Is there really a difference?
Whether you’re a novice weightlifter, an expert rock climber, a professional gymnast, or a full-time pole dancer, we all have stumbled upon this one question: “Are gym chalk and climbing chalk the same?” As much as your gut instincts are telling you that chalk is chalk, we need to first understand what all this “chalk” is really about.
It can be frustrating and potentially dangerous to catch your hand slipping in the middle of a heavy lift. This is the same problem that rock climbers struggle with. Even on a rough surface, just a tiny accumulation of moisture in the hand can loosen their grip on holds. This is because the moisture acts as a lubricant between the holds and the ridges on your finger pads. By adding enough chalk to absorb the moisture, you are able to maximize your grip. This is “dry friction” which most of us think of when we think of chalking it up.
Here, you can tell that both gym chalk and climbing chalk serve to tackle a common problem. The purpose of chalk is to help users secure a proper grip by drying up sweaty hands and inducing friction. It can be an essential measure that separates you from pushing to that next level or not!
The advantages of gym chalk are so tremendous that I’m pretty sure you'll be convinced to use gym chalk after reading this article. Did you know that gym chalk will not only help strengthen your grip, but it will also help to protect your hands from skin tears? By applying chalk on your hands, the chalk serves as a protective barrier between your skin and whatever you’re holding. This layer prevents the skin on your palms from tearing, especially the tops of calluses which are super sensitive to tear when sweaty.
While some people prefer to wear weight lifting gloves, the best way to guarantee a firm grip is to apply gym chalk. Gym chalk is especially beneficial for power and Olympic lifting exercises, deadlifts, chin-ups, heavy barbell pulling exercises, or dynamic kettlebell exercises. Basically, any motion that requires a firm grip to maximize your lift. I mean, just look at the professional weightlifters and gymnasts — they do rely on gym chalk instead of gloves for a reason! What more, one of the biggest negative effects of wearing gloves is that it limits your sensory feedback from the nerves in your hands and fingertips.
Using gym chalk can also help ensure that you are doing your sets in perfect form. Maintaining a proper form is critical, particularly for heavy sets, as you cannot risk any wrong move that will injure you. For example, compensation injuries are injuries that can easily occur when you’re losing grip and try to bounce the bar in your hands to get a better grip. This small movement actually adds unnecessary strain on your back and joints. By chalking, you can secure proper form and limit the risks of such injuries. It will even allow you to crush out a few extra reps!
What makes gym chalk such an integral tool for athletes is its chemical make-up.
Most gym chalk you’ll find is made from a compound known as Magnesium Carbonate (MgCO3). And guess what? Climbing chalk is made up of the exact composition! This is the same compound that gymnasts, weightlifters, and other athletes will put on their hands in order to improve friction and grip.
To dive into further detail, Magnesium Carbonate is formed by mixing Iron (II) with carbonate crystals. It is typically mined from magnesite or dolomite rock. Once the magnesite is purified of the iron and carbonate crystals, it solidifies into a white block of chalk. The chalk can then be used in its block form, or it can be ground up into a fine powder. Which one you use is a matter of personal preference.
Magnesium Carbonate is the perfect compound for weightlifters, rock climbers, and gymnasts because it is an inorganic salt that is insoluble in water. Its anhydrous property is what helps dry your sweat and increase friction between your hand and what you hold — be it a pole, rock hold, kettlebell, pull up bar, or barbell!
All types of chalk that you know now, be it gym chalk or climbing chalk came from a commonplace. It was in the same decade that gymnast and climbing legend, John Gill, introduced the Magnesium Carbonate compound from gymnastics to climbing. As an athlete of the two sports, Gill noticed similarities whereby he can incorporate gymnastic movements to climbing. He became known for his innovative approach to climbing that showed a distinct perspective and aesthetic from traditional climbers. This earned him the title as the father of modern bouldering. His approaches to climbing and his importation of gymnastics chalk to rock climbing both expanded internationally.
Chalk is Chalk
In conclusion, your gut instinct was right — chalk is chalk! Gym chalk and climbing chalk are the same. They all serve the same purpose of keeping your hands dry; they provide you with the same advantages; they are made up of the same chemical composition, and they share the same history. Be it gym chalk or climbing chalk, you’re ready to conquer any grips!
Though take note that there are variations in terms of the qualitative “feel” of the chalk. The size and shape of chalk particles may differ across chalk brands. This is because everyone’s body produces moisture at different rates and amounts. Some people might need to reapply more than others. As such, some brands would specifically re-formulate their compounds to better accommodate their market demands.
However, there should not be a major difference between chalks as long as you use your chalk correctly. This is done by applying your chalk thoroughly throughout your palms, fingers, back of your hands, and your wrists. You should also remember to chalk and re-chalk regularly.