What You Need to Know About Working Out After Getting a Tattoo
TATTOOS AND FITNESS go hand in hand. After all, working out and getting new ink are both techniques we can use to alter the way we appear to others, giving us a means to exert control over the way we present ourselves to the world. Your tattoos probably look great in the gym too—what better way to display your body art than flexing in a place where people are showing some skin and putting their muscles into action?
But you shouldn't roll straight from your latest tattoo session to the weight room. Take a moment to learn some of the most essential practices of tattoo aftercare to know just how long to wait to get back to your workouts after getting a tattoo.
The fact of the matter is, tattoo aftercare is far more than just the brief moment it takes for an artist to wipe off the excess ink and blood from your body once the work is complete. Yes, you have some beautiful new art on your skin—but if you think about it, you just put that skin through the ringer, puncturing it thousands of times with a needle to deposit the ink. You'll need some time to heal, and your tattoo is at risk of infection if you don't follow the proper protocol to protect it. Gyms are specifically not known for their cleanliness, and the movement, sweat, and tight clothing that go along with exercise can add even more elements to the equation.
Taking the right steps isn't only good for your short-term health—your tattoo will look better in the long run if you allow it to heal and take care of it properly in the aftermath. Here's what you need to know about healing a tattoo, working out, and staying healthy.
How Long Healing a Tattoo Takes
"Depending on the tattoo, healing time is typically two weeks," says Josh Arseneau, an artist at Electric Anvil in Brooklyn, New York, who has been tattooing professionally for 11 years. "[Exercise] is probably okay a day after getting a tattoo if it’s not going to be in contact with the floor or equipment."
But just because you have an estimate of how long the healing process will take—and that's slightly different for everyone and every tattoo—that doesn't mean you can just stop your normal routines until it's done or have a one-size fits all policy to keep your tattoo clean. You'll need to know how to protect your new body art in every situation as it heals.
If you're an active person, that especially applies to your exercise and workout schedule. Both the activities you'll be doing and the places you'll be doing them might not be ideal for a healing tattoo; while there are tons of people in just about every fitness-focused space with body art, the gym itself is not a friendly place for fresh ink.
Arseneau shared a few relevant tips you should keep in mind about working out after getting a new tattoo, in addition to his typical advice for aftercare, which are essential to follow for a good healing process.
He's quick to note that he's not a medical professional, so if you have a fresh tattoo that starts exhibiting signs of infection, get checked out by a doctor. "What I’ve recommended is pretty standard in the tattoo community, but every body is different and there are lots of variables," he says.
Tattoo Placement Matters
Depending on exactly where on your body you tattoo is, you might have a harder or easier time with your workout.
"A fresh tattoo on your torso will probably impede a proper range of motion more than one on an arm or leg and will need an extra day or so of rest," says Arseneau. "Likewise, the area around knees and elbows will also need extra time because of the skin stretching movements."
But having healthy habits might make the process even easier to begin with. "Fortunately, if you’re a frequent exerciser you will heal quickly and a day of rest might be enough if the tattoo is in a tricky spot," he says. "The new tattoo will be sensitive for a few days, so if you try a movement and it hurts, try something else."
For those looking for a quick answer to the question of how long you should pause your workouts after a new tattoo, there it is: Take one day off, then get back to your workouts. But that's only if you're able to follow the other guidelines to the letter.
Wash the Tattoo Soon After Sweating
"Sweating can certainly be an issue if it’s allowed to sit too long on the fresh tattoo," he says. "Sweat is pretty dirty, so wash the tattoo right after your workout. I think a day or two would be plenty of time."
And remember, where you train matters, too. "The gym environment definitely has a germy reputation," he says. "I would recommend be very cautious about equipment and being super careful about the floor. It certainly depends on the gym and the kind of workout you do, as well. The barbell or kettlebell could rub on your legs, wall ball will hit your arms, and you’ll probably be all over the floor... Don’t forget—do not to touch your new tattoo with your dirty gym hands! Wash them and then wash the new tattoo directly after your workout."
Use Your Clothes to Cover Up—or Find Some Better Options
Once you're comfortable to get in the gym, make sure that your healing ink is protected. "A great way to limit direct contact with the gym equipment and floor is clothing," Areseneau says. "Typically, it is recommended to wear loose fitting clothing over a fresh tattoo. This will ease the irritation caused by rubbing of clothing. Most athletic gear is pretty tight, but you’re also usually not wearing it all day."
Just make sure to clean and moisturize the area as soon as you’re done, he advises. But there are more options for eager exercisers, if you're willing to get some more aftercare materials.
Tegaderm and Saniderm, two types of adhesive dressings, can help to cover the tattooed area as you heal. Arseneau says they're great options to serve as barriers against germs for medium and small-sized tattoos.
"A good way to use those products is to apply them to the cleaned, dry tattoo the day after you get it," he advises. "When you take the absorbent bandage off in the morning, clean and dry the tattoo as recommended. But don’t apply any Aquaphor. Just immediately place the Tegaderm or Saniderm over the fresh tattoo. It stays on for three to four days and you don’t have to do anything special to it at all. It just heals itself like magic."
Just make sure that you don't put the dressing on without prepping the tattooed spot first (unless your artist immediately applies the dressing, as that is also becoming a more common practice). "I recommend applying the day after because your body will be pushing out plasma to try and form a protective scab over the tattoo (that’s another reason to be good about washing it—you’re constantly flushing all that scabbing material away)," Arseneau says. "If you put the Tegaderm on immediately after getting the tattoo, all of that plasma will be trapped and will blister under the fake skin. You definitely don’t want that to pop or leak out at the gym!"
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