Last updated on August 3rd, 2021 at 11:35 am
Do your calluses hurt when doing pull ups?
Calluses are almost like a badge of honour when you start training.
We expect changes in our body, such as building muscle, getting stronger, and reducing body fat.
However, our skin, especially that of the hands, also undergoes certain changes.
Calluses typically form on the pads of the hand whenever you grip a barbell or a pull up bar and apply tension.
Calluses aren’t harmful, and they actually help you to lift or pull heavier.
With that being said, they do tend to hurt when performing exercises like pull ups, deadlifts, and Olympic lifts.
So, what should you do?
Calluses Hurt When Doing Pull Ups
You will typically grab a pull up bar with the palm of your hand. However, as soon as you hang and apply “weight”, the tension will pull down towards your fingers, so your calluses are literally getting crushed by the bar. To counteract this grab the bar with the callused part of your hand and the tension will then be pulled towards the middle of your fingers.
1. Grip the Bar Correctly
Calluses are actually a good thing when it comes to lifting heavier weights.
Nevertheless, they can also impair your form on exercises such as pull ups.
I know many people that are capable of 10-15 pull ups in a row, but have to give up by about rep 7 simply because their calluses are hurting too much.
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The easiest way to stop your calluses hurting when doing pull ups is grip the bar correctly.
There are actually two different types of hand grip whenever you address a bar.
One is best used for pushing exercises, whereas the other is perfect for pulling.
However, most of us tend to grab a bar, pull up or barbell, with what I would describe as a push hand grip.
There is a tendency to grab the pull up bar with the middle of the palm of your hand.
But, this is what I would call a “push grip”.
When you grab a bar with the centre of your palm and then apply tension, e.g. hang from the pull up, the tension will automatically pull towards your fingers.
So, by the time you perform your first pull up you calluses are literally getting crushed against the bar.
This is generally why you get a few reps in and then decide you can’t continue because your calluses hurt so much.
Hold the Bar With a “Pull Grip”
However, if you grab the bar with a “pull grip” this won’t happen.
I think the best way I can describe this is to place the callused area of your hands on the bar.
Then as soon as you hang and apply tension, this tension will once again pull towards your fingers.
But, now you will find that the bottom part of your fingers is where the most pressure is being applied, i.e. just above your calluses.
This is the correct way to grab a pull bar or barbell for any pull-based exercise.
Here’s Mark Rippetoe to explain this concept in more detail.
2. Don’t Wear Gloves
An automatic assumption to avoid callus pain when doing pull ups is to wear gloves.
However, in truth, this can be extremely counterproductive.
Firstly, I should state that if you initially started lifting and doing pull ups while wearing gloves then calluses wouldn’t be an issue.
So, wearing gloves can prevent calluses.
But, calluses are a natural part of lifting, doing pull ups, etc.
So, the only way to avoid them is to wear gloves the first time you ever attempt a pull up, and wear them forever more.
That being said, wearing gloves will always add some thickness to the bar, which will make gripping it slightly more difficult.
In effect, you may never reach your true potential with pull ups because of grip issues.
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I’ve mentioned that calluses aren’t a bad thing, and they’re in no way harmful.
The calluses literally build up and thicken your skin over time.
And as I say, this actually helps when it comes to heavier lifting.
So, if your hands are already callused, by resorting to wearing gloves you’re not giving the calluses an opportunity to get “tougher”.
I suppose the question arises as to why you’d want callused skin in the first place.
However, this does depend on the type of activities you’re doing.
Many climbers, wood cutters, gardeners, etc. will typically have calluses in the same areas as people who lift weights (or perform lots of pull ups).
The thicker and tougher skin helps to protect them from cuts and bruises as they go about their daily activities.
In a gym environment, this means that you can lift heavier, perform more pull ups, etc.
3. Perform Callus Maintenance
The main problems with calluses is if they become too big or if you catch the ridge of a callus on the bar and rip it open.
Okay, I can tell you now that ripping calluses open is no fun.
I’ve ripped two calluses in my time.
And I assure you that the pain absolutely sucks.
It’s like a constant stinging pain, and gripping the bar to do pull ups is near on impossible.
I remember resorting to wearing gloves for a day or two, but found relief when I avoided pulling exercises.
In the end, I just removed the gloves, and worked my lower body and pushing exercises for a week until my calluses healed.
Once I’d ripped a second callus open a couple of years later I took some time to learn more about them.
And it was then that I learned about actually performing maintenance on your calluses.
Who knew there was such a thing?
A Couple of Maintenance Techniques
I’ve actually come across various techniques, and tried a few.
The first one I read about scared me a little, but it is apparently a method that most rock climbers resort to.
It basically involves using sandpaper to sand down your calluses and applying cream.
Sounds brutal, right?
However, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as you think.
The other thing I learned was that calluses are easier to deal with when the skin is soft and malleable.
The best way to achieve this is to soak your hands in warm water.
I usually deal with my calluses after I’ve had a shower.
However, if you want to earn some extra brownie points, then consider doing the dishes on a regular basis, and then performing callus maintenance afterwards.
Once the calluses are wet it’s far easier to remove the callused skin.
If you attempt maintenance when your hands are dry you’re more likely to remove the healthy skin as well.
You can literally pick away the soaked calluses with your nails or something rough, such as a nail file or a pumice stone.
Believe it or not, there is even such a thing as a callus razor.
How to Treat Calluses When Doing Calisthenics
4. Perform Different Types of Pull Ups
If your calluses hurt when doing pull ups you can of course change the type of pull up that you’re performing.
You can try chin ups or a neutral grip and see if this provides you with some much-needed relief.
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This is just a temporary fix, as your hands and skin become stronger and tougher with continued training.
I will reiterate that gripping the bar correctly when performing standard pull ups is the best solution.
However, I’m also a great believer in variety when it comes to training, so I see nothing wrong with using various grips for chins and pulls.
I have also seen people who say that you can apply chalk to your hands when doing pull ups, so as to improve your grip.
And this is something that many rock climbers do to improve their grip while they’re struggling with callus pain.
With that being said, chalk can also exasperate the callus issue.
So, if the pain from normal pull ups is too much for you to bear, then try a different grip and see how you get on.
So, hopefully these tips should provide some relief if your calluses hurt when doing pull ups.
The major issue with callus pain when performing pull ups is down to how you grip the bar.
Therefore, remember to grip the bar with the pads of the hands, as opposed to the centre of your palm.
Furthermore, allow the skin to become tougher over time and avoid wearing gloves.
You should also perform callus maintenance regularly.
And if the pain is just too much then change your grip on the bar.
Above all, remember that calluses aren’t a bad thing and that they aren’t actually harmful.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.