About a month back I purchased some stuff called Antihydral, which was originally created as a cream for people who had overly sweaty extremities. I had other hopes, however, than using the stuff as a replacement for chalk.
See, I've been climbing for about four years, and despite climbing 3-4 times per week, my fingers never toughened up like the should have. I'd get about an hour into a bouldering session and my skin would hurt enough that I wouldn't want to climb anymore; it was just really painful to even touch holds. I'd tell the guys about my problem and they'd give me one of a few typical answers: "Oh, they'll harden up eventually" or "mine got really hard after I went climbing outside last year" or the simple yet infuriating "yeah, I guess my skin hurts every once in a while". Except, it wasn't every once in a while. It was every session. This predicament prevented me from climbing more than once every two days; I couldn't begin to think about climbing more than one day in a row.
So, prior to a spring break trip to the Red River Gorge, I bought a tube of Antihydral to see how it worked out. The directions were pretty simple: apply, let dry, wash off. It came two days before we left, and I started using it immediately: twice a day, morning and night. I quickly realized that, prior to using Antihydral, my fingers would sweat like no other. Like, constant, visible sweat on the tips of my fingers. I've come to the conclusion that I have unusually sweaty, moist skin on my hands, and this is the reason my skin has always been so soft. However, Antihydral prevented that. A few days into the trip, I switched to just once a day, and by that time I was feeling great.
It was like magic. I climbed every day. My only skin related pain was a splitter or two from sharp holds. My skin was starting to feel and look like a climber's hands should- tough, dry, and immune to pain.
After the trip was over, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I immediately started going to the gym daily. My sessions lasted 3+ hours instead of 1.
I didn't ever feel like there was such a thing as a "game changer" when training for rock climbing; just hard work. This stuff was a game changer for me. I can climb multiple days in a row without a thought. My fingers don't stop me from climbing as long as I want to, and I can instead leave the gym because I'm bored and not because my fingers are killing me.
Now, that's not to say that Antihydral is perfect. It does have some downfalls. It comes in a small tube, and costs about $30 if you include shipping. To me, that's pretty expensive. And considering how much I need to coat my fingers, it goes pretty quickly. I anticipate that this tube would last me another month or two, if I gave it daily use. The cream itself is pretty messy: it's a whiteish-yellow paste that you smudge over your fingers and leaves a white residue on anything you touch. Some climbers say they sleep with it on; and while I have no doubt this is the best option, I wouldn't go near a clean bed wearing it. I usually applied it in the morning before climbing: I'd put it on, let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then rinse it off.
A week or two of daily applications of Antihydral reminded me of my younger days, when I bought an extra strength antiperspirant called CertainDri for my pits. CertainDri is a roll on liquid antiperspirant that pretty much trumps all other antiperspirants. You'd apply it at night, it burns a little, and after a day or two, you literally stop sweating. Which had me thinking, what if I used it on my hands? So I rooted around in my medicine cabinet and found an old bottle of it, and tried it.
My hands have literally never felt as dry as they did the next morning. Which was actually kind of interesting. It definitely worked better than the Antihydral, but perhaps a little too well. I definitely wished I was more careful when applying it, as the skin in the joints of my fingers felt a little crackly and slightly painful when bent.
The effects, however, lasted for a few days, unlike Antihydral, which I had to apply daily. After a day or two, it would wear off enough that my hands felt dry, yet moist enough to not crack or hurt.
The perks of CertainDri are: it's low price ($5.18 at my local pharmacy in Wisconsin); it's non-messiness; and the fact that I probably only need to put it on every other night / every third night.
Both products are a lifesaver for me, and I'm pretty excited to see how I'll improve at climbing now that I'm not limited on quantity. So far, climbing daily has been awesome. My technique is way better from all the extra practice. I also feel like I can focus on one thing at a time, instead of feeling like I won't get a chance before a route gets taken down. And also, the pressure of performing well has gone down too, because, hey, I'll be back tomorrow anyway.
Hope this helps all you excessive sweaters out there...
The Weak Machine