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Working Out With a New Tattoo

Working Out With a New Tattoo

I decided to get a new tattoo recently which kickstarted the typical mental gymnastics: Where am I getting it? What am I getting exactly? (Surprisingly do not put much thought into that aspect.) And—this is critical—will the healing process interfere with gym life? 

Yeah, yeah, a couple non-training days never killed anyone. But when you know you can't do something then that's all you want to do. At least for me. But I also want my tattoos to heal beautifully and not require separate visits for touch ups. Or get nasty and infected (happened to me once, in a non-fitness related incident in my twenties.)

So how long does a new tattoo really put you out of commission?

First of all, get the opinion of your tattoo artist. They know their shit. However, I have around 30 hours of sitting for tattoos, so I picked up a few tips along the way. 


Plan to chill for the first couple days

Tattoos don't hurt much after you're bandaged up. Yet the first 24-48 hours are the most important part of the healing process. You should be keeping the tattoo clean and moisturized (I use unscented Aveeno soap and lotion) and out in the air as much as possible. (Bonus PSA: don't use ointments, petroleum jelly, goo or anything that forms a thick layer. This actually keeps air out of your tattoo, which isn't what you want. So think moist skin, not sticky skin.)

What you're looking for is a layer of soft (because you're keeping that spot moisturized, right?) scabbing to form over your tattoo. Ah scabs, nature's bandaid. It sounds gross but they do a fucking great job keeping bacteria out of your open wound.

And it is an open wound. A pretty one, but a wound nonetheless and your body is freaking out about it. (Unfortunately it can't tell a good Sailor Jerry from road rash.) Giving it time to begin repairs and avoiding stressors (heavy physical labor, bar fights, spin class) is a pretty good idea.

And if you got a large tattoo—think a half sleeve, chest piece or anything 3+ hours—or heavy blackwork then it'll take longer for good scab coverage and healing, so give yourself even more rest time.

Placement matters

Your elbows, wrists and knees are all very mobile while your back is relatively static (or at least less likely to get knocked around.) That moving, flexing skin makes it harder for scabs to form and can be extra delicate to take care of. 

If you got tattooed on one of those body parts I would first like to congratulate you, because those places fucking hurt and you are made of steel, and also caution you to spend more time keeping the spot as still as possible. 

My new tattoo is on the inner wrist and for one brilliant moment on the third day I considered going to yoga. Luckily my killer instinct kicked in and I realized that would be 60 minutes of flexing and putting weight on my wrist. NOPE. 

When you go back, work out smart

Program your own workouts? Plan to train the body part that is the least related to your tattoo. Do legs if you're rocking a fresh forearm tattoo, or arms if you got your calf done. 

If you Crossfit, look up the WOD the night before with an eagle eye for anything that might put sweat, gym equipment or friction in contact with your tattoo. Plan to modify and stick to it. I for one do not want to be catching med balls with a new wrist tattoo nor do I want to put a heavy barbell on a freshly inked shoulder. Modify and be smart about it.

You do you

If it kills you to be away from the gym for even a minute (let's not peel back the layers too much on that one), try to fit in a workout the morning before your tattoo session. Even better, plan to get tattooed on your deload week. And even while you are on the bench, there's nothing stopping you from all the exciting low impact steady state activities your heart desires. 

Good luck with the new art and don't let the gym schedule stop you from making the appointment and healing well!

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