When you hang around the gym long enough, you’ll start to notice different accessories that are used for weightlifting.
Workout gloves, dipping belts, weightlifting belts, and lifting straps to name just a few. These always seem to be used by the more “hardcore” lifters in the gym – you know, the really serious lifters – and alongside these accessories, you’ll also see weightlifters use chalk.
You’ll need to be in a certain gym to see this as some gyms don’t allow chalk but if you’re in a gym where it’s commonplace, you might wonder why do weightlifters use chalk?
Weightlifters use chalk to improve their grip and reduce the chance of a barbell slipping during a lift due to sweat. As weightlifters train with many overhead exercises, a secure grip is an essential safety factor and chalk helps to dry out a weightlifter’s hands giving a more firm and secure grip.
There are some other reasons why weightlifters use chalk and we’ll cover them in this article along with whether or not it’s necessary to use chalk when lifting.
Why Do Weightlifters Use Chalk?
There are three main reasons that weightlifters use chalk:
- To reduce sweat on their hands
- To have a better grip of the bar
- To act as a form of protection for their hands.
When working out, it’s inevitable that your body will naturally produce sweat and this can make the bar or weights slippery to grasp. Weightlifters, in particular when performing Olympic lifts overhead are at risk of injury with a barbell slip and this could be more common than you might initially think which is why people favor the use of lifting straps for more cautious lifting.
Chalk is designed to absorb sweat, so you can grip the bar better which allows for more repetitions (by decreasing strain on your grip). It also affects your grip in this way, which in turn impacts your weightlifting form. If your grip slips, your natural instinct will be to get under the bar and put a lot of strain on our joints.
Grip chalk improves your grip strength, so you can finish all of your sets with a single layer without sacrificing one major factor of weightlifting. By placing the focus of your weights on your muscles as opposed to the joints (which is the issue with a weak or slippery grip), you’ll be better prepared for progression in the weight room but also to do so in a safer manner.
The last reason is for protection, both for the weightlifter and the bar. Sweat is naturally acidic and can make the weights or bar rust, so the chalk’s absorbent nature will help prevent these issues.
Likewise, the layer of chalk can help protect hands in the long-run from calluses and blisters by reducing the chances of friction. Not only will the bar roll less but you’ll have chalk between your skin and the bar, so there are plenty of advantages to using chalk for weightlifting.
Is Chalk Necessary For Weightlifting?
Whether or not you use chalk is entirely up to the individual. This is because no one has to use chalk when they lift weights and it’s really not needed for 95% of exercises. The casual lifter is therefore unlikely to see much benefit or have much need for weightlifting chalk.
One main reason that chalk isn’t necessary is that there are multiple alternatives. The main goal of weightlifters is to increase grip strength, so chalk is obviously a great place to start since it’s a thin layer that acts more as an assist.
There’s also switching to a mixed grip, which is one hand over the bar and one hand underneath. By doing this, you still place the focus on grip strength and help prevent the bar from rolling in your hand but it can cause the muscles to grow disproportionately.
While this is the favorite grip method among deadlifts, another unique grip is the hook grip. This is an effective grip for strength and security and is widely used by elite or competitive powerlifters but the downside is that it’s incredibly uncomfortable and most beginners will struggle with this grip.
One option that’s polarizing in the lifting community is the use of straps, which largely remove grip strength from the equation by attaching the bar to your wrist. If your grip is rubbed raw or you’re just trying to find a max weight, straps can be separate or used in combination with chalk.
Does Chalk Help Prevent Calluses?
The short answer is yes, because it can help protect your hands from calluses but it’s not a guarantee to never get them. Again, a thin layer of chalk will help reduce friction but enough sets or repetitions will cause calluses to form unless you use gloves.
One of the most common mistakes that new weightlifters or people not used to using chalk make is further protection after the workout. Grip chalk is meant to dry out your hands for a better grip, so post-care should focus on that.
After weightlifting, whether you’ve got calluses forming or not, always remember to wash your hands with a moisturizing soap. It’s also recommended to use some form of moisturizing lotion throughout the day.
Can You Use Normal Chalk For Lifting?
The chalk used on chalkboards that can be found in almost any store isn’t the same as grip chalk, also referred to sometimes as gym chalk. That’s because they’re designed for 2 different purposes, which means different elemental builds.
Common chalk is made from calcium sulfate that sticks together with a type of glue. The sulfate mixture holds the chalk together better for writing or drawing, but it wouldn’t easily be ground into a fine enough powder to rub on your hands.
Even then, it wouldn’t necessarily stick to your hands for weightlifting or have the same protective qualities as grip chalk. The latter is made with magnesium carbonate, which has a chemical efficiency to dry out your skin easier and thus improve grip strength.
So while it’s technically possible to use normal chalk on your hands, it’s definitely not advised and grip chalk is relatively inexpensive in comparison.
If you use a commercial gym and find that the barbells and dumbbells are covered in chalk, you’ve also likely wondered whether or not it serves a purpose and why dedicated lifters even use it?
The main reason why you should use chalk when weightlifting is for a more secure grip on the bar. Chalk does not completely eliminate the chance of a barbell slipping during a lift but by reducing moisture through sweat and giving a firmer contact with the barbell, the likelihood of a bar slipping is significantly reduced.
While it’s not essential to use weightlifting chalk, there are numerous alternatives for improving grip. It’s a cheap and effective option for improving grip, especially for Olympic lifts like the snatch or clean and jerk and can also be effective for powerlifting movements like the deadlift.