I had an epiphany about 4 years ago…
It came after one specific day of leaving a CrossFit gym I had visited with chalk all over my hands, face, head, neck, and clothing.
I was sick of chalk.
So I dared to let the forbidden thought of «what if I used less chalk?» creep into my head.
I went home and thought a lot about it. I mean its seems like an impossible suggestion right? Less chalk? In a CrossFit gym? Chalk is so often a right of passage for new Crossfitters! Would I get banished for life from my own gym? Would people laugh at me? Would I be breaking the trust of my gym mates that I had worked so hard to earn?
Then I thought some more… about why I was using chalk. I mean it helps everything right? Pull-ups, Kettlebell Swings, Barbell movements, rowing, sit-ups, burpees, pistol squats, box jumps, running… everything!
Sure it leads to skin tearing, dirty stained clothing, a mess in the gym, powder inhalation, blurred vision, dry mouth, and a cough — but its chalk! Its like powdered gold!
Then the epiphany hit — I couldn’t actually come up with a good reason why I used it. I’m not an excessive sweater, I don’t need (nor care without good reason) to hang on to a pull-up bar for 30+ reps ever, and I’m not a world class Olympic Lifter about to set a personal record of three times my body weight.
So I made the decision. I was going to swim up-stream.
I was going to walk into that gym next day, and regardless of what the workout was, I wasn’t going to use any chalk!
The decision made me sweat with anxiety so much that I wanted to dab my forehead with chalk. Where was a fresh white brick when I needed it?
What was in store for me the next day? Pull-ups, box jumps and deadlifts. A real grip killer! This was the worst possible day for no chalk!
I set up my station. I put the weight on the barbell… without chalk! Was I crazy!!!
I picked my pull-up bar. I analyzed the entire area around the bar to predict how I land as I would likely go flying off the bar at some point with my chalk-less hands. Ok, It might hurt a bit but there where no large objects to impale me upon my descent. They were only sets of 10, so by the grace of gawd maybe somehow I’d avoid it. I might have to break it up into sets of 2 though.
I got my box for the box jumps. I stifled down the thought of chalking up my shins in case of a box jump emergency, and I brushed aside the craving to lather my shoes in the glorious white stuff.
Was anyone else looking? Was I being judged? I couldn’t bare to know. I ignored making eye contact with anyone.
I picked up the barbell. What was that strange feeling? Was that actual skin touching metal? Then, 10 reps later, I made it. The bar hadn’t slipped out of my hands.
Onto the pull-up bar. Surely now I would meet disaster. I quickly scanned the area to make sure nobody was in harms way. Here we go… up I went. 1 pull-up…2 pull-ups…3,4,5…6, 7, 8, 9, 10! What had just happened? How could I have accomplished the impossible? I mean surely that had to be some sort of CrossFit record? 10 pull-ups without chalk! Granted I played it safe and broke it up into 2 sets of 5 but still!
Then the box jumps. Then back to the deadlift. No chalk. No problem. Then the pull-up bar. I was gaining confidence now. I was onto something I needed to share to the world! I decided to try the impossible. ALL 10 PULL-UPS WITHOUT COMING OFF THE BAR.
I finished the workout and looked around through the clouded chalk haze in the gym. Had my accomplishment been noticed and celebrated, or was I already been given the silent treatment by all my fellow gym mates because I had dared to stray from the norm?
It didn’t matter. My eyes had been opened to reality. There was now no turning back. I was cured of my chalk obsession. One that begun without even knowing why in first place, but had finished with an acute understanding of one thing: YOU DON’T NEED THAT MUCH CHALK!
Since that time 4 years ago, after hundreds and hundreds of workouts since, I can honestly say I have used chalk less than 50 times, and the times that I have, no more than a light dusting on the hands, or even more acutely, a specific part of the hand. Not a single hand tear since, not one incident of falling off a bar, dropping a barbell, dropping a kettlebell, or falling off a rope.
Now, having my own gym, I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach everyone that walks through the door that chalk is not a necessity of life, and should be an emergency aid, not a green light to start a workout.
Guess what? Nobody in my gym has ever flown off a pull-up bar. Nobody has ever sent a kettlebell flying into the person beside them. I’ve never had to draw a line with that very chalk around a dead body that fell from a rope. Rarely is there a hand tear, and the very, very best part? I am able to keep one heck of a clean gym!
Like all of ridiculous accessories that are pushed upon CrossFitters (that's another blog for another time), chalk has become just that. It has become, quite unnecessarily, part of the expected culture. I would bet that if you asked a hundred people why they use chalk, 50 of them wouldn’t even know. Unless you are cursed with an ability to sweat like you’re feeding Niagra Falls, then chalk should be an occasional spot aid, not an every-5-rep-and-excuse-to-rest staple. If you do happen to have excessive sweating ability, you should be bringing a towel with you.
As coaches and gym owners, we are responsible for teaching our membership right from wrong, necessary vs unnecessary, needed vs not needed. They will follow what culture we create. We teach everyday people to lead healthier lives, the majority are not elite gymnasts or Olympic level weightlifters… or aspiring bakers. So get rid of the chalk brick stacks that are higher than the Ab-mat stacks, stop doing chalk war paint ceremonies, don’t conduct group chalk and clap sessions.
We have created a gym that isn’t addicted to chalk, and most of the members don’t know… or need to know… any different.