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What's all that white powder?!

March 3, 2017

 

Ever wondered why some people insist on carrying their own little tubs of chalk around the gym? Not used chalk before when you're doing general weight training?

 

I bet you've seen some weightlifting or Worlds strongest man though and seen athletes seemingly smother themselves in the stuff! Here I'll fill you in on why they bother, look at evidence that discusses when and why it works and hopefully convert you into using it on all your big lifts.


Firstly lets get the fact that it's a bit messy out of the way. Commercial gyms don't like it because it ends up everywhere and has to be cleaned up. Thats one of the reasons I don't often use commercial gyms, their rules are often based on what's best for the running of the gym not what's best for you the trainee. All weightlifting, strongman, powerlifting gyms (and climbing/gymnastic centres) use and cope with chalk and its associated mess. Unless you're allergic to the dust I don't see it as a big problem. A hoover usually does the job if you want to keep the place spick and span... 

 


If all these training facilities use and promote the use of chalk, there must be something in it right? It would be great if someone had produced some peer-reviewed research on it...

 


Church, Allen and Allen wrote a paper in June 2016 on weight training aids. No not a new disease, don't be childish. They theorise that chalk works to maintain grip by reducing moisture on the surface contact between hands and bar. Very important in their opinion. "It (grip) might actually be the weakest point in the chain between the lifter and the load." 


Unfortunately the only research they cited was performed in climbing experiments, where the surface gripped is stone of different types. Although no direct evidence is presented for weight training they suggest all gripping performance is enhanced by the use of chalk powder unless used so excessively that it creates a lower coefficient of friction - think of sand paper in which a small amount of sand creates a lot of friction but lots of sand is easy to slide across itself.

 

Personally I find chalk very useful and use it in all weightlifting sessions. I can't say that I've ever experienced using so much that it makes things more slippery. I prefer real chalk (as in blocks/powder) to liquid chalk (powder mixed with an alcohol solution that evaporates off leaving you hands with a dry chalk covering). It's easier to wash off powder and you can re-apply each time as required with less hassle and no drying time.

 

If you deadlift heavy, do hard weight training and need to grip, in fact, if you do any training involving bars and dumbbells I highly recommend using chalk. There's a reason the strongest people in all strength sports use it, get some of the benefit and more of the strength gains.  


If you use a hook grip when weightlifting or deadlifting, be sure to chalk all the way around your thumbs - it helps stop your finger slipping off in the turn over or when the bar tries to roll out of your hand.

 

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