One way you can tell a barbell gym from a fitness center is whether they provide chalk. But chalk isn’t just for powerlifters, there are a number of instances where chalk can improve your workout and help prevent injuries. So while a lot of gyms and fitness centers discourage the use of chalk because of the mess, a really good gym will not only allow it but provide a communal chalk box or bowl. 

Chalk works by drying sweaty hands and creating friction that helps you hold on to the bar for lifting and pullups. It also creates a barrier on your hands that can keep you from getting blisters from repetitive exercises like kettlebell swings. 

Maybe most importantly, keeping your grip can help you to maintain proper form where sweaty hands might cause you to shift the weight, potentially resulting in injuries from strained muscles to bulging discs. So if you’re doing deadlifts, inverted rows, farmer’s carries, overhead press or other heavy lifts, you should definitely be using chalk. 

If you’re ready to start chalking up for your workouts, here are some quick instructions and tips.

How to use chalk 

Believe it or not, there is actually a right and a wrong way to use chalk. The best way to apply it is to take a block of chalk and lightly drag it on each of your fingers and then your palm. If there are no blocks and only powder available (as might be the case in the gym’s communal chalk box) spread your fingers and tap your hand into the chalk, then rub them together to get rid of the excess. 

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A few important things to remember about using chalk are:

  • Don’t overdo it – a little bit goes a long way
  • Don’t break up the chalk – it’s much easier to apply the right amount of chalk when it’s left in the block that it comes in. It also makes less of a mess.
  • Don’t leave a mess – use a damp towel to wipe down equipment you use with chalk. When removing excess chalk from your hands, rub them together, don’t clap them. Wipe any chalk from the floor where you applied.
  • Do use liquid chalk as an alternative – while it’s not quite as good as the magnesium carbonate chalk that comes in block form, liquid chalk that you can buy from fitness retailers will help you keep your grip and is less messy.

When you need to keep your hands dry for a heavy work set, chalk is your best bet. If your gym doesn’t have a communal chalk box, you can ask them to provide one, find another gym, or bring your own (it’s about $12 a pound and well worth it). When you’re sweating trying to keep your grip or doing heavy lifts, it really makes a difference.