Weight lifting chalk

Weight Lifting Chalk

Chalk your hands before lifting

A slight amount of perspiration on your palms significantly reduces grip strength. And grip strength is a determining factor in success during “pulling” lifts like cleans, deadlifts, and pull-ups. Kettlebell athletes chalk up before a set of kettlebell snatches. To get better at these exercises, use gym chalk.

Gym chalk is a drying agent; it substantially improves your grip.

Unfortunately, most commercial gyms and fitness clubs ban the use of weightlifting chalk. Even though it’s probably the most useful weight lifting accessory, it makes a mess and gym owners don’t like it.

Newer gym chalk comes pressed into blocks, balls, or cakes. These chalk balls are much less messy than traditional powdered chalk.

It only takes a few seconds longer to chalk your hands using a cake than it does to dip your hands in loose powder, but these few seconds can mean the difference between being a concientious gym patron or being the kind of weight lifter who makes a mess.

Because of gym chalk’s reputation for making a mess, there is an entire generation of weight lifters who are unfamiliar with the instant benefits from chalking the hands before a heavy lift.

It’s time we got back to using chalk in the weight room.

What is weight lifting chalk? 

Weightlifting chalk is powdered magnesium carbonate.

It is sold in several different forms:

  • Ground up in a loose powder
  • Pressed into convenient cakes
  • In a chalk bag used by rock climbers

Coating your palms and hands with chalk is faster with the loose powder. But the cakes make much less mess.

So, it’s a tradeoff between convenience and cleanliness: take your pick.

Keep gym chalk in a closed, airtight container or Ziploc bag.

Liquid chalk: what is it?

“Liquid chalk” is aluminum chlorohydrate in a quick-dry alcohol solution. Spray it on your hands, let it dry, then go work out.

This salt is an antiperspirant. It keeps your palms from sweating. However, it doesn’t prevent moisture from making your palms slippery.

Basically, if you go to the supermarket and buy a can of spray antiperspirant/deodorant, you will have the same thing as liquid chalk.

You can find liquid chalk for sale at Amazon here: Liquid Chalk for the Grip

Some athletes use “liquid chalk” when their gym owner prohibits the use of weightlifting chalk. But the results are disappointing. It’s probably best to sneak some “real” chalk into the gym.

Many brands of liquid chalk are sold to rock-climbing athletes who train at indoor climbing gyms. Some of these formulations are actually a form of stick-um that makes the hands more ‘grippy’. This is unsuitable for weight lifting purposes, especially when using ballistic moves like the clean or with kettlebells.

Will gym chalk prevent calluses?

No. It reduces the slipperiness of your palms. This can actually encourage callus formation.

If you want to reduce calluses, get some weight lifting gloves. Also, learn how to take care of your hands using a pumice stone or some other sort of callus file. Here is a pumice stone for less than $5 at Amazon: Pumice Stone.

Can I use talc, baby powder, or rosin instead of weight lifting chalk?

Chalk your hands before pulling exercisesNo.

Talc is magnesium silicate; it is not the same as weight lifting chalk. Instead of aiding your grip, talc will reduce it. Talc is slippery; use it on your shins to help the bar slide up your legs during deadlifts.

Baby powder is talc mixed with corn starch. Corn starch is a drying agent, but talc is a dry lubricant. The slipperiness makes it useless as a grip aid during weight lifting.

Rosin is an organic resin exuded by conifers. Although a baseball pitcher’s rosin bag is superficially similar to a weight-lifter’s chalk bag, they are two entirely different things.

Rosin is sticky. Its use is illegal during weight lifting competitions. It will hasten the formation of calluses. It has no place in the weight room.

Some rock-climbing suppliers (Metolius, for instance) make chalk eco balls. This is regular powder chalk that’s been dyed to a dark color so it doesn’t show up on the rock face. You pay a premium for a small amount of chalk in the eco-ball. It’s nothing more than a small amount of colored chalk in a small chalk bag filled with styrofoam (to help it keep its shape). This is suitable for weight lifters, but the prices are outrageous. Mostly, it appeals to folks who like to see “eco” in the name of the products they buy. Check it out at Amazon: Metolius Eco Ball.

What are the alternatives to weight lifting chalk?

If grip strength is holding you back but you can’t use weight lifting chalk, you have several options:

Check out the selection of weight lifting chalk at Amazon.com

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

WeightTrainersUnited September 17, 2009 at 2:10 am

Good lifting chalk is the best thing for the grip, but the hardest to find in mainstream gyms. One reason ‘hardcore’ gyms are gaining in popularity is that they allow lifting chalk. If you are used to chalking up before a lift, its hard to work out in a no-chalk gym.


Jacques April 15, 2010 at 12:26 am

Mark Rippetoe states in _Starting Strength_ (2nd ed.) that chalk does aid in preventing *excessive* callous formation as it reduces folding of skin on itself. Of course he also says that callous formation is essential to good lifting, so if you want to avoid it completely… you can’t lift properly. On the subject of gloves he states that they are just another surface prone to slipping added to the mix and should be avoided – again the point is that some callouses are the only way to lift well. This is all paraphrased.


Thomas April 16, 2010 at 7:55 am

Jacques wrote:

Of course he also says that callous formation is essential to good lifting, so if you want to avoid it completely… you can’t lift properly.

That’s true. If you stick to biceps curls and triceps kickbacks, you can easily avoid callouses. But once you start with deadlifts (and other heavy “pulling” moves), they’re unavoidable.

Thanks for the comments.


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