Let’s talk about that weird powdery stuff you see in buckets at the gym…
What Is Chalk?
Chalk is known scientifically as magnesium carbonate. Coming from the latin “calx” meaning limestone, the chalk that we all know and love comes from the rock that gives it its’ latin namesake. Formed hundreds of millions of years ago, the chalk we use today is made from collections of sea animal fossils and shells!
While it can be used for building and drawing, in our gym you see as a powdery substance stored in bags or in small blocks. Chalk designated for lifting can also be found as a liquid form that turns into the lovely powdery grippy substance we know and love!
Why Do We Use Chalk?
In the gym we use it for one purpose, GRIP!
Magnesium carbonate was originally used in fitness by gymnasts during the mid 1950s. A man named John Gill figured since chalk had the quality of removing moisture for the surface it was on, it could help grip the objects that gymnasts use. Skip ahead to 2022 and athletes use it in nearly every sport where grip is a major factor for success.
In CrossFit we use it for our gymnastic and weightlifting movements so that we can hang on to bars and barbells with less concern of our grip failing due to slippage!
How Much Chalk is Enough?
If you’re taking a small piece of chalk and crushing it? A pebble the size of a small blueberry will do the trick.
What about if you’re drawing it on with a large block? You should still be able to see the tone of your skin when it is applied.
Now some athletes will look at this recommendation and go, “not nearly enough!” Then they will proceed to cake the grip powder all over their hands as much as possible. While chalk is cheap to purchase, the real concern athletes should have is that drying out your hands too much can lead to the dreaded hand tear.
Hand tears happen when too much friction is applied to an area on your hand repeatedly and a blister forms. With an excessive amount of chalk put on an athletes hands, the friction increases. Once that friction is increased, that blister forms faster. Then when you go to perform the movement that originally caused the blister, the new chalk will allow the blister to get more grip and tear open even more easily.
Once the hand tears, it’ll take about a week for you to be able to perform movements on that hand with full effort which isn’t fun for anyone!
Should You Use Chalk?
Yes, but like everything else, in moderation.
Chalk is awesome for when you want to crank out some extra reps on the pull-up bar or assist your grip when that weight gets heavy! After all, being just outside of our comfort zone is where we can see the most growth! If using chalk safely facilities that, go for it!
Just don’t become reliant on it to do your movements all the time, because in real life you won’t have chalk to help move that friend’s couch (no unless you’re hecka extra and keep it in your car #gymbroforlife)!
The best practice for you to use chalk is to apply it for your barbell movements to allow you to lift double overhand for as much as possible and to season your gymnastic grips so that you are able to hold on to the bar without your grip being the limiting factor of your performance.
Otherwise, train those forearms so that you can be the friend everyone asks to move…or any of these other awesome reasons to have a strong grip:
- Impress your significant others parents with your awesome handshake.
- Pick up larger fruits at the grocery store one handed and be the coolest parent in HEB.
- Be a pro at the stupid prank where you squeeze a water bottle in someones face for trusting you.
- Carry your luggage to the luggage drop-off without putting it down from you car.
- Never let a door knob slip out of your hands on a rainy day.
- Be the cool spouse that opens ALL the pickle jars.
- Or really any other amazing super power you gain from killer grip strength!
So, go forth!
Use chalk, lift big weights, and show your handshake dominance. Now that you know how to chalk, we grant you the status of Weight Room Chalk Guru and all the benefits that follow that title.