Exercise After a Tattoo: Expert Advice on How Long to Rest For and Why

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So you’ve got your new tatt and are all ready to show it off at the gym – but, hold on; you’ve been not to exercise after a tattoo. Now what? We asked the experts how long until you can workout after a tattoo – and why do you need to take a break from the gym for a few days afterwards. So, here’s what you need to know…

woman on a TRX. She has a tattoo on the underside of her arm.

Why You Need to Take a Break

‘The healing of a tattoo is very similar to a scratch or graze (except you’re paying for the pleasure…),’ says tattoo artist Richard Barclay, owner of Crimson Tear Tattoos in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire.

‘When you’re getting tattooed, the needle is going in and out of the surface of your skin in very quick succession to secrete the ink, which can cause inflammation and bleeding at times. Once this has happened, the body tries to heal the area, same as it would a scratch.

If you’re then moving, bashing, pulling or stretching the skin that has been tattooed this then can impact the healing process compared to resting, resulting in prolonged timing to get the final.

You’ve got to think of it as a graze, you wouldn’t constantly pull it apart or bash the surface as it could cause further implications and this is also why we don’t recommend working out after a tattoo.’

When Can You Workout After a Tattoo?

At least 48 hours of total rest is suggested for any workout. ‘I recommend that a break is taken from any sweat-inducing exercise until the initial healing is occurred. Exactly how long this takes will vary depending on the site of the tattoo, the size of the tattoo and the type of post treatment reaction experienced by the patient,’ says Dr Mark J Hudson-Peacock, Consultant Dermatologist and Dermatological and Laser Surgeon at The Canterbury Skin and Laser Clinic.

‘The more oozy the reaction and the more peripheral the site, the longer this initial healing might take, so using common sense and allowing the acute reaction to settle is recommended.’

Richard Barclay agrees adding that ‘after the first 48 hours, the time you need to take off largely depends on the area you are having tattooed.

If the area is directly affected by the type of exercise you’re doing, so for example if you’re climbing and you’ve tattooed your arms or if you’re doing HIIT training and rolling around on the floor, then we highly recommend taking a break or swapping to an alternative to avoid the area.’

A good rule is to see if the workout you’re doing moves the area you’ve had tattooed, if it does, try and find another way to workout for 10-14 days – or until the scabbing has gone – just to be super safe. You don’t want to pull off or split the scabs as this can lead to ink loss which will fade your design, or even infection and scarring.

If you’ve had your legs tattooed, this piece on cardio with a leg injury might give you some ideas of how to get your pulse rate up without tugging on your tattoo.

If the design is on your arms, lower body work like squats, lunges, cycling might be preferably to running or a crosstrainer that use the whole body.

If you’re lifting weights after a tattoo be particularly careful with making sure the muscles under your tatt aren’t involved with your move – you’ll be surprised how often you use your back, your abs or your legs when lifting particularly if you’re lifting free weights where more muscles are used to stabilise you.

If you do go the gym with a new tattoo, make sure you clean any surfaces the area might come into direct contact with before you sit or lie down (or use a towel between it and your skin) to reduce risk of infection.

If you do notice an infection (signs of this include reddening, hotness, swelling and feeling generally unwell) don’t ignore it, speak to your GP as you might need antibiotic treatment. 

Showering After a Tattoo

Richard points out that sometimes it’s not the exercise itself that causes problems with a tattoo, but the aftermath of a workout. ‘You sweat a lot doing an intense workout, which often means people spend a long amount of time washing/showering/bathing which isn’t recommended when a tattoo is new.

More often than not, following a tattoo, you go through a ‘scabbing’ period where the body starts healing. If you’re submerged in water for a long period of time then this can cause the ‘scabs’ to soften and ink to peel away, resulting in a ‘faded ink’ effect.’

Dr Hudson-Peacock says, ‘Keep the tattoo covered for the first two days and keep it dry and then, after this just it wash gently in the shower using an emollient wash with antiseptic properties such as Dermol 500 lotion. Then, after gently patting it dry, apply a soothing emollient/antiseptic cream. If it’s still oozy, cover it with a sterile dressing again.

Once oozing has stopped, I would then leave without a dressing and cover the area with good old Vaseline or your preferred emollient.’

Can Exercise Itself Fade the Tattoo?

As we found out when we talked about exercise after fillers, there’s anecdotal evidence that the rise in metabolism and circulation can cause filler to break down a little faster in intense exercisers, so, could the same happen to the ink in your tattoo?

‘This is a common misconception,’ says Richard. ‘Working out has nothing to do with the colour of a tattoo fading, but if your body gets an infection in the area due to poor hygiene or sanitation this can cause irregularities to the ink depending on the severity – another reason to take a rest until it’s healed,’ says Richard.

Watch Your Kit

Most gym kit is pretty fitted – and wearing tight clothing is generally not suggested for up to two weeks after you first get your tattoo. Depending where your tattoo is, if you do workout earlier than 14 days after inking, then wear baggy clothing or leave the area uncovered so things don’t rub on the skin.

When Can You Swim After a Tattoo?

‘We wouldn’t recommend going swimming until the tattoo is fully healed., We would always stress to avoid submerging a tattoo in any water (as above) until it has visibly, and physically healed (ie you can’t see any flaking or scabbing and it feels smooth to touch),’ says Richard.

There’s also a potential risk of infection from the water – or irritation from chemicals used – and as such, it’s best to avoid swimming for 4-6 weeks after a tattoo when everything has completely healed..

Can You Do Yoga After a Tattoo?

It may be a more gentle workout, but the same rules apply – if you’re going to be stretching the area that you’ve had the work done, you’re going to want to steer clear of yoga until everything is healed.

And there’s another thing to watch when it comes to yoga, Pilates or other classes that use mats – germs!

Communal mats can collect bacteria including those that lead to skin infection and you can pick these up even if your skin doesn’t have lots of tiny holes in them!

While the main risks would be rashes or spots, there is a famous case of a school wrestling team picking up MRSA from each other that suggested that shared mats may have played a role.

If you’re do a mat class within the first two weeks of getting a new tattoo, you might want to make sure you’re using your own mat, put a clean towel over the top and/or spray it with a cleaning spray before and afterwards.

Do Outside Exercisers Need to Be Careful?

If you want your tattoo to last, the answer is yes. ‘Wearing a high factor sun cream or spray is always, always recommended for use on skin all years round,’ says Richard. ‘Keeping your skin in the best condition in turn keeps your tattoo in good condition.

Using an oil, or too low SPF suncream can cause skin damage which can, ultimately, fade a tattoo and may result in it either needing redone or not looking the way you want.

But, as long as the tattoo has been done professionally, in a quality environment with quality products, and the aftercare was followed correctly (AKA not submerging it, keeping it clean etc) the tattoo will last you a lifetime,’ says Richard.

Should You Workout Before Your Tattoo?

As exercise calms you down and releases endorphins that reduce pain – it might seem super logical to head to the gym first. ‘I haven’t come across any reason why this wouldn’t be okay in my career,’ says Richard. ‘Except maybe soreness. If you’re doing leg day and then the following day can barely walk, have a tattoo on your leg is never going to be the most comfortable of experiences but it wouldn’t cause any long-term issues.

The only way it could be a concern is if the exercise you are doing could damage the area you’re getting tattooed just before your session as any grazes or wounds on an area cannot be tattooed).

The only thing we do not recommend doing before getting a tattoo is drinking alcohol – and most people don’t do that pre/post gym!’

So, there you have it. The rules of working out after a tattoo. If you have any other questions, let us know and we’ll see if our experts can answer them.

woman with a tattoo lying on a gym mat

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