife and actually shave or cut the callouses off. VERY CAREFULLY. Obviously we try not to cut all our skin off, but just to remove some so we can feel our hands again. Then I also regularly take a pumice stone and rub off excess skin after training sessions regularly and after shaving callouses off. My aim is to keep my hands smooth and clean, will not too tough callous or super dry skin. Consider this as injury prevention.

Gems to conclude with:

  1. More frequent training but keeping sessions a bit shorter as your hands can bear. In other words, stop when your hands are getting sore.
  2. Tape when you need, before it’s too late.
  3. Remove your callouses and dry skin with a pumice stone regularly and occasionally (very carefully) with a sharp knife or razor.

Now what to do IF or WHEN you rip?

Well I have heard a few strategies.

“Rub a heap of chalk in it and keep going.” I’ve seen this done! Well okay, if it’s comp day or something you must do. But I advise cleaning it and taping it up if you want to keep going. Band aids are pretty useless on their on when used on the palm of your hand and you’re planning to continue training/competing. Keep the torn skin or ‘flapper’ ON if you can. It will help protect the exposed wound protected over the next day or two. CLEAN the wound with saline or antiseptic, water if nothing else. Make some sort of cushion on the blister/rip, like the band aid, or dressing, and tape around your whole palm and thumb in a figure 8 pattern ending on the back of your hand or finger so the whole thing holds and wont just come off the moment you touch a bar or obstacle.

The real question is, when you’ve finished the training session how do you heal a bloody rip faster? Certainly step one is to try to clean it and keep it clean. With betadine, other antiseptic and/or warm water. After that, there are two camps. Keeping it dry or keeping it moist.

Dry: Carefully cut the ripped skin off with sharp scissors. Make yourself a cup of tea and put the tea bag on your blister and hold it tight! Or drip some metholated spirits onto it. Oh boy do they sting! But drying it out is one strategy I have tried. Worth a try. Painful though! Does it work? Not so sure! The body is amazing and usually heals anyway, but the question of is it faster I’m doubtful of.

Personally I think moist. And there’s at least research to back it up. If it is a blood blister and not popped, as tempting as it is, I’d leave the blood pooling in there a day. Then pin prick the blister and squeeze out the blood, leave it for another day. Then cut the skin off. Already there’s been some healing and I’ve at least been able to use my hand normally until cutting the skin. Now if it had already ripped, I would clean it with antiseptic, there are ones you can get that don’t sting, leave the flap on for a day or two. Then use a non stingy ointment and tape or bandaid if not using the hand much to keep it covered and moist. Changing it daily. Then when the new skin has formed a little bit or the flap is unbearable to have anymore, use a clean pair of surgical scissors and cut the excess skin off.

What works for you?

What would be really interesting is to try both methods at the same time. That would require getting a same sort of level rip, one on either hand. Let us know if you get a double rip and want to try or have indeed tried this!