Perhaps you have seen a gymnast getting ready to compete and putting chalk on their hands and have wondered why gymnasts use chalk. While you might have some idea of why they do this, there is actually a lot more to gymnastics chalk than you might think.
The main reason gymnasts use chalk is to prevent their hands from slipping on the bar. There are two main reasons why this extra grip is needed, either one of which is cause enough to use it all on their own.
In order to prevent broken fingers and other injuries, gymnasts grip the bar with their thumbs facing the same way as the rest of their fingers. Doing this does affect their grip however, so chalk can be very useful in helping them have the grip they need.
The other reason is because nervousness can make a person’s hands sweaty when they are about to compete. The sweat on their hands makes their grip on the bar very slippery, but chalk can help keep their hands dry to prevent this.
But did you know that there are also different kinds of chalk and that it comes in different forms? Each of these work best for different things and has its own pros and cons. There are also different places where gymnasts use chalk at besides just their hands. There are even things that some professional gymnasts add to their chalk that sound rather strange at first.
Where Do Gymnasts Use Chalk?
While chalking their hands is perhaps the most common place to put chalk, there are a couple of other places where chalk is commonly applied before a gymnastics competition. Chalk can be used by gymnasts on their legs for certain routines where they need to grab their legs or thighs in particular.
This is usually when they know they will be doing rotations and want to make sure that they can stay nice and tight without slipping. It is also so that they do not end up rubbing all of the chalk off of their hands by grabbing their legs when they might need it on their hands still later on in the same routine.
Another place that is sometimes chalked is a gymnast’s feet. This can help their feet, and their toes in particular, have a good grip on the balance beam while the gymnast is doing their routine there.
While it is perfectly acceptable to use chalk on your hands, legs, feet, or anywhere else on your person where you feel it is needed, there is one place you are not allowed to apply it. It is against the rules to apply chalk to the bars, beams, or other equipment you will be using. You can only apply it to yourself.
Different Forms Of Gymnastic Chalk
Most chalk that is used for gymnastics is made from a naturally occurring white powder that is called Magnesium Carbonate. This is essentially a form of inorganic salt and it comes in three different forms for gymnastics: liquid, powder, and a block that looks like a bar of soap.
Most people experiment with these different forms when they are first learning gymnastics. They find one kind that they like best for whatever reason and then they stick with that one kind.
After you get used to using the one kind that you like best it can be really hard to get used to any of the others, so most professional gymnasts always take their chalk with them. They do this even though you can often get some at the place where the competition is being held since most gyms keep some on hand.
Powdered chalk is fairly common but is considered very messy and some gyms don’t use it for this reason while others outright forbid the use of it. It not only flies in the air making a very large white cloud, but it is not good for your lungs should you happen to breath any of the powder in.
To prevent powder from flying all over the place it is usually used wrapped up into what is called a chalk ball. By moving the ball around in your hands the powder comes out through the tiny holes in the fabric and coats your hands. To chalk other areas all you have to do is lightly hit or tap the spot with the ball.
Chalk in the block form is much the same as the powdered chalk. You rub the bar over your hands, legs or other areas that you want chalk on, but this can be difficult to use if you are chalking you feet – your toes in particular.
Liquid chalk can either be sprayed on or applied by pouring or dumping. The consistency tends to be somewhat like syrup in most cases and does not tend to drip if you are careful. While it does not look powdery when you apply it, liquid chalk dries very quickly and leaves the same white and powdery look and feel of regular chalk.
While powdered chalk is widely known to be the messiest, the cleanest to use is the liquid chalk. Liquid chalk is also much easier to get off of your hands and out off other things. This is why more and more gyms are switching over gradually to having liquid chalk as the option that they provide their clients with. It costs a little more to buy but it cuts down on a gym’s cleaning costs.
Liquid chalk doesn’t leave as much of a dusty residue in places you might not want, nor does it make a dust cloud, both of which can be troublesome to deal with. However, this form of chalk is not perfect. Because it dries on your hands it tends to cause your hands to crack due to dryness if you use it too often.
In order to get it into liquid form certain things are added to it. The resins that are added can cause allergic reactions in some people, so if you are new to it you should always test it out on a small area of skin first. This is especially true if your skin is naturally sensitive.
Block chalk does not have this additive so people with sensitive skin usually take this option. Also, if you like having a nice thick layer of chalk then you should probably go with block chalk. This is because liquid chalk dries as a thin layer and will not get to be thick like some gymnasts like to have it.
As a final option, some gymnasts apply liquid chalk and then add another layer of chalk from a block on top of that. This makes the chalk last longer than either option alone which can be useful if you are doing longer routines.
Additions And Substitutions
Sometimes during long routines on the bar it can be hard to get enough chalk to stay on your hands to last until you are done. If your hands are sweaty this is usually no problem, but if they are not then some gymnasts put other things on their hands first to help more of the chalk stay on their hands.
