For anyone following a strength training specific program involving powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting exercises, chalk is often considered to be an essential accessory. Not only does chalk allow for a more secure grip when lifting heavier weights but it’s also a safety feature to prevent the bar from slipping when using overhead movements.
For something that is considered an essential item, especially when using heavy lifts, you might be surprised to find quite a lot of gyms actually ban the use of chalk. Unless you are training in a dedicated bodybuilding/powerlifting/CrossFit gym, you won’t be able to use chalk in the “commercial” gyms.
This, therefore, raises the question – Why don’t gyms allow chalk?
The type of gyms that do not allow chalk tend to be commercial gyms. Firstly, commercial gyms operate on tight margins and do not want to dedicate staff time to cleaning equipment left with chalk residue. Secondly, commercial gyms do not want clientele that would be considered “hardcore lifters”.
There are a surprising number of reasons why gyms don’t allow chalk so let’s look at the reasons why…
Why Don’t Gyms Allow Chalk
Most commercial gym franchises do not allow their customers to use chalk when exercising, and there are several reasons for this. The reality is that these gyms usually do not want certain types of customers to frequent them. Professional bodybuilders, powerlifters, and so on; are usually types of clientele they do not like. Simply, these are the people who will use their gym membership.
Big gyms thrive off people who don’t use their membership, they are the most profitable clientele. They are paying for services but incur no wear and tear on the gym equipment. It is in the economic interest of big gym chains to have the least expenses for most of the income, and members who never set their foot in the gym are the most profitable.
From the point of view of gym ownership, there is another problem with the presence of certain types of clientele. The average targeted customer is turned away from imposing figures of other people. It’s simple psychology when an Average Joe enters a gym full of powerlifters they will presume that such a facility caters only to “pros” and that coaches will not be able to help them.
Many gyms that cater to above-average clientele also impose a ban on chalk use, but for different reasons:
Reduce Staff Cleaning
Gyms that are geared toward powerlifters and bodybuilders accept the use of chalk as it’s part of the process for many lifters. These gyms also have members who are not too concerned with gym equipment being spotless (though they still expect clean and hygienic equipment).
Commercial gyms on the other hand are usually quite lean business operations. Their staff most of the time has their plates full with other tasks and cleaning the gear extensively is the last thing on their minds because chalk is not easy to clean off dumbbell and barbell knurling!
Let’s face it, no one likes to clean bars or benches when they are exercising. Thus, gyms look at decreasing the need for cleaning the equipment outside of the daily cleaning schedule as it’s time-consuming for staff and makes these commercial gyms look messy and unappealing to members, hence the chalk bans.
Chalk Causes Issues With Other Gym Members
Magnesium carbonate is a natural mineral found in nature, and it is an excellent way to improve the grip. That’s why everyone uses it, from pro gymnasts to amateur powerlifters. But, it is a very fine material that can produce a lot of very fine dust. We all know one or few fellow gym members who have asthma or similar breathing problems.
For people with such issues, the presence of small magnesium carbonate particles in the air can cause big problems. Some people are even allergic to chalk, very often even not knowing.
Chalk Can Damage Gym Equipment
The chalk is used primarily because it is exceptionally good at soaking up the moisture from your skin. But it also attracts moisture from the air, and with a lot of people sweating around the gym, there is a lot of it in the air. Fine dust particles will get in cracks no matter how small, for example inside the bar’s bushings and bearings.
Besides clogging the equipment, accumulation of the chalk will lead to accumulation of moisture where you nor gym owners want it, and it will lead to corrosion in the end. Properly cleaning gym equipment from chalk is obnoxious and arduous work, so gym owners try to completely avoid it.
What To Use When Gyms Don’t Allow Chalk
If your gym doesn’t allow chalk, you still have options to improve your grip on the bar. The most obvious solution for this problem is to not use chalk, it’s very likely that most of you reading this don’t really need it.
Unless you are performing Olympic lifts where the safety of grip is crucial or your lifting heavyweight (if your grip is struggling on a 315lb deadlift you need to work on grip strength rather than an external accessory like chalk) then chalk is not really needed. For those that do need it though, below are some good gym chalk alternatives:
One of the oldest solutions for improving your hand grip on, well, everything is gloves. You can find literally thousands of different options.
They are always fingerless for increased evaporation of the sweat and preservation of finger dexterity, some even have an open-back design for even more breathability. A common design feature is wrist straps which secure your wrists and protect them from injuries.
Many gloves come with strategically placed silicon pads that prevent calluses or ripping your palms open. Depending on the exact model, they have various ways of improving your grip on the bar, most commonly by having some type of printed rubber or silicone grip surface.
In case that the safety of your fingertips and nails is your main concern, there are full fingers gym gloves on the market. These can be very handy when doing shrugs and deadlifts, not just for smooth bars but also if they have etched grip patterns.
Lifting straps are usually made out of heavy-duty materials and are intended to provide greater grip control during heavy lifts. In the simplest form, they are a looped piece of material through which you should place your wrist, with a dangling length of the same material that goes around the bar. There are four main types of them, and all of them perform a slightly different function.
Lasso lifting straps, lifting grips, Olympic lifting straps, and the figure-eight lifting straps. All these types have their intended specific use, and depending on your needs you should choose one of them that best suits your lifting style.
If you intend on using straps, you should keep in mind that they are not a substitute for a weak grip. The main purpose of straps is the isolation of muscle groups where grip and forearm would naturally fatigue before the main muscle groups (like barbell rows or shrugs).
If your grip is the reason why you can’t do big lifts, then you should avoid straps and concentrate on improving the actual grip strength as I mentioned earlier. Otherwise, you are only hurting yourself and your progress.
3. Liquid Chalk
While many gyms ban the use of chalk, no gym has banned liquid chalk. It was invented for rock climbing and similar sports where it is not so easy to re-chalk your hands.
This increased persistence on your skin means that it is not as messy as normal chalk to use, which is the reason why it is allowed in gyms that ban chalk.
In the simplest and cheapest form, it is a simple mixture of chalk and some rubbing alcohol, ethanol, or isopropyl. Some even have a bit of fragrance to cover the aroma of alcohol. Some more upscale brands add colophony or similar substances that make chalk stick to your skin more firmly.
If you’re a serious lifter, chances are you’ll already be going to a gym with a good range of equipment and training culture (meaning chalk is allowed). For those new to the gym, using a commercial gym but training to a good standard, you’ve likely been surprised to find that your gym doesn’t allow chalk.
This is the case in many commercials gyms where the cost to keep cleaning equipment is something they want to avoid whilst also attracting a more “casual” gym-goer rather than a “hardcore lifter”. There are however some ways around this like the use of lifting straps or by trying to get away with using liquid chalk which is significantly less messy.
For the hassle though, it’s best to just follow this community and make a home gym where you set the rules!