Being a sports massage therapist, with my hands regularly doused in coconut oil, the skin on my palms is as soft as a unicorn’s scrotum. I have therefore had to pay particular attention to refining technique and building grip strength for ballistic kettlebell movements. I’d like to share the one, all-powerful drill that has helped me over the years. Contrary to popular belief, the main cause of skin damage during interval swings is not soft skin or bad technique, it’s a lack of grip strength / grip endurance.
The kettlebell clean and snatch require a higher level of skill and technique in order to keep the hand skin from tearing. However, the swing only requires the kettlebell handle to remain in one place. If the handle does not move against the skin, even the softest of hands will not tear. There’s no requirement to build hard skin or calluses. However, in order for the handle to remain fixed in one place the grip strength and grip endurance must be sufficient enough to keep it there. If the handle moves even a fraction during the swing cycle, friction builds up and skin starts tearing. Iron Vs skin, iron always wins.
During the swing the kettlebell handle should sit in the fingers, not in the palm. If you’re a palm gripper you probably find the skin of your palm wants to tear all the time. You naturally want to grip with the entire fist because you lack the finger strength. Build finger strength by using the following drill so you don’t have to put up with blisters any more.
The ballistic kettlebell lifts (swing, clean and snatch) do not require a crushing grip of the handle during the swing phase. In fact, a crushing grip of the handle usually leads to unnecessary arm, shoulder, neck and head activation. However they do require a vice-like hook grip, ie. a grip that doesn’t necessarily produce a crushing flexion force onto the handle, but one that absolutely will not budge when an extension force is applied. Enter, the white glove drill…
In the world of hardstyle kettlebell training, we “tut” at the sight of a Girya wearing gloves. However, top level kettlebell sport athletes have been training with cotton gloves to improve grip strength endurance for decades.
The drill is simple but highly effective. Just regularly wear cotton gloves during your swing training sessions. I’d suggest one in every three sessions. Wearing the glove makes the kettlebell very slippery to hold so you’ll need to train with a slightly lighter KB than usual. I personally wear cotton gloves on my light day, which involves 30-40 x 30 second intervals @ 10 swings per set, with my ‘light’ kettlebell. At the end of the 15-20 minute session my grip feels like it’s been completely toasted. Then on medium and heavy days with no gloves, the kettlebell feels much more solid and fixed to my arm with barely any movement (so no skin damage).
If you’re training for a forthcoming certification and you’re worried about your hands constantly tearing, I would highly recommend giving this a go. It not only builds your grip strength but also offers a chance to continue training whilst any existing damaged skin is healing.
During a three-day certification, day one tends to be swing intensive. If you’re doing the SMK, day one would end with a swing test and if your hands are already shredded from the rest of the day, you’re in for a pain. With the chief instructors permission, I would suggest slipping on a pair of cotton gloves for most of day one, leaving your palm skin fresh for the swing test and the next two days. They’re really easy to slip on and off for toilet or food breaks. This was my strategy during my first hardstyle certification in 2013 and although I received a few odd looks on day one, I was quietly smug for the next two days with fresh and strong hands whilst 95% of the other candidates had to spend valuable break time standing in the rock-taping queue and administering first aid to themselves.
Strength and honour! ;))