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Ask GiryaGirl: To Chalk or Not to Chalk When Swinging or Snatching Kettlebells?

A lively discussion erupted online the other day surrounding the use of chalk with kettlebells.   This is another one of those interesting situations where there's no one right answer, there's the right answer for you--which also may or may not be situation dependent!  So in an effort to hopefully help you or your clients, here's some of my personal observations which may or may not help you.   Please also realize that most of my personal workouts take place in ever-so-humid Florida.  And for whatever reason I get moist hands pretty easily (to the point at which I could WATCH it materialize on my fingertips the other day when I was practicing some of my qigong exercises).  While I don't have a "hyperhydrosis" thing going on, I do notice that when things get "neurologically interesting" (euphemism for "omg this kind of scares me") as in certain upside down human flag progressions, and/or walking down/up the wall bridge variations, then my hands will sweat and absolutely need some form of grip help (let's hear it for Dry Hands!).   AND... I do know that in GS (girvoy sport) chalk plays a different role too, but while I respect GS, I don't practice it or have enough experience with it to reference it within the experiences related below.   In other words, the kettlebell use described below is all RKC Hardstyle.

To Chalk or Not to Chalk??

Back in 2009-2010 I was using quite a bit of chalk.  The kettlebell swings and snatches were unusual to me, and absolutely made my hands sweat like mad.   I also didn't have a handle (haha pun intended) on the grip timing or the grip strength needed just yet.  In 2009, even though I met the weight requirement to use the 12kg kettlebell for the 100 snatches in 5 minutes test for the RKC, I still needed to use chalk at that time to make it happen.  Should also add that even halfway through 2010, I would still get a blister EVERY time I'd practice the test too.   It was very frustrating.   Then one day I decided to do a little experiment--even though I had zero faith that it would be successful.   I tried the test without chalk, making sure to first shave down my calluses with a Ped-Egg.  I still blistered a little bit, but now realize that it was only because I was still really dialing in the technique and timing of the grip.   Soon, I was able to complete the test without any hand-destruction or chalk.  

An interesting thing happened when I started to use heavier kettlebells for snatching, I went through the same process (in a very much abbreviated way).  I'd need to use chalk and/or some form of hand protection until I got used to snatching a given kettlebell for 100 reps straight through.  Now, with the updated testing requirements, I'm snatching the 14kg for my weight class with no problems and no chalk.   Sometimes I do the test at home for fun and to see what kind of amusing numbers I can get on heart rate monitor charts.  That Armour39 is a whole lot of fun for that, btw.  Sometimes I do the test with the 16kg for fun too.   Regardless, the chalk stays in its bag for that now.   Thankfully.

Now... if it's super humid and I can feel the kettlebell sliding around in my damn hand--and for whatever reason just drying my hands and the handle with a towel isn't doing the trick--I will grab the chalk for low-rep work.   Beast (48kg) swings outside on a humid day?  You bet I have the chalk handy--otherwise I run the risk of making a nice big crater in the ground.   It's also amusing to note that even snatching something like a 20kg, 22kg, or 24kg kettlebell for very low reps might get my hands going in a way that needs chalk too.   I guess the take away is observe your own performance.   Many people are blessed with naturally dry hands, or live in dryer climates...   And as your hands become conditioned to working with the kettlebells, you may find that they toughen up over time too.   I haven't totally found this to be the case in my own experience (even while using the venerable "Corn Huskers' Lotion"), but again everyone's a little different at least.

It's another case of do what you gotta do.   For me, I feel like I've made progress in my performance of certain exercises if I DON'T need to use chalk or as much chalk.   The walking down/up the wall bridge is a perfect example of this.   Once I became more confident that I wouldn't drop myself on my head at the bottom of this exercises (taking the hands one by one from the wall to the floor is an intense moment), then suddenly my hands stopped getting so damp--and I was able to do those bridge variations without tracking chalk all over the wall.   

Is using chalk "bad" or "good" or "right" or "wrong"?  Nope!  It's very much an individual thing.  I started tracking results of using it vs not using it in the corner of my workout log books and found my pattern that way.   I'd encourage you to do the same!  

So, what have been YOUR experiences with using chalk and kettlebells and other exercises that are hand-dependent?

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