Grips are your best friends in gymnastics. Without them, your hands would be tattered. But sometimes, even your best friends have off days. Eventually, after enduring all of that damage, it’s your grips that will tatter. That’s when it’s time for new grips.
Grips are worn by male gymnasts on the high bar and rings, and they’re worn by female gymnasts on the uneven bars.
Regardless of when you wear them, do you know how to break in a new set of gymnastics grips?
There are plenty of recommendations for getting these important pieces of equipment broken in. But many of them are misguided and downright harmful to your grips.
Follow these tips to get your gymnastics grips broken in (without damaging them in the process).
How to Choose the Right Grip
We get it. You’re antsy and want to start using your grips immediately. But you can’t just strap them on and start swinging to break them in.
You want to get the leather molded to your hands and the bar. But the leather on gymnastics grips is stiff, and you need to break it in the same way you’d break in a shoe.
First, you need to determine which type of grip to use:
- Palm Protector —A palm protector is typically for levels 5 or below. It’s a unisex guard that secures with either velcro or a buckle wrist closure. Guards fit at the base of your finger, with the majority of the leather covering your palm. They create a barrier between your palms and the bar. They prevent blistering and gymnastics rip.
- Dowel Grip—These types of grips are not unisex––women’s grips typically have two finger holes, and men’s typically have three. They are also used for higher level gymnasts practicing more complex skills that make it harder to hold onto the bars or rings.
Once you pick a grip type (we’ll focus on dowel grip in this article), make sure they fit properly before you start breaking them in. They should be snug, but not too tight. If they’re too tight or too loose, you may have to return them. However, keep in mind that they’ll feel a tad too small at first because the leather is stiff. That’s normal.
How to Break in Gymnastics Grips
Once you’ve determined that you have the right grip size, decide which grip will go on which hand. Then use a sharpie to mark one with an L and the other with an R. They're made uniformly for either hand, but once you break them in you can’t alternate––they can only stay on one hand or the other.
Next, follow these steps:
- Start with the finger holes pointing upward and the dowel facing you.
- Wrap the leather around the dowel and roll the grip down to the cuff.
- Follow these same steps with the dowel pointing away from you. You’ll notice the leather is already softer.
- Perform this same procedure on each grip and each wrist cuff.
Note: never pinch the leather together at a sharp angle. This may damage it.
The above process should loosen and soften the finger holes. If it doesn’t, then use the following process:
Get a small piece of sandpaper
Wrap the sandpaper around a pencil with the abrasive part facing the finger holes.
- Repeatedly rub the pencil/sandpaper combo through the finger holes to make the opening wider. This will uniformly make the holes bigger without tearing the leather.
Some people recommend using bar adjustment knobs at the gym to loosen finger holes. Do not do this! Don’t stretch the holes by hooking or pulling on anything, and do not use a knife to cut the holes wider.
Shortcuts in the process will damage the leather and you’ll have to buy new grips.
Start slowly when you bring your new grips into the gym. Go back to the beginning with basic bar skill progressions. (This may take weeks to accomplish.) As your grips feel more comfortable and broken in, slowly add in reverse grip swings and giant swings.
New grips take some time to get used to and effort to get broken in. Some new gymnasts want to quit wearing them entirely. Don’t get discouraged.
Once you get used to the grips and break them in, you’ll never go back.
Grip Brush––Use a grip brush to get rid of chalk build-up on your grips, but only use it in moderation so you don’t damage the leather.
- No Water––Some people suggest spraying gymnastics grips with water to “loosen” them up. Let’s clear this up once and for all: do not spray or soak grips in water to break them in! Water stiffens the leather, leads to cracking, and makes your grips wear out quickly.
- Storage––After each workout, store grips the same way each time. Before you use them the first time, store them wrapped around the dowel grip. Then place rubber bands around the grips to hold them in a rounded position. Also, keep them in a separate bag to keep the smell and chalk from getting on your other gear.
- Borrowing––Because each grip is broken in and sized for the wearer, do not borrow grips from teammates. And do not let teammates borrow your grips.
Your Grips Are Your Best Friends in the Gym
Take care of your grips and they will take care of you back for a long time. They’ll protect your hands and help you improve your performance. But only if you break them in properly. If you follow the tips in this article, your new grips will feel like old friends in no time. They’ll protect your hands.
Grips are used by every gymnast––from entry level athletes to Olympic gold medalists.
To buy your own grips, check out our menu of grips on our online store.
For more gymnastic grip tips, visit and subscribe to our YouTube channel.