What Athletes Should Do About Their Calluses

Learn what do do to prevent calluses from becoming painful.


Calluses are fact of life for athletes. In fact, if you don't have calluses on your hands and feet, you're probably not working out or practicing your sport hard enough.

Although calluses are mostly inconsequential, sometimes they can become painful and problematic. To prevent this from happening, read on. You'll learn what a callus is and how to properly treat one.

What is a Callus?


A callus is a buildup of hardened and thick skin in areas subjected to friction and pinching. They are the skin's natural way of protecting itself from further damage by reinforcing areas that are frequently used and abused.

Callus formation depends on your activities. If you run with ill-fitting shoes, you might get a callus along the outside of your big toe. If you play tennis, you probably have one on the inside of your thumb from gripping your racquet. If you lift weights—especially if you deadlift—you will develop calluses on your palms just under your fingers.

Calluses only form in response to frequent friction and pinching. If the friction or pinching is too intense, a blister will form instead. A callus that gradually develops helps to prevent a blister.

These hardened areas of skin are usually not problematic. They provide much needed durability so your skin can handle high-friction sports activities. But calluses can become an issue if they grow to large or you don't manage them properly.

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How to Care for Calluses


A large callus is more susceptible to pinching and irritation. Eventually, it can become quite painful or even tear off, which can leave you with a bloody wound. Contrary to popular belief, this does not make you a badass. It's a sign that you did too much, and you might not be able to lift or play your sport without pain.

The key to avoiding problematic calluses is to care for them properly by regularly shaving them down. But first, let's address the elephant in the room.

Raise your hand if you've ever picked or bitten off a callus [author slowly raises hand]. As satisfying as this may be, it can cause problems. When you pick or bite a callus, there's a good chance you will take some fresh skin along with it. This creates a painful wound, which again can prevent you from performing your activities. The same goes for trimming your calluses with a nail clipper.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends four steps to care for a callus:

  1. Soak the callus in warm water for five to 10 minutes to soften the skin. A warm shower should do the job.
  2. Gently shave the callus with a pumice stone using circular or sideways motions.
  3. To avoid creating a wound, be careful not to take off too much skin.
  4. Apply lotion to calluses every day. The ingredients should include salicylic acid, ammonium lactate or urea.

We want to emphasize this point: do not shave your calluses completely off, because that removes the protective layer of skin. According to Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, there's a good chance you will develop a blister when you return to your normal activity. Just shave off excessive growth.

To prevent overly large calluses from forming, follow these tips:

  • Wear properly fitting shoes, including a shoe of the correct width.
  • If a callus is partly bothersome, use extra padding to prevent friction.
  • When performing Deadlifts, use a bar that has strong knurling (i.e., the rough, grippy section of a bar). This may be a bit uncomfortable at first, but it improves your grip on the bar and reduces pinching.
  • If you consistently experience pain when lifting weights, you could have a grip strength issue. If your grip is not solid, the bar will slide in your hands and cause pinching. The solution? Strengthen your grip. Also, you can try using chalk.

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