Regardless of what sport, type of exercise and/or activity that you are a part of, calluses are an almost inevitable result of doing what you love. People have different opinions when it comes to calluses... some wear them as a badge of honor while others avoid them like the plague. The reason for these huge differences of opinion is that many people don't know the truth about calluses.
What are calluses?
A callus is a thick buildup of layers upon layers of dead skin. Our body's, head to toe, are covered with a layer of dead skin that protects the living skin under it. However, repeated pressure and friction causes the body to build up a thicker barrier of dead skin to protect itself.
Normally, dead skin just sort of falls off before it gets too thick. Even calluses will start to fade over time. Without the constant stress from friction or pressure, your skin won't need to continue building the protective layer of dead skin and your calluses will go away.
Why are they good?
Simple. Calluses are good because they protect your skin (your body's largest organ).
Why are they bad?
Calluses aren't bad, they're actually good. But as the old saying goes, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. They only become a problem when they are allowed to get too thick.
When we train (lift weights, play sports, engage in friction causing activities), we are telling our skin to build more callus. Regardless of how thick your calluses already are, repeated friction and pressure will make them thicker. Before long, your calluses are unnecessarily thick.
In fact, thicker calluses are more likely to blister and rip away from your living skin than thiner ones. Ain't no body got time for that.
Its a delicate balance. You need enough callus to protect your skin, but not so much that they start to pinch and blister during activity.
How can I tell if I have too much or too little?
For most people, the problem is too much rather than too little. If your calluses are lacking, don't worry. With a little time and training your skin will start to make more than you could ever want.
The pinch test
The easiest way to see if you have too much callus is the pinch test. If you can EASILY pinch and peel away your callus with your finger nails, you should think about filing those bad boys down.
The bottom line
Callus are an incredible adaptation of the human body, but if allowed to go unchecked they can slow you down. Some people don't have a problem with their calluses, but they are the exception. Most of us will need to keep our calluses in control if we want to avoid missing gym sessions, WODs, training, gymnastics practice, etc.