As a powerlifter, you've heard the saying “Rip it off the floor!” probably a thousand times. It ranks up there with “The meet doesn’t start until the bar hits the floor,” a fact because you aren't in the meet without the deadlift. As important as pulling is, you don’t want to take any chances with this lift because it gets you into the meet, and if you're a good puller, it can pull out the win for you as well.

We can train our pull with the conviction of a man/woman possessed, but the ironic reality is that sometimes the weak point with the deadlift isn't the lifter's back, nor their grip, but their skin, specifically the calluses on their supinated deadlift hand.

When you first start deadlifting, grip isn't an issue because you're probably only pulling 400 to 500 pounds and the weak part of your lift is typically a weaker back, a poor setup, or lack of speed from the bottom. Around the 600- to 700-pound range, in addition to the back, setup, lack of speed, and other factors, grip does become an issue. So literally some lifters can pull the weight but can’t hold the weight at the top. This is why we aren't that impressed with those gym videos showing the deadlifter pulling big numbers with the aid of straps. However, this isn't an issue because we can train our grip as well and reap the rewards as we lockout and hold that weight at the top until we get the down command.

If you're pulling 700 pounds, chances are you have good form and speed, and if you're locking it out, your grip is like a bear trap, too. So why is it that if a lifter has all the pieces to the deadlift puzzle, the bar sometimes still comes out of the lifter's hands?


Shaun Kopplin, deadlift. Photo by R. Munoz.

In actuality, the bar doesn't come out of the lifter's hands but rips out of his hands. Specifically, it rips the skin off his hands and that is the end of that lift.

Grip strength and the condition of the skin aren't synonymous. Do this—look at the calluses on your supinated deadlift hand. They're pronounced and there isn't any way that you can hide them. They stand out from the rest of your hand’s skin and they obviously look and feel different. Now really look closely at them. If you look carefully, you'll see that there is (on most lifters) some dry skin on or around the callous. Skin is constantly growing anew and shedding old, kind of like a snake but to a far lesser degree. The dry skin that you see is part of the epidermis or the outer most layer of the skin.

Another reason for this dry area is that in addition to the abuse we're putting the skin on our hands through, we use gym chalk. The purpose of the gym chalk is to keep the hand dry so that the natural oils in our skin as well as sweat don't transfer to the bar because both can cause grip issues. Chalk lets us really squeeze that bar and helps us hold the deadlift at the top. Chalk, as is its nature, also dries our skin, thus the trifecta of dry skin, skin abuse, and a deadlift bar with aggressive knurling. These all work to put us in danger of tearing off a chunk of our skin, thus dropping the deadlift.

When you get to that range of 700 or more pounds on the deadlift, that same knurling that helps you hold the bar can actually embed itself into your calluses. Each knurl is like a tiny, sharp tooth trying to bite into your skin. Thus, if you have dry skin (aka dead skin), the knurls will dig in, but the dry/dead skin won’t hold fast like living tissue. That dead skin comes off with the bar. The worse news is that it brings your good, healthy skin to the surface and that's when you're out of the game.


Shaun Kopplin,700-pound deadlift. Photo by MGG.

At Monster Garage Gym (MGG), we keep Krazy glue handy for those slight hand tears. Put some Krazy glue on your slightly torn callus. (Read carefully: Let it fully dry before pulling again or you'll have bigger problems than a slightly torn callus.) Once the glue has dried fully, you can continue your training or competing if during a meet. This is a practice gymnasts have used for decades and we've used it successfully for a number of years at MGG. But for a serious tear, you aren't only done for the day. You're done pulling for sometimes weeks until your hand heals properly.

I wish I could say that your secret weapon to combat this problem was the elitefts™ 5000-T Super Hand Callous Destruct-O-Fier with Kung Fu grip, but the reality is that the fix is a $1.25 emery board that you can find at any drugstore. So if you've read this far and are serious about the details like I am, let’s get anal retentive about this.

Emery boards, just like their hardcore cousin sandpaper, comes in sizes and also a range in grade from sharp to fine. For our purposes, you want an emery board in the medium range, specifically around the 180-grit range (emery boards are designated by “grit”). Rub the emery board back and forth over your calluses for a few seconds. When they're smooth and there aren't any sharp, dead skin areas, you're done. Now, you're keeping the callus you need to pull with but losing the weak link (the dead skin). Every now and then, you'll hear someone say, “Just cut off your calluses.” For the love of all that is good in powerlifting, never do that. You need the callus. You just don’t need the dried skin.

Lastly, your alternative is the “hook grip.” It's a very painful alternative, but it utilizes double overhand, and our chance for the skin ripping is drastically reduced.


Maroscher hook grip. Photo by MGG.

Bottom line: Rip the bar off the floor, but don’t rip off your skin because truly the meet doesn't start until the bar hits the floor.