US gymnast Jonathan Horton squeezes a small amount of honey onto his hands and rubs it in before applying the chalk. Other gymnasts use all kinds of things ranging from a mixture of beer and sugar, to really weird things like such as melted gummy bears on their hands first!
While using these sticky things on your hands might sound crazy, it is perfectly legal as long as you don’t make the bars sticky. Still, if you are going to try any of these options, or try to come up with your own concoction, it is best to start off with small amounts at first and it is best not to try anything new on a competition day.
There are also some things you can add to powdered chalk to make it into liquid chalk if you don’t want to pay the higher costs of the liquid kind. One of these is by mixing the powder with a certain ratio of rubbing alcohol. 70% rubbing alcohol is generally what is used for this.
When you have made your own liquid chalk you should know that it does take significantly longer to dry. While it is not quite the same, it can still be an option if you just found out that your gym doesn’t allow powdered chalk and that is the only kind you happen to have.
This option also tends to dry out in the bottle faster than store-bought liquid chalk, even if you are careful to close the lid as soon as you are through with it. So you should only make the amount you need or very small batches that will get used soon.
When it comes to substitutions, gymnastics chalk is not the same as sidewalk chalk, blackboard chalk, or baby powder. Baby powder in particular should never be used as a substitute for gymnastics chalk. This is because baby powder is designed to prevent friction and it is the friction of your hands against the bar that you need in order for your hands not to slip.
Chalks used for other sports where grip is important can, however, be substituted for gymnastics chalk. Rock climbing, for example, requires good grip to avoid slipping and so you could probably use the same chalk. Other chalks for things like power lifting and discus throwing can also be used.
Most chalks give a list of different sports they can be used for, while others do not. As long as the main ingredient is Magnesium Carbonate and it has little else to it then you should be able to use it for gymnastics.
Tips For Chalking Your Hands
Sometimes putting dry powder of any kind on your hands on a regular basis can make your hands dry to the point of cracking. This is especially true if you happen to live in a very dry area and have naturally dry hands. One solution for this is to use gymnastics gloves some of the time.
If you do decide to use gymnastics gloves be sure to still practice with chalked hands. The reason for this is because there is a difference in grip between the two, with chalked hands usually doing better. Chalked hands are also what are used for competitions, and you don’t want to be thrown off of your rhythm because you were practicing solely with gloves and then competing with chalk.
When you are done with your lesson or competition, wash your hands off as soon as possible so that the chalk does not stay on your hands. Lotion is a good thing to apply to your hands after washing off the chalk at the end of your lesson and throughout the day if you have dry hands. However, you do not want to apply lotion too soon before you apply chalk or it could affect the way it sticks to your hand.
The same is true of other things like sun-tan lotion or even if you didn’t rinse your hands well enough after washing them and left some soap residue. When you apply chalk you want your hands to be completely dry and with nothing on them, unless you have something intentionally on your hands in order to help the chalk stick better.
When you are chalking up, you should focus on your contact points where you will need the chalk the most. Chalking in between your fingers, for instance, will not really do you any good since this area will have no contact with the bar.
Before you apply chalk to your hands make sure that you have done everything else you need to do. For example, you probably will not want to apply chalk to your hands before realizing that you might need to straighten your hair – especially if you have black or dark hair! So as you are getting out your chalk stop and think a moment before you actually put it on to make sure it is the last thing you have to do.
If you are using liquid chalk be sure to give it plenty of time to dry onto your hands. As it dries there is a point where it is sort of like white icing on your hands. If you were to touch anything during this time it will be sticky and much of it will come right off.
What To Do If Your Gymnastic Chalk Goes Bad
Believe it or not it is entirely possible for chalk to go bad. Over time it will lose its potency and if not stored properly will do so sooner rather than later. To help postpone this you should always store your powdered chalk in an airtight bag – a Ziploc bag will work fine for this – and never leave it open when you are not using it.
If liquid chalk is left open and exposed to the air it will dry in the bottle, and block or powdered chalk will spoil if it gets wet. To prevent these things from happening you should always close your bottle of liquid chalk immediately after use and keep your dry chalk protected from any moisture.
You can tell if your liquid chalk has gotten too much air because it will get thicker and thicker until it forms a solid block in the bottle. If this happens you do not have to through it away however. Instead you can cut the bottle off of the block and use it just as you would use a block of chalk. While it may not work exactly the same, it should still be usable.
If your dry chalk gets wet, however, it can be a somewhat more serious matter. This can happen for a variety of reasons. It can be due to a leaking water bottle in your bag but can also occur in really humid conditions from simply being in the air too much.
You can fix this sometimes by putting your chalk in the oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit and leaving it overnight. If you do so be sure that your oven is not set on convention before you put it in. If your oven is set on convention the fan will be going and you will have a powdered white oven when you get back to it because it will blow the chalk all over in there.
Another option if you live somewhere hot and dry is to leave your block or powder out in the sun all day. Just be sure that you take it back in before night or it will possibly get wet all over again from the dew falling on it. You may also want to look at the weather to make sure that it will not be rainy or even cloudy while your chalk is out there.