As athletes, we don't mind so much the rough callused hands as much as we dislike missing reps due to the ripping of our calluses. But even though messed up Crossfit hands are becoming increasingly common, many of us are stopping to think about blood-borne pathogens and the infection risk we assume when we continue to train with bloody hands.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to see if you're more at risk. Do you....
- wash your hands with antibacterial soap before and after using the equipment?
- bring your own mat for floor exercises and sanitize it afterward?
- wear hand protection when you're in contact with equipment?
- shower with antibacterial soap and put on fresh clothes immediately after your workout?
- completely cover broken skin when training?
- Use only your own towels, razors, bar soap, and water bottles?
If you're not doing these things, you could be setting yourself up for getting one of many common skin infections that account for more than half of the outbreaks of infectious diseases, or worse, a blood-borne pathogen.
Athletes are prone to fungal, viral and bacterial skin infections. Sweat, abrasion and direct or indirect contact with the lesions and secretions of others combine, and our skin becomes vulnerable. Ripping our calluses on high-rep exercises and exposing the broken skin to the bar increases the risk of transmission.
MRSA may be the most serious of skin infections, but others like herpes simplex, molluscum, and impetigo can also be contracted by vulnerable skin. These are enough to make you want to pass around the hand sanitizer, but these are most likely temporary and can be treated. Contracting a blood-borne pathogen such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or HIV, on the other hand, can be life-altering.
Bloodborne pathogens are organisms that are present in the blood and certain other body fluids of infected persons. They are transmitted by blood-to-blood contact - not by casual contact. Examples of bloodborne pathogens are the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV). They are transmitted by
- needlestick or cut from a contaminated sharp object
- splash to the eyes, nose, or mouth
- contact with broken skin.
Have your hands ever looked like this during training?
Intact skin is the most important barrier of protection you have against infection. A break in the skin such as a cut or abrasion, severe chafing or dermatitis, acne, sores, hangnails, or anything similar can allow direct exposure of your body to microorganisms.
How to Reduce the Risk
We expect our gym or box equipment to be clean and sanitized regularly, but excellent hand hygiene and protection during training are the two most important practices we can put into action to reduce the possible transmission of infectious microorganisms. As trivial as it sounds, properly washing your hands with antibacterial soap before and after exercise is extremely important, or using an alcohol-based (at least 60%) hand sanitizer if running water isn't available.
Just as important is keeping your skin INTACT. This means protecting your hands from blisters and rips while training, covering any breaks in the skin completely, and avoiding moist or blood tainted equipment.
HandBand Pro® are excellent for training, not only because they prevent blisters and rips completely, but also because they are an additional barrier between you and the equipment you share with others. Because they are constructed of antimicrobial fabric and can easily be laundered after use, they are a clean and green alternative to gloves and tape that may harbor bacteria.
It's one thing to be proud of the hard work we put into our training (ie rough, blistered hands, calluses), but it's another to protect our health and the health of others. Keeping hands clean and preventing blisters and rips during training are the most important things we can control to avoid the spread of germs and decrease the transmission of infection and blood-borne pathogens.