Hand guards are leather strappings used over the bare hands of gymnasts to assist with grip on various gymnastics apparatus. They are also commonly known as grips and are used on the Rings and High Bar for the men and on the Uneven Bars for the women. They are usually wrapped about the wrist with buckles or velcro and have a flap of leather that extends over the palm of the hand with two or three finger holes. They provide grip to the given apparatus by providing an extension for the fingers to wrap further around the bar.
Hand guards were first used as a way to prevent blisters and calluses on the hands when on swinging apparatus. They were usually home made and crude, often not providing much assistance with grip. These home made guards were generic and used for many apparatus, they usually had two finger holes and a single buckle to keep the guard on the wrist. Over time they evolved to become apparatus specific and companies began to mass produce them. A dowel was added to provide extra leverage and velcro or an extra buckle was added to provide better support on the wrist.
High Bar guards typically have three finger holes and a thin dowel. Ring guards are longer and thinner with a thicker dowel. Women’s uneven bar guards are similar to ring guards except they have a thinner dowel although women after swing bars bare handed as well. There was also a time when parallel bars were popular however they have fallen into disuse as better grip techniques have been developed.
Guards need constant maintenance and suffer wear and tear with use over time. Guards have been known to tear and snap mid routine, often flinging the gymnast awkwardly off the apparatus, and sometimes even causing injury. This risk requires a gymnast to be very aware of their guards condition and old guards must be discarded after a certain period of time. New guards often need time to be “broken” and a gymnast will spend some time bending, moulding and stretching the guards until they feel comfortable for regular use. Higher level gymnasts will often have several pairs of guards ready to go just in case a guard is to break unexpectedly.
With the constant expansion of gymnastics by new skills and longer routines guards began to break at a higher rate than previously. To counter this guard production companies began experimenting with inserting a layer of KEVLAR between the leather to increase strength and durability. This would theoretically decrease the occurrence of the leather snapping mid routine. Other methods have also been implemented to varying effect such as differing leathers.
Guards will continue to evolve as newer technologies emerge and as gymnastics itself evolves. They are an essential tool and have provided extra safety and support as new skills are created and routines become more difficult. So keep an eye out next time you watch gymnastics for those leather things bound around peoples hands and think of this article.
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