Getting your first rip is almost a rite of passage to becoming a true CrossFit athlete.
Somehow as a community, we’ve adopted the belief that if you rip your hands, you’re a wimp if you don’t work through the carnage and finish the workout—even if you’ve lost multiple layers of skin and are bleeding through your tape. A belief that people will be impressed by a picture of ruined hands uploaded to Instagram. #100-pull-ups=destroyed-hands.
Some of the top CrossFit athletes in the world, though, don’t live by these standards. They don't think letting their hands rip recklessly makes them tough. They don't think training is the time to rip at all. And if they do rip, working through the pain and creating deeper rips on rips is just silly.
Perennial CrossFit Games athlete Michele Letendre said her decision about whether or not to continue a workout in training if she has a rip depends on the extent of the damage.
“If I think it’s small, I’ll keep going as long as it’s not bleeding. But if there’s blood or if it really hurts, I switch the movement,” she said.
If the movement you substitute mid-workout is continuing the stimulate you in the same way—and is protecting your hands in the process—then you’re not weak for wimping out; you’re smart, she explained.
“Workouts are about stimulus, not necessarily movements. I’ll try to get the movement that is closest to whatever it is I was doing,” she said.
Similarly, fellow Canada East 2015 CrossFit Games athlete, Carol-Ann Reason Thibault, explained she rarely lets her hands rip in training.
“I use gymnastics grips (in training), but I don’t use them in competition,” she said. Like Letendre, if she ever does rip badly in training, she said she would likely stop to avoid doing more damage to her hands, especially if she has a competition coming up.
Shellie Edington, who was fifth in the women’s 50-54 year-old category at the 2015 CrossFit Games, agrees training isn’t the time to damage your skin.
“Ripping is to be avoided at all costs,” Edington said. “It interferes with training, and depending on the severity, can seriously end competitive aspirations. Health hands are up to the athlete. Just like your diet, recovery, massage therapy…”.
For Edington, part of keeping her hands healthy involves planning ahead.
“I will look at the workout, then determine which path to hand health I will take. If I am concerned about ripping, I will set my grips by the rig. I have no issue stopping to put them on mid-workout,” she said, adding that gloves are another option she might pursue. Or if ring muscle-ups show up, she tapes her wrists as a precaution, regardless of the state of her hands going into the workout.
Despite these top athletes' careful attention to hand health, Letendre believes there might be a time, once in a while, to let yourself rip and continue anyway: Like if you’re preparing for an event like the CrossFit Games and want to know how it’s going to feel to rip hard and have to continue.
“I learned the hard way this year,” Letendre said. “I ripped badly during Murph (at the 2015 Games) and I’d never experienced that. So I didn’t know how to recover or help heal them for the rest of the weekend. It was really painful.”
But if you’re not Letendre or Reason Thibault or Edington preparing to take on the world, your best bet might just be to make it your mission to avoid ripping. And when rips are inevitable, don’t try to be a hero.