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The importance of hand and skin care for climbers

Aby’s hands during Geyikbayiri climbing trip.

When training to become a stronger climber, we often focus on improving technique, power endurance or core strength. Undeniably, all these approaches play an important role in the process of achieving the goal but quite a few of us forget about the importance of hand skin care when training. Reoccurring flappers or worn-down fingertips may prevent us from obtaining optimum performance. Luckily, maintaining healthy and strong hand skin is easily manageable with some products and techniques and these can be simply performed by any climber no matter their climbing experience. 

Hygiene

Either using liquid or powdered chalk causes skin dryness and it is very important to thoroughly wash our hands after each session. Some chalk unwashed may linger in cracks of the skin leading to further dryness and damage. While washing seems obvious after each session, this is also important before each climbing. There is no need for any grease on our precious hands before we get on these holds, sweat may just be enough to cause slipperiness. Also, being mindful of other climbers, no one really enjoys a greasy crimp, especially when it caused by the lunch you just had. Another seemingly obvious approach to remember is regular nail trimming.  Make sure to trim round the edge all the way to the side of your finger to avoid hangnails and making that dreadful scraping sound that sets everyone’s teeth on edge when you accidentally hit the wall. Finally, smooth your standing out calluses by gently filing them. This practice helps to prevent forming flappers, which may have detrimental effect on the length and quality of your climbing session. If they happen though, make sure you keep them clean and wrap some tape around them if possible so you can still get on some rock without leaving trails of blood behind.

Skin Care

Here approaches may vary depending on the type of skin we have. Some of us are blessed with naturally dry skin whereas some others may have constantly sweaty palms. For those who wish to decrease the amount of sweat on their hands, one option out there is Antihydral, a popular but extreme drying agent that can be applied at night for dry hands during the day. It works well for chronically damp hands, but it can be harsh at first for the skin, so a light coating on the tips could be applied for a few hours, over a couple of days, and then the results can be seen. Another incredibly important thing to remember is to moisturise hands regularly. Hydrated and elastic skin is much more subtle and resistant to cracking or flapping when either pulling on sharp real rock jugs or plastic-fantastic holds. This means moisturising your hands no later than 2 hours before climbing and helping the skin become more elastic for the climbing session. Please, forget about moisturising your paws just before climbing as this will leave too much grease and slipperiness on your skin, making some crimpy climbs impossible. Again, think of others too, there is no need to leave greasy holds behind so others will struggle as well. Additionally, it is always a good practice to moisturise hands after each climbing session as this soothes the skin and prevents skin damage. There are many salves on the market that do not contain any nasty chemicals and are packed with natural oils to nourish the skin. These are High Life or Climb On which can be purchased on line or in some climbing gyms. Applying them on hands before bed will bring even better effects as the cream stays on and is being absorbed by our skin all night. Some other option would be using natural oil of our choice that works for our skin best, like apricot kernel oil, but we need to make sure it is of a good quality, cold pressed and preferably organic.

Hydration and Diet

There is absolutely no doubt about the fact that what is eaten and drunk affects not only our skin but the whole body. It is important to eat varied and as natural as possible food, which contains crucial nutrients to help us stay strong and healthy. Avoiding refined sugars, processed foods and chemicals is beneficial not only for our muscles, bones and joint functioning but also speeds recovery time from injury and maintains skin in healthy condition. I could go on here forever, but this will be a topic for another blog.

Hydration is an absolute key in physical performance. This is because it affects the skin suppleness and everything from flexibility to mental sharpness. Being dehydrated for prolonged periods of time increases the likelihood of splits and tears on our skin and reduces its ability to heal well. The best drinks to keep in the crag, apart from a coffee flask obviously, is just pure water or on hot days or in stamina sessions, electrolyte water. This would be natural young coconut water or easily made drink with electrolyte tablet dissolved in a bottle of purified water. Nourished, pliant skin is more resilient to tears so do your whole body a favor by keeping balanced diet and staying hydrated.

Stretching

There are two types of stretching, dynamic and static. Dynamic stretching should be done before the work-out, and static stretching after. Dynamic stretching, incorporating movement, lubricates the joints in the body, improves movement, and as a result, reduces the chance of an injury. This practice should not be the replacement for a proper warm-up but a part of it, you need to feel your pulse raising and the whole body warming. Static stretching is important for muscle recovery and flexibility and is performed without movement of the joints. This is to prevent our precious fingers from permanently curling due to over gripping, overusing and stiffness. These stretches should be held for either 20-30 seconds for recovery, or 30-40 seconds to improve range of motion. Static stretches relax the muscles for up to two hours and are not recommended before a work-out as you want your muscles to be active and engaged when exercising.

All the above practice seems relatively easy to maintain but it takes discipline to make it a good habit.

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