CrossFitters are usually in agreement on most things – WOD challenges are awesome, Rich Froning is a machine and Hero Wods are the ultimate source of inspiration, for example. Yet there is one issue among CrossFitters that make Republicans and Democrats look like bosom buddies; to wear or not to wear CrossFit gloves.
A lot of CrossFitters consider gloves to be a compulsory training aid. But, just as many others wouldn’t be seen dead in them, viewing gloves as an affront to their grit and hardiness.
So, what is the reality?
Are CrossFit gloves a necessary and sensible training aid to get you through your WOD or is the pain and discomfort of mashed up hands that often results when you train gloveless all part and parcel of the CrossFit experience?
Let’s find some answers.
There are some very practical reasons why you might choose to wear gloves during your CrossFit workout. First and foremost is the fact that gloves can help to improve your grip. Your WOD will cause you to sweat, with the result that your hands will become quite slippery. This makes it hard to get a firm grip on the barbell, especially when doing bar grip exercises such as kipping pull ups and deadlifts.
When you wear gloves, you have to overcome the problem of palm sweat slippage. And the leather or synthetic padding on the palm will help you to get a good grip, preventing slippage and side-to-side movement.
CrossFit is gruelling hard work. It taxes your muscles and your endurance. So, if there’s something that can make the experience a little less painful, then why wouldn’t you take advantage of it? After all, the whole point of CrossFit is to make you stronger and fitter not to become a masochist.
If you’ve had the experience of gripping cold steel on a frosty morning, then you can appreciate the benefit of having your hands encased in soft leather.
Gloves will also protect your hands from cuts and calluses. While some people may consider calluses a CrossFit badge of honor, what they really are is a painful distraction that can derail your workout. And besides, it’s only human nature to be more motivated to do an activity that is going to cause the least amount of pain as possible. You are already going to have to contend with aching muscles and a pounding heart, so why add to the stress with ripped up hands? Workout gloves will make your training more bearabale.
The level of wrist support you get from a pair of workout gloves will depend on the brand and style of glove that you purchase. Wrist pain is an occupational hazard for many CrossFitters. This is especially the case when your WOD involves dynamic barbell moves that require pronation of the hand. This positioning forces you to pull your hand back into a potentially compromising angle.
Workout gloves that provide extra strapping around the wrist will help to alleviate the wrist discomfort that many CrossFitters experience.
Even though we have listed improved grip as the first benefit of wearing gloves, there are situations where wearing gloves can actually be detrimental to your grip. This can occur when you are working out with a thicker than normal barbell or pull up bar. Your gloves are essentially going to thicken your grip already. When this is enhanced further by a thicker bar, your ability to maintain a secure grip can be compromised. This can be especially telling on moves such as deadlifts and pull ups.
As we have noted in the benefits section, gloves can improve your grip by making your hands less slippery. However, gloves may also potentially weaken your grip because they take some of the stress away from your forearms and wrists. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that people who train without using gloves have a stronger grip than those who wear them.
Your workout should be as functional as possible. That includes how you grip things. When you are required to suddenly grab onto a heavy object outside of the gym, it’s a pretty safe bet that you are not going to be wearing padded gloves.
There are certain move where gloves can actually restrict the ‘feel’ that you need to properly execute an exercise. These include dynamic barbell moves where you rest an Olympic bar in the palm of your hand, loaded towards your wrists. When you are wearing workout gloves, it is difficult to keep the bar sitting in your palm, as the smoothness of the gloves tends to force the bar to move onto the fingers. When this happens, the entire alignment of the exercise can be compromised.
We all have our pre-workout rituals. If you are a glove wearer, putting them on will form a part of that ritual. But what happens on the inevitable occasion when you leave your gloves behind? Suddenly your ritual, and your mind, is mixed up. Realizing that your mindset going into the workout is critical to your success, not having them can put you off mentally just enough that your workout is less than optimum.
Yes, gloves can help to present calluses caused by direct skin contact with the bar. But they may also have the opposite effect. If the material gets bunched in your palm it can lead to pinching when you are grabbing the bar. The added friction that this creates may cause calluses to form.
As can be seen from the above, there are credible reasons for both arguments when it comes to the question of wearing CrossFit gloves. At the end of the day, it comes down to what you personally prefer. The smartest idea is to purchase a pair of workout gloves and train with them for a month. Then train for a month without gloves. At the end of that 8 weeks, you will have a good idea of which option enhances your workouts the most.
When it comes to buying workout gloves, your first decision is whether to go for the fingerless or the full fingered variety. A lot of trainers prefer the fingerless version for the following reasons:
Fingerless gloves are far more breathable.
Fingerless gloves have reduced sweat build up
Fingerless gloves allow you to maintain a more natural grip on the bar
Nearly all workout gloves will provide you with extra padding, but they will differ as to the location and thickness of that padding. The last thing you want is a glove that is overly padded to the extent that the effective circumference of your grip is too wide for a secure hold. Your grip should feel natural, nor artificial.
Gloves use different construction materials, with the cheapest ones being made from a synthetic nylon weave and the premium products being all leather. Be sure to go with a leather palm, as this will give you the most secure grip around the central part of the bar. You also need to ensure that the inner lining of the glove is able to adhere to your skin. This will prevent slippage as you progress through your set. The best inner lining is leather that has a slight rough exterior that allows the palm to adhere to it, even if your palm is sweaty. Stay away from nylon or felt internal linings because they will be too smooth to allow the palm to grip onto them.
Going with a leather internal lining is also a good way to prevent glove induced calluses. If you can’t afford or find fully leather workout gloves, go with neoprene, which is an extremely hardy synthetic material. Neoprene gloves have the added benefit of being very breathable.
One of the key jobs of workout gloves is to wick away sweat from your palms and finger tips. An effective way that they accomplish this task is with the addition of neoprene inserts. These do a great job of getting rid of the sweat.
You will want a glove that is fitted with a Velcro strap that you can securely tighten. It pays to pay a little bit extra for higher grade Velcro as there is nothing more annoying than having the Velcro come unstuck half way through your set.
Be sure to get a pair of gloves that fit snugly but that are not too tight. You don’t want the fit to be a distraction to your workout.
Check that the gloves are able to be washed in your washing machine. After a few weeks of use they will start to reek and you probably don’t want to be washing them by hand.
As with any purchase, the more you pay for your workout gloves the better quality you will get. For the use that you will get out of them, even the most expensive gloves are relatively cost effective, so you will always be better off investing a little more to get the gloves that will do the best job for you.