Ask A Swole Woman: 17th-Century Whaler Problems

Caring for your hands and your liver

Calluses and pints (Left: Drew Stephens, Right: Satish Krishnamurthy)

I lift weights and I also drink. I wonder a lot about how the latter affects the former. (For reference, i will have 2–3 drinks a few times a week, and then maybe once every month or two i will get college-wasted.) most of the entries on this topic on reddit’s xx fitness page are about calories — and like, I get that alcohol has calories, it’s just carbs, and it affects my macros, but i’m more curious about whether there are other ways that booze could hurt my gains/strength training in general? I’m not running to the weight room when I’m super hungover or anything, but am very curious how a glass or two of wine could affect tomorrow’s workout. Thoughts? — Marian

True that drinks, calorically, are mostly carbs. (Alcohol itself is a fourth calorie type, and how it gets processed and stored is weird and crazy.) But rest assured they don’t much for you. How it affects you individually might vary; some people will tolerate more, and others less. But it will definitely affect you more, sadly, as you get (I’m sorry) old.

Some of the effects of drinking may not even come from the alcohol itself. Staying out late and having even a medium amount of fun may mean you get to bed late, forget to eat dinner (or only eat, for instance, a giant bag of chips), sleep badly, and wake up the next morning and can’t stand the idea of eating for a few hours. Not eating and not sleeping will affect your gains, bro. There is science that suggests alcohol affects things like your body’s ability to burn fat and metabolize protein, but this generally applies to large amounts of alcohol and is probably too marginal an effect to worry about for someone who is not, say, a competitive powerlifter or bodybuilder.

I’m all for drinking, but personally I notice more of a cumulative effect: a couple drinks a few days a week seems to leave me worse than one bad night, overall (especially because I can easily skip a day if I’m only going 3–4 days a week).

In terms of making progress, if you’re a beginner still and you have everything about your life together, you should be able to add more weight to your lifts every workout for at least a few months; for a while after that, you’ll be able to add weight every week. If that’s not happening, and you’re drinking, but doing everything else perfectly, that’s the effect. So yes, depending on your tolerance, alcohol can hold you back, in terms of getting stronger. If your aim for the time being is just to get in a gym session, alcohol won’t make so much of a difference. Longer-term, eventually you adapt to any workout if you keep doing the same thing over and over, and will see reduced benefits from it. If you do want to be ripped or extremely strong, or both, you do have to choose that. But doing what is sustainable is always going to be better than trying to be too extreme, only to fall apart and become convinced nothing can work.

What the hell do you do about calluses? I pumice mine in the shower & sometimes use an emery board to try to smooth them out but they are still gnarly. Are they just unavoidable? Will I never have soft lady hands ever again? It’s badass, sure, but sometimes I miss having nice smooth skin :( — Margaret

Calluses happen from gripping stuff (barbells, dumbbells), and you can’t 100% avoid them. Here I could tell you tell you to just embrace having the hands of a seventeenth-century whaler. But bad calluses can tear, which can leave you with bloody hands and open wounds that will come in contact with a lot of gross gym equipment and I’m gagging a little just thinking about it. I’ve been doing this stuff for a while, I had deadlift day two days ago, and here are my hands:

I have a few visible flakes on my left hand, and sometimes they are in slightly worse shape than this, but I have very little in the way of built-up calluses, and my hands are actually still pretty smooth and soft. Yes, it is true; you can have hands soft enough that another human being won’t recoil from your touch, AND do deadlifts. Or anything else.

The number one way to not have hand-skin that could scrub down a cast-iron pan has to do with prevention, not maintenance. If you have insane calluses, you are likely gripping the barbell wrong.

Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, which is an amazing resource for lifting basics, goes into this a bit:

“Calluses are bad only if they are excessive, and gripping the bar incorrectly causes excessive callus formation. Most lifters do this and have never considered the role of the grip in callus formation…

When you’re setting the grip, if you place the bar in the middle of your palm and wrap your fingers from there, a fold forms at the distal end of your palm, right before the area where your fingers start. When you pull the bar up, gravity shoves this fold farther down toward your fingers, increasing the folding and stress on this part of the skin. A callus forms here as a result, and the presence of the callus amplifies the folding problem by making the fold even thicker. If you grip the bar farther down toward your fingers to begin with, it can’t slide down much because it’s already there. This is actually where the bar needs to be, since gravity will pull it there eventually. And since the bar should stop there anyway, you might as well start in this position. You also get the advantage of having less far to pull the bar; if it is farther down in your fingers, then your chest is up higher, your position off the floor is easier, the bar locks out farther down your thigh, and the bar has a shorter distance it has to move before being locked out.”

This may be a little hard to envision, but basically, when you align the bar so it sits in the hollow part of your hand and crook of your thumb, the weight of the bar will shove all that extra skin-padding at the base of your fingers up toward your fingertips once you pick it up. Giving the bar that space to roll in your grip will also allow it to roll against the rest of your fingers; hence, calluses.

Instead, you should align the bar and dig it into that padding right below your fingers first, then wrap your fingers around it, then your hand. It may feel unusual at first, but this way the bar can’t slide in your hands. If it can’t slide, your calluses will be negligible. This gripping technique applies the same to dumbbells, or pull-ups. In any case, be conscious of your grip, since it plays a big role in how much a bar can tear your hands apart.

One more thing: don’t wear gloves to lift hoping they will prevent your calluses. They are a rip-off and don’t do anything but introduce more opportunities for slippage.

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