Despite what some hard-earned callouses might lead you to believe, my hands are hypersensitive. Thus, the hand pain I sometimes get during and after a lifting workout is the worst part about going to the gym. While I don’t know any secrets for reducing nerve sensitivity (there are 48 nerves in each hand, after all), I do have some strategies that might help on those days when your hands just can’t handle certain lifts.
If you have chronic hand pain and/or it’s limiting your range of motion, please consult a medical professional; for appropriate exercise substitutions, please consult a fitness professional. I am neither of these things! This post is solely what works for me.
Use hand protection
This one should be obvious, I know, but I just recently got some half gloves to protect the part of my hands that’s most impacted by lifting. Now I just have to remember to bring them to the gym! If you need more or different hand protection, there are also full gloves, hand grips, and wrist wraps.
Change where you hold the weight
Generally, the more weight your hands have to take and the tighter you have to grip to keep the weight in place, the more painful it will be. So changing the position of the weight can alleviate the strain on your hands. For example, the roughest barbell squat variation for me is the overhead squat, because my hands have to take the full weight of the bar. Back squats are much better because my back supports the bar, but I still have to grip tightly to keep it in place. Front squats with my arms crossed are easiest, because the weight rests on my shoulders and it only takes a light grip to keep the bar in place.
Opt for kettlebells
Maybe this is mostly in my head, but I find kettlebells a bit easier to grip (more ergonomic?) than barbells or dumbbells. The kettlebell position for exercises like bench presses – where the bell part rests on the back of the wrist – allows you to relax your grip a bit because the handle sits securely in your palm.
Back off the ‘bells
Alright, so you’ve tried different grips and different bells, but your hands are still pretty painful today. Fortunately, most gyms have plenty of other equipment to choose from. Medicine balls, resistance bands, or suspension trainers will all be kinder to your hands than iron.
Use the weight machines
I know, weight machines are generally inferior to free weights because they don’t engage as many muscles and etc. On the plus side, though, some of them – especially lower body machines – barely require the use of your hands at all. This may be the option of last resort for most exercises, but it’s still nice to have that option.
Do you have sensitive hands? How do you keep them happy during workouts?