Updated: Oct 17, 2021
The Issues With Exercising and Working Out Too Soon
Most tattoo artists recommend no workouts or exercise for the first week. For many people this is a hard ask. Just remember the first two weeks of new tattoo aftercare is more important probably than what you do for the next 2 years!
If exercise is an integral part of your life and you can't do without it even for the shortest time there are some things you can do.
Exercise 3 or more hours before your tattoo session. That allows your body time to cool down and revert back to normal before your appointment.
Wait for 2 days! After your tattoo session, wait for 48 hours (minimum) before you launch back into full-on exercise. Remember your tattoo is an open wound susceptible to contamination and infection. But!, .... there are things to consider if you are going to run this gauntlet and get back into it asap.
#1 - If your new tattoos are on a joint that moves when you exercise, don't do that exercise until the tattoo is 100% fully healed. Your joints are covered in skin designed to flex. The entire area of your tattoo is an open wound. If that open wound is constantly aggravated and gets into a cycle of healing, cracking (even very tiny fine cracks in the scabbing process), healing, cracking, healing cracking and so on. Then your body will fill those cracks with extra sebum and lay down extra skin. That extra skin may be an infinitesimal amount but ... it could make your tattoo look slightly wrinkly, blurry or not quite as intense.
#2 - Don't exercise 'hard'. Example: You have a new bicep tattoo. It is okay to go for a run, but not until you are hot and dripping with sweat because sweating has major ramifications and can impact new tattoos badly. Running is a great cardiovascular exercise, but avoid sweating. Some people say, "... wear moisture-wicking clothing and dry the area with a towel...", but the fact is your body is still going through the process of producing sweat through the layers of skin all over your body to cool you down (regardless of whether you wipe the sweat away!) Best advice - Don't sweat. Sweating and heat will cause your tattoo to possibly peel and itch (a lot). PS: Read the bit about the 'research' done into new tattoo and the effects of sweating (below). Very interesting.
#3 - Don't touch the surface of the tattoo on 'anything' in the gym (even your own home-gym).
#4 - It is okay to do bicep-curls if you have a new tattoo on your calf-muscle. But, it would not be a good idea to do bicep-curls if you had a new tattoo on your shoulder, bicep, forearm or wrist. Make sure the tattoo is not being aggravated by stretching, pulling or getting sweaty.
#5 - If you are outside in the elements do not use a SPF50+ sunscreen whilst the wound is still healing. Instead cover up with appropriate clothing, a hat and stay in shaded areas only. Sunscreens have a lot of harsh chemicals and your tattoo is still very vulnerable. Just stay out of the sun for a while.
No high intensity exercise that causes excessive sweating
No swimming in anything (bath, spa, pool, lake, ocean, river, ... no body of water)
No plunge pools
No spas / hot tubs
No water-based rehabilitation
Under all circumstances (if you can) refrain from these activities until your tattoo has fully healed; finished scabbing with no lumps or bumps. Just to really put you off water activities ... remember when people submerge themselves in water they leave traces of urine, fecal matter, sweat, spit and other bodily fluids contaminated with their own cocktail of health issues in the water your propose to dip a fresh new open wound into. Don't bathe in a 'soup' of bacteria when your skin isn't fully sealed, healed and protected against germs and bacteria.
The risks of going to the gym for a workout too early are -
The new tattoo takes longer to heal.
Infection from bacteria.
Contamination from other people's makeup, moisturiser, deodorant, foot spray, perfume, hair products, sweat, ... and their open wounds (OMG!)
Colour seepage, fading or patches. Think about sweating 'through' a new tattoo. Imagine sweat glands pushing fluid through a new tattoo that is fresh, raw and open to the elements. It's got no protection and it's not sealed ... so it may leak colour because the colours have not settled and embedded into your skin.
Tattoo distortion; especially if the new tattoo has been 'worked' during the healing process due to exercise. Stretching and pulling a new tattoo can disfigure it; especially during the scabbing stages. Scabbing can be accidentally rubbed or brushed off before it is ready. This causes the body to over-compensate when replacing the scabbing. Additionally, the scabbing that was rubbed off will very probably have colour in it that was not set properly into the skin; so you could potentially lose colour and/or line definition.
Clothing (in the early days)
Wear clothing that is loose, clean and soft. Avoid scratchy materials or clothing with lots of seams that will rub unnecessarily. If you want to wear moisture-wicking clothes that's fine, but ... you're not going to be sweating (remember?)
Home-based Gym Versus Commercial Public Gym
This issue is germs. Germs (or bacteria) cover gym equipment from top to bottom. You can spray with anti-bacterial and take an enormous amount of care but if you have an open wound your chances of getting infection from a gym are disproportionately high. Think about this ... A gym manager may take the greatest care with cleanliness and hygiene, but it only takes one individual to very diligently wipe down the equipment as they move to the next one and have a single drop of sweat fall from their hair as they leave onto the equipment you are about to use. That one drop of sweat is 'absolutely loaded' with bacteria.
The average home-based gym is going to harbour a lot less bacteria than a commercial gym. For this reason you could start working out earlier IF you were still very careful of not aggravating the new tattoo. Make sure you, your wound and the equipment are clean.
Small Up-market Members Only Gym
Treat with caution. Even an up-market members gym may feel safe, but it still has other people's bodily fluid all over it and traces of fancy body lotions, perfumes and hair products. All of which are loaded with harsh chemicals that when combined with moisture and sweat can cause an infection that could slow your tattoo healing process considerably. Be careful.
Commercial Pubic Gym
It goes without saying ... it's high risk. More people, more germs, more individuals not wiping equipment down so strictly, more chance of you getting an infection that could permanently damage your new tattoo. You will have to be overly cautious and vigilant when you run this risk.
Rugby, Soccer, etc
Going to 'footy training' can be okay provided you don't bring your new tattoo into contact with dirt, sweat or contaminated surfaces (good luck with that). Sliding through mud that has been spat in and got the odd 'bushman's blow' in it, or being in a 'ruck' when you have a shoulder tattoo is going to substantially increase your risk of infection or damage to your tattoo. Your mind will be miles away (playing the game) when you need to be mindful of your tattoo's safety. Also, showers and locker rooms look clean, but the reality is they are crawling with bacteria.
The Research on Sweat Effects on New Tattoos
In 2017, the journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise concluded 'sweating' has a negative effect on a new tattoo. They found that even the smallest tattoo on the inside of your ankle or behind your ear was impacted. They discovered that tattooed skin can not sweat normally and that a new tattoo sweats very differently compared to normal skin. Instead, newly tattooed skin has almost twice the amount of sodium. Why? Researchers are still unsure. Basically, they think the skin's physiology is permanently changed after being tattooed. Another reason to take it easy and be vigilant until the new tattoo has completely healed.
Give it a week (minimum) before a hard workout if you have spent a long time in the artist’s chair. The trauma to your skin during this time can sometimes affect your immune system. With an already lowered immune system, a hard workout can mean a longer healing time and exposure to other risks. Additionally, excessive sweat has the very real potential of leeching colour out and leaving patchy or faded areas in your new tattoo.
Finally, if you must exercise, always gently wash your new tattoo immediately after a work-out (or sport) with a high quality anti-bacterial soap with no fragrance and luke-warm water just in case you came in contact with germs and pathogens.