You’re standing above the barbell. You just slid on another plate and you’re going for a new personal best. Starting the lift, you’re feeling strong. But as you approach that goal number, you feel the barbell start to slip. You have plenty of fuel in the tank, but you can’t secure your grip on the sweaty surface of the metal. The barbell crashes to the ground, leaving you with your original repetitions.
How many times has this happened to you while lifting? The frustration of grip slip is only too real for competitive lifters. How to fix it? Start using lifting chalk. Let’s take a look at what lifting chalk is, the different types, how to apply it, and how to buy it.
WHAT IS LIFTING CHALK?
Who knew that the same powder that exploded from the erasers you clapped together in grade school would be assisting your gains years later? If you want to get technical, chalk is magnesium carbonate. It’s used to create that fondly-remembered chalk as well as the stuff you dip your hands in when you’re in the weight room.
Lifting chalk is used to remove moisture from your grip, ensuring no slipping occurs. The benefits of lifting chalk aren’t just gym floor gossip. One study found that climbers using lifting chalk significantly improved their performance in both openhand and pinched grip pull-ups. (1)
TYPES OF WEIGHTLIFTING CHALK
There are two basic types of chalk: powder and liquid. Let’s discuss the differences between the two especially in the areas of messiness and functionality.
Powder chalk is straightforward: imagine those chalk sticks from school being ground up into a fine powder. Bam, that’s powder chalk.
It’s cheap, it’s effective, and it’s messy as hell. The one drawback of powder chalk is the literal cloud that it leaves in its wake. Breathing in chalk dust can cause respiratory problems, especially if you’re using it in close quarters with no open-air ventilation. For this reason, many gyms have banned the use of powder chalk.
That doesn’t mean it’s not useful. When it comes to maximizing grip dryness and pull, nothing beats traditional chalk. We recommend using powder chalk in environments where there’s plenty of air flow or a specialty gym such as a powerlifting or CrossFit gym. These gyms are meant for going after bigger plate numbers so they generally won’t have an issue with it.
Seems like magic when you try it, but liquid chalk is exactly what it sounds like. A liquid form of magnesium carbonate that you rub together in your hands to form the same dry and chalked surface that powder chalk provides.
Depending on the brand you buy, liquid chalk can be just as effective as eliminating perspiration and securing a dry grip on the weight. There’s no mess factor and it’s incredibly practical. Liquid chalk is packaged in tubes that let you safely squeeze a small amount out and you’re good to go. This lets you use chalk without getting the evil eye from the gym owner and gym users.
The one drawback to liquid chalk is that for serious lifters, constant reapplication is needed. Reapplication is something you need to do with both powder and liquid chalk, but the latter requires it more.
HOW TO APPLY LIFTING CHALK
For powder chalk, take a small amount, hold it over the bucket and slowly rub your palms together. If you’re using a chalk stick, rub your palms on both ends until they are white and dry. When using a liquid chalk, squeeze a bit into your palm and rub for up to 30 seconds. It takes some time to dry so be patient.
It’s not rocket science to put chalk on your hands; however, there are a few things that you will want to know if you’ve never properly used lifting chalk before:
Don’t Use A Lot: Seriously, you don’t need a lot of either type of chalk. A dime-sized portion is more than enough. Using too much liquid chalk will increase drying time.
Give it a Second: Speaking of drying time, remember that you need to let the liquid chalk completely dry before lifting. If you don’t, you may find that the liquid chalk has come off of your hands and on to the barbell. A tell-tale sign that you’re good to go is when your hands turn ghostly white and dry.
Reapplication Intervals: The number of times you’ll need to reapply your chalk in one workout will vary based on the number of repetitions and intensity, but there’s no doubt that you’ll need to do it. Liquid chalk users typically have to reapply more than powder chalk users.
Clean it Off: Don’t be that guy or girl. Clean off the equipment where you left a ghost handprint. Both powder and liquid chalk leave residue behind.
BUYING LIFTING CHALK: WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Ready to start incorporating lifting chalk into your daily workouts? Whether you’re using powder or liquid chalk, there are a few things to ask yourself when buying a brand:
HOW MUCH DO YOU NEED?
The first thing to take note of is how much you need to squeeze into your hand to get a complete coating. If you need a portion bigger than a nickel, then steer clear of that brand.
HOW’S THE GRIP?
Continuing with the point above, and arguably the most important factor, judge how much your grip has improved after using the chalk. You shouldn’t have any sweat forming for at least a few sets. If the chalk is disappearing immediately, choose another brand.
HOW LONG DOES THE DRY GRIP LAST AFTER ONE USE?
How many sets can you knock out before you need to reapply? If you find yourself reapplying after almost every set, the chalk isn’t thick enough and you should find a different type. Keep in mind that based on the intensity of the exercise and the environment you’re in, you may need to reapply more. For example, lifting in a climate-controlled gym is radically different than in the open air on Venice Beach.
IS IT THICK OR THIN?
Take note of whether the powder chalk feels hard or too soft. Is the liquid chalk similar to a thin mess? Powder chalk should be fine but not so thin that you need to use the whole bag or stick. Liquid chalk should run smoothly, not chunky.
HOW DOES IT FEEL IN YOUR HANDS?
Chalk should feel smooth and secure. If it feels sticky like glue or slippery like baby powder, it won’t work the way you want it too.
HOW LONG DO YOU HAVE TO WAIT?
This pertains exclusively to liquid chalk: How long are you waiting before you can jump into the exercise? Thirty seconds is average. If you’re waiting longer than a minute, we recommend looking elsewhere.
HOW STRONG IS THE SMELL?
Again, this only pertains to liquid chalk: When you squeeze it out of the bottle, how strong is the smell that follows? Is it intense like spray paint? Or floral from the added fragrance? You don’t need to make the gym smell pretty, but you also don’t want to give someone an asthma attack either. Go for a mild or barely noticeable scent.
HOW LONG DOES ONE ENTIRE BOTTLE LAST?
Finally, as far as practicality and saving money, if the bottle isn’t lasting you a week, you’re using too much too quickly. Depending on the size, liquid chalk should last you at least a month.
DO YOU USE LIFTING CHALK?
If so, which type do you prefer? Haven’t used it yet? What questions do you have about lifting chalk? Let us know on our Facebook.
- Bacon NT, Ryan GA, Wingo JE, Richardson MT, Pangallo T, Bishop PA. Effect of Magnesium Carbonate Use on Repeated Open-Handed and Pinch Grip Weight-Assisted Pull-Ups. Int J Exerc Sci. 2018;11(4):479–492. Published 2018 Jan 1.