When you get a new tattoo, you need to be prepared to make a few sacrifices that help ensure it heals quickly and optimally. For people who have an exercise routine or like to work out, this also means making some adjustments to just how much strenuous activity you can exert on your new tattoo.
Our article will provide you with a clear safety guideline on working out with a new tattoo.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 How Long Should You Wait?
- 2 Is This Workout Okay? - A Timeline For New Tattoos
- 3 Risks of Working Out With a New Tattoo
- 4 Post-Gym/Workout Tattoo Aftercare Routine
- 5 Our Final Thoughts
How Long Should You Wait?
A new tattoo is not much different than other injuries and the same precautions should be taken with your ink as you would for any other wound. This includes waiting before you participate in strenuous activity.
Since your tattoo is most vulnerable in the first three days, you should refrain from working out or exercising for at least 48 to 72 hours. Stretching, putting pressure on, or causing additional strain to your fresh wound may distort the image, cause excessive bleeding, or could lead to a whole host of other issues.
Numerous factors may influence how much and when you should begin to introduce working out back into your routine.
Your tattoo location could be a deciding factor on when you can begin to work out again. If your tattoo is on a part of your body that will undertake a lot of strain, such as a bicep tattoo and then proceeding to do bicep workouts, you should reconsider diving into your exercise regimen. If you’re planning to jump back into playing sports but need to wear shin pads over your new lower leg tattoo, you should also reconsider.
The more rubbing, stress, and pulling that your tattoo experiences within the first two weeks of healing could greatly impact scab formation or cause distortion of your art. In addition, the sweat and bacteria-filled gyms or gym clothing could lead to more severe issues such as infection.
Exercise Type and Workout Intensity
We recommend that if you need to work out after the first two weeks of a new tattoo, that you stick with low-impact exercises. Minimize the use of equipment that may introduce bacteria into your new tattoo, and try not to focus on muscle building if your tattoo is centered near a body part you usually work on.
Select a sport or exercise that doesn’t require tight-fitting clothing and has minimal movement or impact on your tattoo, as well as an activity that gets your circulation going (which is great for healing) but doesn’t put you at risk for a lot of sweat disrupting your new ink.
Getting a tattoo is extremely stressful on your immune system, and it goes into hyper-drive while trying to repair the wound. Just as you wouldn’t rush into working out during a bad cold, take the time your body needs to rest and repair your new tattoo.
Again, it is important that your clothes are loose-fitting so no essential scabs, flakes, or skin that is healing over your tattoo is rubbed off during your activity. Opt for a size or two bigger if necessary, as this also doesn’t trap sweat or bacteria over your wound, while simultaneously keeping the area fully covered and protected from external irritants.
When you have a personal gym or workout space, you can be sure that the necessary cleaning and sanitization occurs. In a public gym or activity space, or even in a change room, you cannot be sure about what bacteria you may be exposing your tattoo to.
Bring your own sanitizing wipes or spray, and never touch your tattoo after touching public gym equipment. It’s also best to avoid the locker room altogether and shower or change at home.
When healing a new tattoo, for the first four weeks you should not:
- Workout outdoors - this puts you at risk of environmental irritants and sunburn
- Do water sports - you should not enter a sauna, swimming pool, or hot tub with your tattoo; it should not be submerged underwater for at least four weeks to avoid bacteria, and a sauna is not sanitary for an open wound
- Use public showers - this is a host for bacteria and a cesspool of infection for your new tattoo
Is This Workout Okay? - A Timeline For New Tattoos
Here is a general timeline that will lay out when it’s okay to do specific workouts or exercises with a new tattoo.
- First 48 to 72 hours - Allow yourself time to rest
- Day two to five - Light walks, slow stretching
- Day six to 14 - Speed walking, light stretching, light weightlifting, light cardio workouts, slow yoga (no hot yoga)
- Weeks two to four - Low-intensity workouts, moderate lifting, running, moderate cardio
- After week four or five - Heavier weightlifting, high-intensity interval training, crossfit, boxing, water sports, outdoor sports, etc.
Risks of Working Out With a New Tattoo
If you really must work out within the first few weeks of your new tattoo, you need to be aware of the risks involved.
Rubbing and Irritation
Whether done consciously or unconsciously, your new tattoo could rub up against your sportswear, exercise equipment, get touched by someone who is trying to assist you in a workout, or experience other forms of direct contact and irritation. This puts you at risk of either disturbing the process and extending your healing time, or worse, infection.
During the first three days, your new tattoo goes through a process called weeping, which means it pushes out excess ink, plasma, and blood from the wound. If you put your body under stress or stimulate excessive sweating, you put your tattoo at risk of pushing more ink out than it needs to heal. This could lead to tattoo fading, or parts of your tattoo not holding the ink as it should.
Ripping a Scab
It’s important that during the first four weeks of healing a new tattoo, we let tattoo scabs or skin flakes fall off on their own. Even if it looks as though a piece is seconds away from falling off, pulling the last piece of it off may take ink away with it.
When you are working out, you put your tattoo scabs at risk of this happening. Being hyper-aware of your scabs means you are not focused on your activity, and could also lead to an accident, or perhaps pulling a muscle.
You can read all about Tattoo Scabbing in our Complete How To Guide.
Feeling Additional Pain
Stretching, stressing, and otherwise working out an area that has an open wound will certainly make the area more painful. It may also cause additional redness, itchiness, or irritation.
Getting an Infection
As it’s been previously mentioned, the greatest risk of exercising or working out ahead of healing is that you put your tattoo at risk of infection. Infection will not only permanently distort your tattoo, it may also lead to severe scarring, scabbing, blistering, or could result in a health crisis that requires medical attention.
If you really have to workout within the first month of having your new tattoo, you must make sure you are washing your tattoo before and after each workout, are cleaning equipment and surroundings, and are working up to more strenuous activity at a slow pace. It’s also best to avoid full-body sports entirely, such as football or hockey, as anything can happen in a moment’s notice that may damage your tattoo or introduce bacteria into it.
In addition, it’s important to consider that open wounds are often banned from public workout spaces due to blood infections such as HIV, so you must be considerate of the rules and regulations of your gym.
With your immune system working in overdrive to heal your tattoo and your body in trauma stress, you must be ready to accept that for up to a month, you’ll see a decrease in your sports activity performance. This could be a disappointing additional stressor that could cause you to push yourself harder which, in turn, increases the healing time of your tattoo.
It’s much better to take at least a week of rest and move into your exercise routine slowly.
Post-Gym/Workout Tattoo Aftercare Routine
You should always take time to thoroughly wash your tattoo after you’ve finished a sports activity. Make sure to scrub it gently but to ensure you remove any dirt, grime, sweat, or blood from the area.
After day three, you should begin to apply moisturizer to your tattoo for additional hydration, nutrients, and protection. You should also save your aftercare for home as locker rooms are filled with bacteria and are not wiped down as frequently as equipment machines.
Here are a few of our favorite aftercare products:
- Soap - Hibiclens Antimicrobial and Antiseptic soap cleanser
- Ointment - Hustle Butter Deluxe Aftercare ointment
- Lotion - After Inked Tattoo Moisturizer and Aftercare lotion
- Cream - La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Balm B5
Aftercare products should be fragrance free, have no irritating ingredients, and have the healing benefit of antibacterial properties.
Our Final Thoughts
While you may be rushing to get back to your sports activity routine, holding off or taking it slow may be best for the healing of your new tattoo, as well as your personal performance. If you insist on working out, take the necessary precautions we mentioned to ensure you are keeping your tattoo free of irritation and bacteria.