Before I get into the reasons to stop using chalk, let me clarify who I’m talking to: the average gym goer. These points are not intended for Girevoy Sport monsters, epic rock climbers, grip sport athletes, full time Olympic lifting athletes, or gymnasts.
This is specifically for your average guy or girl who is headed to the gym for a workout on an average day. They’re looking to burn a calories, hang out with their gym buddies, and improve their fitness level spending 30-60 minutes at a time a few days a week.
At the Onnit Academy, we’re constantly trying to improve your general physical preparedness (GPP) through functional training techniques using Unconventional Training methods. This means that what we do is mindful, practical, safe, and always seeking to improve longevity. For that reason, chalk use doesn’t fit on a daily basis. Here are three reasons why you may need to drop the chalk.
If you want to be truly functional, you MUST have solid grip strength. There are a number of studies that relate overall health and vitality to grip strength (just search “grip strength and health”), but what we care about in this case is how chalk negates the need (or at least slows the development) of proper grip strength (again, note that I’m talking to the average gym goer; I know that gym chalk is a tool in the grip sport athlete’s arsenal of course).
What are you doing when you use gym chalk? Gym chalk (magnesium carbonate) dries your hands, getting rid of the sweat that makes it harder to hold the handle of a kettlebell, barbell, or any other weight. But isn’t resistance training all about putting your body through an increased load to increase muscular contraction and build strength? Why should we limit that development to your body, when your ability to connect with an object through your hands is key to your ability to move an object?
In this way, gym chalk is a cheat.
Sure, with chalk you might be able to move more weight, but take away the cheat and you can’t. Are you REALLY stronger than you were before? If you’re serious about getting stronger, you should make lifting more difficult. I’ve heard of people putting soap on the handles of their kettlebells to increase their grip strength (specifically the muscular endurance of their hands). What kind of grip strength do you think you’d possess if you could perform 100, 24kg 2-Hand Kettlebell Swings with soapy hands? EPIC grip strength. Try it outdoors with a 16kg kettlebell and you’ll see what I mean.
While you can use more weight when you have gym chalk on your hands, there are many times when you might not be technically proficient enough to do so (this goes back to that whole “cheating” thing).
Let’s say that your grip strength isn’t strong enough to perform a 1-Hand Kettlebell Swing with a 32kg kettlebell, but, thanks to gym chalk, you’re able to do so. Chances are that you are sacrificing proper form to move the weight, overextending the shoulders and back, exploding at the hips at the wrong time, or using upper body strength to lift it forward. Whatever it is, the point is that you shouldn’t have even attempted to move the weight if you couldn’t lift it in the first place with gym chalk.
I always refer to the functional benefits of Unconventional Training, and how the techniques we teach carry over to real world benefits. For that reason, I can’t endorse gym chalk use (at least on a daily basis) because you won’t have it available when it comes time to employ your strength and conditioning at your home, job, sport, etc. Your training should enhance your activities in any situation. I promise that your kids won’t be impressed when you bust open the gym chalk to open that jar of pickles! Remember, your workouts are there to enhance your life, not the other way around.
Again, I’m NOT saying that everyone in the world should stop using gym chalk; I AM saying that Average Joe/Jane needs to think about why they’re using the stuff.
Are you using gym chalk to improve your fitness levels? Or is it to fit in, make your daily workout easier than it should be, or utilize a weight that you’re really not ready for? Remember, grip strength is extremely vital, so build it up whenever you have a chance!