Gymnasts, both male and female, train and compete on equipment involving rails such as parallel bars, rings and uneven bars.
As the gymnast’s body travels ‘round the rail, pressure, heat and friction occur that can get pretty rough on the gymnast’s hands producing what is known as the Gymnastics Rip.
Rips happen at the base of the thumb and the little finger and on the palm just below the fingers. They are a result of heat and/or friction damage to the skin that has resulted in a tear or a blister that eventually tears. Commonly called ‘water blisters’ they actually contain the body’s lymph fluid.
Rips’ ‘water blisters’ form when the upper layers of the skin separate through heat and friction. They serve to cool or protect the tissue below from greater damage. Rips happen to all gymnasts, eventually. They are an endemic part of the callous process that comes with the territory of swinging one’s body weight via the hands. Though rips are widely viewed in the gymnastics community as a rite of passage, then par for the course; they’re still tears in the skin and it’s not at all fun.
To reduce ripping and mitigate the effects of gymnastics’ physics, gymnasts will often wear layers of protection between their hands and the rail to offset heat and friction, as well as reduce the pressure on their wrist joints that results from the fact that their wrists support their entire body weight as they swing around the bar/s or rings. The more gymnasts avoid rips, the longer and more productive their bar workouts become. Gymnastics hand and wrist protection can come in the form of palm guards and grips.
However, protecting a gymnast’s hands and wrists is not the only function of the gymnastics grip. Advanced, usually older, gymnasts wear a specific type of grip called a ‘Dowel Grip’.
The gymnastics dowel grip gets its name from the small piece of rubber tubing, or dowel rod, that sits at the top just under the finger holes. The dowel acts as a mechanical detent that helps the gymnast hold onto the rail and reduces the pressure and friction their fingers, hands and wrists encounter or need to maintain their hold or, well, grip on the bar.
The different types of gymnastics equipment: uneven bars, rings, horizontal bar and parallel bars require their own specifically designated dowel grips that are made to work with the skills performed and the dimensions of the rails native to that piece of equipment.
The men’s horizontal bar, for instance, uses a smaller diameter rail than the women’s uneven bars. Also, men tend to hang from the dowel on the high bar and not close their hand all the way around it; while they do close their hand around the rails used for the rings. Additionally, male and female gymnasts wear dowel grips that are designed to fit their, typically, larger or smaller hands. It is for these reasons that gymnastics dowel grips are not interchangeable and should be matched grip to equipment.
The gymnastics palm guard does exactly what you might guess by its name. It protects the palm. Palm guards are typically used by beginning or non-competitive gymnasts who want some protection in recreational gymnastics classes.
Another difference between the palm guard and the gymnastics dowel grip is that they are worn at different places on the hand. The palm guard fits down at the base of the fingers with the majority of the leather covering the palm. Dowel grips are worn closer to the tips of the fingers, at the first knuckle. They can come with two or three finger holes.
Women generally wear the two finger grips. Men use three finger grips for the high bar — the three finger grips offering more palm coverage to a larger hand. Men will always wear two finger grips on the rings.