Article: Eventually, You’ll Get A Blister

Posted: March 29, 2011 in Articles, Strength Stunts, Workout Reports

I got a little carried away with my gripper work yesterday, and the skin on my hands is predictably barked up and blistered today. I find that grip work is like that. I tend to keep going back to it even after I know that I’ve done enough. I suppose that it may be something that I’m OCD about (there aren’t many).

The hands can take a huge amount of punishment, and though it’s possible to train them to the point of fatigue, the mechanism is designed, like other durable parts of our bodies, to bounce right back. It’s hard to put a long-term hurtin’ on your calves, abs, or hands. They are made of stern stuff. That said, the same impetus that brings us back and back to exercises that are, in some way, psychologically satisfying to do can be more of an issue when the elements of the body are not so tough.

A standard flaw in people who exercise is to play to their strengths and ignore their weaker exercises. It’s easier to always come in and work a set of exercises that you are comfortable with, especially if you’ve attained an impressive facility with said lifts. I’m sure that is why there are so many guys that do a few exercises, like bench press or dumbbell curls, to the exclusion of everything else. They’re good at those. They like the way the lifts make them feel. They can hoist a lot of weight and look like a tough guy in the gym.

Face it, there’s an element in us that isn’t interested in the fact that exercise is good for us. Down in the lizard brain, we are driven to do things because they feel right, and they make us feel better about ourselves. That, and the desire to be lauded by our peers and noticed by prospective romantic partners, is what drives us at some deep level. The primary reinforcement we receive while doing exercises is important. It’s good to feel confident and accomplished as we leave the gym. It’s good to feel attractive and appreciated by those around us. We want to be strong. We want to feel special.

All these reasonable desires have to be kept in check by creating some sort of holistic plan, however. If we stay within our comfort zone and only do exercises that make us feel a certain way, we will often suffer for it in the end. The first instrument of our suffering comes with body imbalance, as we train some elements of our fitness to a high degree and let others slide. This can cause chronic joint problems, limit our progress toward total health, and even create oddities of appearance, if taken far enough. I’m sure that most of us are familiar with the “all upper body” guy, who is huge above the waistline but has wimpy, underdeveloped legs. I bet most of you have seen “biceps guy”, too. He just does curls. For hours. That’s it. While the biceps is a useful muscle that supports many lifts, it doesn’t really accomplish much on its own. It also looks a little odd to have an otherwise frail guy with big softball biceps as his only developed body part.

If our bodies are to work to their best potential, our muscles have to be developed equally. When we are doing something challenging, we can only perform up to the level of our weakest active muscle group. We can only perform to the point that our endurance will allow us. If we only do bench press, we will be ill-prepared for anything but doing bench press. For years, I neglected my legs and abdomen because leg exercises are rigorous and ab work tends to be boring. Stupid idea.

If an exercise is hard, that probably means that you really need it, as it is challenging your body in a way that it isn’t inured to. These new challenges are the stimuli that makes your body change. It has a way of becoming accustomed to something you’ve done a thousand times before. Variety in your exercise with serve both to keep your body adapting, and to keep you interested. There’s a level of tedium that creeps into even the best workout program if you never vary. This is not to say that we need to get workout ADD and change every few weeks, but we should have enough variation that our bodies and minds stay sharp.

Finally, we won’t know if we have the best set of exercises for our goals unless we keep trying different things. If we never experiment, we won’t ever have a chance to find out what the benefits and drawbacks of all the competing exercise programs might be. It could turn out that, once you try them, you’ll love kettlebells. You might hate ’em, too. There’s no way to know unless you try.

I love to try new things, myself. Especially after having been lifting for many years, it’s great to find things I’ve never done before. Some of them, I end up shrugging at and never doing again. Some, like the new off-the-bench rows I’ve been doing, are real keepers. If something is really challenging at first, that just intrigues me now. I know I’m a beat-up fat guy, so my ego doesn’t immediately recoil if I’m not the best at doing something the first time out. In fact, it makes it easier to make big, impressive gains if you’re helpless at first.

This brings me to my newest project, one that will be tough, but probably very important. I recently ordered a jump rope through the mail. I’d never been a jump rope champ, even during wrestling in high school, where it was heavily utilized. I plan on working with the jump rope until I can do it at least as well as when I was a kid, for what that’s worth. I’m starting from ground level, though. To be honest, my jump rope skills are just about zilch at this point. Even when I get a rhythm going, my body is not at all used to bouncing up and down for any period of time. It’s tough, and its uncomfortable. What do I take that to mean? That I really need that type of input. I had to run a few months ago, and it wasn’t pretty. I hadn’t run for years, and my body didn’t like it much. I’ve been hesitant to get back into running, as I don’t want to bang my knees up worse than they already are, but I acknowledge that I should at least try. I see the jump rope as the way to get back the confidence to do that. Will I like it at first? Not likely. Will I get a blister? Yeah, it looks like it. Will I improve something that could really stand improvement? Heck, yes.


Happy Lifting!

  1. Mike says:


    Good write up. I’d never thought about the hands recovering rapidly – but I suppose our ancesters spent a lot of time foraging. My limited (intuitive) notion about hand strength is that at least some of the muscles appear to be located in the forarm. In any case the hands are a hell of a complex mechanism. It sounds like yours need a few days off.

    I’m not very good at jump rope either. But we’ve been jumping as an interval excercise between TRX sets of one type or another. My heart is usually in my mouth by the end of each jump interval. It might look easy but damn … there are good reasons why boxers do jumping.

  2. Mike, you are correct in your assessment that most of the prime movers are located in the forearm, rather than the hand. The exception to this is the bunch of muscles in the web of the thumb, and some smaller muscles that hold things together. The main force of hand contraction, though, is done through the carpals and metacarpals, which act like pushrods to connect the hand to the lower arm.

    All the body systems that are essential to basic movement and manipulation are pretty hardy. The more we rely upon a muscle system, the quicker it recovers. Hands, abs, and calves are going to be used every day, so they’re tough. Not as tough as cardiac muscle or the muscle of the tongue, but tough.

    The hands are fine again now. It’s primarily the skin that can only bear up against so much, though it’s important to let even tough systems recover.

    As you say, jumping rope is tough stuff. Boxers, who need phenomenal aerobic conditioning, don’t rely upon it by accident. As much as anything, it trains you to breathe while being jostled, which is an element that even well trained athletes are sometimes unfamiliar with. Biking, rowing, and so on are not “impact” activities, and just the addition of that impact can stress the body in new ways. Coping with the acceleration and decceleration of the body can produce spikes of force that are quite high, several times one’s body weight. I’m sure that this training gets to the depth of the body, into ligament and tendon reinforcement.

    I’m a little under the weather again at this juncture, but I’m looking forward to getting into the jump roping soon. I have a little interval timer that will be handy, I think.


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