You’ve lost what little sensation remains in your arm. An indistinct buzzing bounces from ear to ear. Your phone’s battery is on its last legs — you’ve checked your e-mail, scrolled social media, and most importantly, refreshed yourself on today’s workout. Oh, yeah, it’s upper-body day.
Finally, your tattoo artist puts down their gun and wipes a disinfectant cloth across your arm, revealing your shiny new ink. You’re stoked. Before you leave, your artist gives you the low-down on tattoo aftercare and dread washes over you as you realize you probably can’t scurry off to the gym.
Proper tattoo aftercare is essential, whether you’re on your first piece or your fifteenth. In many cases, this includes skimping out on your favorite workouts, at least for a little while. But it’s not always easy to know exactly how long you should wait, or how to work around your ink and stay on-track with your workout program.
Here are some helpful tips for working out after a new tattoo from 30-year veteran artist Brian Bachisin. Bachisin has been in the ink game since 1994 and is an avid practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so he knows a thing or two about the body being both canvas and machine.
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
Is It Safe To Work Out After Getting a Tattoo?
The answer, unsurprisingly, depends. A fresh tattoo is an open wound, which makes tattoo aftercare both preventative and triage. Exercising is generally safe in the sense that you won’t necessarily expose yourself to severe harm, but artists like Bachisin recommend you come at your aftercare with as much diligence as you would your workout routine.
“The healing process is just as important as the artist’s own handiwork,” Bachisin says. His rule of thumb is to avoid working out for three weeks after a new tattoo, though that period varies. Regardless, Bachisin’s post-ink protocol goes like this:
Leave the bandage on for a minimum of five hours.
Gently wash the tattoo using a mild antibacterial soap, then pat dry with a clean towel.
Apply a thin layer of bacitracin ointment or similar over the tattoo after washing for at least the first week.
Take care to avoid direct sun exposure for up to three weeks after the tattoo is applied. From then on, coat it with strong sunscreen if you’re going to be out in the sun.
While you certainly don’t have to cease all physical activity for weeks after getting inked up, you should expect to adjust your exercise habits temporarily so as to not interfere with your tattoo’s healing process.
“Gyms are loaded with germs and bacteria, so you should try to avoid making contact between your tattoo and a contaminated surface. Strive for the least irritation possible for at least three weeks,” Bachisin says, if you want your tattoo to heal properly.
He notes that you should expect to make some heavy modifications to your standard workout regime after a new tattoo. Here are a few helpful tips for success.
Tips for Working Out After Getting a Tattoo
Will a new tattoo affect your regular workout habits? Yeah, probably. Does fresh ink have to derail things altogether? Absolutely not.
While you’ll almost certainly have to make some temporary adjustments to your fitness routine, Bachisin notes that you can stay on track and ensure your tattoo heals properly by following these tips:
Limit Sweating (When Possible)
Physical activity and perspiration go hand-in-hand. You can wear airy clothing and train in a climate-controlled environment all you want, but training for too long or with too much intensity will cause you to sweat.
A small amount of perspiration is acceptable, but if you’re nursing a new tattoo you should take some precautions to limit sweating as much as possible. In practical terms, this means avoiding vigorous cardio or high-intensity interval training.
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If you prefer strength training, switch from multi-joint compound exercises to single-joint isolation movements instead. Consider using lighter weights and performing fewer repetitions than you normally would as well — caring for a new tattoo is a great excuse to take a deload week in the gym, which can benefit you in the long run.
Stay Out of the Water
Your tattoo is, essentially, an open wound. The last thing you’ll want to do, especially in the first 48-72 hours following your appointment, is to submerge the area in water. Swimming for too long can permanently distort the image, and even sanitized pool water isn’t 100-percent free of bacteria. Brief exposure to cool, running water in the shower or from the sink is another matter, though, and is necessary for tattoo aftercare.
Wear Loose Clothing
Covering a new tattoo can protect it from particulates in the air, the sun’s rays, and abrasive friction. However, you don’t want to wrap your new tattoo in a tight, non-breathable garment. Compression pants and shirts are a no-go for sure.
A light, loose-fitting shirt or pair of sweatpants are good picks for workout attire if you’re training with a new tattoo. You can opt to hit the gym without anything covering your ink, but you need to be extra careful about the area making contact with the floor or equipment.
Use a Dressing
If you absolutely must engage in vigorous physical activity in an environment like a public gym, another precaution you can take is to cover the tattoo with an adhesive dressing. Brands like Saniderm offer breathable yet snug bandages you can apply over your tattoo which should limit a great deal of dirt and bacteria.
Whether you’re in the gym or performing general manual labor, small amounts of sweat, grime, and bacteria will collect across the surface of your skin. The last thing you want to do is allow that stuff to seep into your new tattoo.
Regardless of how intense your workout is, or if you exercised the tattooed limb, you should prioritize washing the area (and the rest of your body) immediately after you’re finished exercising with a gentle antibacterial soap.
Listen to Your Artist
Above all, you should defer to the instructions provided by your artist or shop regarding tattoo aftercare. If they advise you to steer clear of training altogether because of the size, color, or placement of your tattoo, do as they say.
You won’t lose your gains by skipping out on the gym for 5 to 7 days. In fact, research on brief (one- to three-week) breaks from exercise show that you shouldn’t really experience any significant negative effects at all on performance. (1)
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You may temporarily lose a very negligible amount of strength, or feel a bit more breathless than usual, but overall a week or even two away from the gym to properly care for your tattoo will make no real impact on your overall fitness.
Note: The study referenced above marked a “trivial” effect size on training cessation — that is, stopping all regular physical activity — for a period of up to 28 days.
About the Artist
Brian Bachisin is a true veteran in the tattoo industry. He’s been putting ink to skin for nearly 30 years’ time as a New York City-based artist.
When he’s not working as a tattooist during the summer, Bachisin teaches visual arts to high school students. He’s been an educator and art instructor since 2003.
You can find Brian on Instagram at @artontoast.
Wondering about whether or not you should work out after getting a tattoo? Read up on these common questions and answers before you make a decision.
Is it safe to work out after a tattoo?
Safe, yes. Ideal? Not in all cases. The size, placement, and intricacy of your tattoo will affect how soon you can hit the gym after your appointment. Training too hard, or too soon, afterwards risks distorting the image or damaging your skin.
How long should I wait to work out after a tattoo?
Follow the recommendation of your artist. Generally speaking, anywhere from 5 to 14 days is a standard prescription. You can usually perform some limited exercise that doesn’t involve the tattooed part of your body within 48 to 72 hours.
What is the best workout after getting a tattoo?
The best thing you can do after a tattoo is to take it easy and limit the intensity of your workouts. Avoid high-intensity cardio or any style of training that causes excessive sweating, and stay out of the pool for at least a week.
Bosquet, L., Berryman, N., Dupuy, O., Mekary, S., Arvisais, D., Bherer, L., & Mujika, I. (2013). Effect of training cessation on muscular performance: a meta-analysis. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 23(3), e140–e149.
Featured Image: Ground Picture / Shutterstock
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