There’s a good reason rock climbers use chalk:  improved grip.

Chalk - grip - weight lifting
Chalk improves grip

Of course, chalk isn’t just good for climbers.  Lifting heavy requires substantial grip tenacity.  Especially in the summer, with humidity high.

I’ve been working my my grip strength for many months now, usually once a week doing plate pinches, towel hangs, etc. at the end of a workout.

But I had never tried chalk.

(That is, aside from 20 yrs ago and a friend sneaked some chalk into the university gym.  That was back when I thought a good routine had “arms days” and no, using chalk to better grip the handles on the leg extension machine is not what I am talking about today!)

Most commercial/franchised gyms don’t allow chalk, and even though I workout in my home gym, I never thought it was necessary.  For deadlifts, the hardest grip lift that I regularly do, I simply moved the mixed grip (one hand pronated, the other supinated).

But I recently bought a chalk ball – it’s like a sock stuffed with chalk and that really reduces the mess.

Holy cow – what a major improvement.

Seriously, I am now deadlifting with a standard grip (both hands supinated) weights that I previously could only do with a mixed grip.  Just by using chalk.  (Of course, a max deadlift requires more than a strong grip, so it’s not like I added 100 pounds to the dead overnight.)

And for power-movements (e.g. cleans, high pulls, etc.) the chalk is like a miracle.

Then there are lifts where you grip the bar where there is no knurling – like a sumo-stance rack pull.  These are nearly impossible without chalk.  I did add about 50 pounds overnight to that lift just by using chalk.

I can say without hesitation, now that I’ve gotten more experience, that chalk is far superior to using wrist straps (see my cautious recommendations on straps here).

How To Add Chalk To Your Lifting

Here are 5 Guidelines for adding chalk:

  1. Make sure your gym allows it.  I’m a fan of following the rules – your gym is a business and if they don’t allow it, ask them why.  Talk to them about the chalk ball, how it’s not messy, etc.  Heck, even have them email me!  In the end, if they won’t allow it then either switch gyms or live without it.
  2. Buy a chalk ball, or chalk sock.  You can search Amazon.  Here’s what I use:  It’s like $5. Don’t make your own.  Lifting chalk is magnesium carbonate and these chalk balls are super cheap.  No, talcum powder is not the same thing!
  3. Start with dry hands (just dry them with a towel).
  4. Chalk up your palms and fingers, maybe even in between your fingers.  Simply squeeze the chalk ball from hand to hand, like you are making dough or a hamburger.  You just need a light coating – if you clap your hands and dust appears, you added too much. And no need to chalk up the back of your hands.
  5. Clean up after yourself.

Now, some cautions:

  1. Don’t go overboard, don’t chalk for every lift.  Just use chalk for your heaviest lifts, essentially your pulling lifts.  Sure, people use chalk for all their lifts, but I’m not a fan of becoming dependent on anything except when required.  I like to be able to walk into any gym – even one that won’t let me use a chalk ball – and be able to do all my lifts intensely.
  2. Watch the poundage.  For most of you t his won’t be a problem but if you are already lifting heavy (like I recommend in my 6x6x6 Routine) ease into chalk.  Don’t increase your poundages right off the bat.  You’ll need to let the rest of your muscles and joints catch up with the fact that you’ve now got a better grip.
  3. Remember that lifting with chalk is not necessary.  I’ve lifted for years without it, as have most of you.  Life will go on without chalk.  Yes, I’m excited by my own recent discovery but don’t cop out and start convincing yourself that you can’t live without it.  You can.

More advanced lifters even chalk their legs and backs, but chances are you aren’t that advanced.

Have you used chalk?  If not, why not?  If yes, share your thoughts!

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