How Long After a Tattoo Can You Work-Out?

If you have recently got a tattoo or are planning to get one, chances are your tattoo artist will tell you to wait at least 48 hours before you engage in any strenuous physical activity and heavy sweating. The keywords here are ‘at least’. It takes up to 4 to 6 weeks to heal.

The safe bet is to refrain from doing any activity that makes you sweat a lot, for the first 2 weeks after getting a tattoo. This is the core period of healing when the new tattoo is most sensitive.

when to work out after tattoo

Many tattoo artists will recommend a total break from working out till the tattoo heals completely. This may be a dampener for fitness enthusiasts.

Read on to understand how you can rejig your workout plans to keep your tattoo neat, bright, and lovely.

What Happens to Your Skin When You Get a Tattoo

First things first. Let’s understand what happens to your skin when you get a tattoo.

Right after you get a tattoo, you have bandages on for the first few hours and the healing process begins to kick in during the first 24-48 hours.

During the first 2 days, you must strictly not workout. At this time your skin may still be raw, warm, and red after being inked. That’s due to the activation of the immune system response of your body.

A tattoo is technically a wound, and in no way would you want to interfere with the process of healing. It is best to avoid any activity that can potentially stretch or pull the tattooed skin or further bruise the area that is healing. Any such activity could ruin the design.

When you get a tattoo, you need to be careful about not contracting a bacterial infection, not stretching or twisting, avoiding friction, sun, and chemicals.

Woman getting a tattoo on her arm

You may be aware that a tattoo needle usually punctures your body up to 3,000 times per minute when you get inked. In a tattoo session that takes 3 hours, you end up with 60,0000 puncture wounds on your flesh. Open wounds are the easiest entry points for bacteria.

If you work out post-tattoo, your skin is susceptible to infections because your situation is a deadly combination of two factors.

Firstly, your open wound could be an easy entry point for bacteria, leading to serious infection, and secondly, your gym, the bench, and barbell of which are havens for bacteria, no matter how well the gym is sanitized.

While exercising, muscles contort, contract and stretch. Moreover, any kind of friction can further damage the area that desperately needs healing. All of this can end up prolonging your return to a regular gym routine.

You will see a huge overlap between those who are bodybuilders and those who get inked. No doubt they look great, especially on a toned body. But tattoos increase the vulnerability of the skin against sun, chemicals, and bacteria.

Moreover, twisting, stretching, and friction is something that’s involved in most exercises. This is why it is important to be more careful before you start working out intensively again.

How to Care for the Tattoo Right After Getting Inked

  • Initially, it is advised that you keep your tattoo bandaged for a few hours if not the entire day after getting inked. Then wash the tattooed area with lukewarm water and very mild antibacterial soap. After this, pat it dry, keep it clean and apply a very mild lotion (there are specific moisturizing products available for post-tattoo care).
  • Avoid showers with hot water as this may end up fading the tattoo ink.

man showing his new tattoo

  • As the healing process takes over, a scab is bound to get formed over the tattooed area. Avoid interfering with this process by scratching the scab or anything like that.
  • Wear loose clothing for exercising, to avoid irritating your tattooed area.
  • Before going to the gym, make sure you apply a thin layer of tattoo ointment to keep your tattooed skin from stretching.
  • Make sure you spray the gym equipment with antibiotics to keep possible bacterial infections away.
  • Right after finishing the exercise, clean your tattooed area.

What Activities Are Safe to Undertake as an Exercise in the First 2 Weeks?

Walking and Light workouts are safe to do after 24-48 hours, but some basic rules need to be followed as listed under:

  1. Don’t exercise the muscle area where you have got a tattoo
  2. Make sure your tattoo is covered at all times, to avoid exposure to bacteria.
  3. Avoid movements that cause your tattooed area to rub against your clothes or body. Friction can be damaging for the new tattoo.
  4. Follow a tattoo care regime before and after a sweaty workout session.

Exercises That Are off-Limits in the Initial Phase

Here are some exercises that should be avoided entirely. These include hot yoga, swimming, working out in the outdoors, with your tattoo while in the sun. Make sure you keep a gentle sunscreen on, just in case.

applying gentle sunscreen

This will ensure your tattoo remains neat and bright. Any soaking of the tattooed area with the chemicals in a swimming pool before it is healed can sometimes cause the inked skin to crack up. Finally, you must avoid any kind of contact sports for obvious reasons.

After the critical 2 day period is over, while you may be eager to hit the gym, you must consider waiting longer so that your tattoo doesn’t get dirty or contaminated.

Factors to Consider When Is It Safe for You to Resume Working Out

There is no one right answer but there are several factors that could determine when is it safe for you to resume working out without fear. These include:

The Location of Your Tattoo

If your preferred workout regime includes exercises that can stretch or move the tattooed area, you must wait before jumping back into your regime till the tattoo is fully healed. This could be at least 2 weeks, a month, or more, depending on the intensity of the tattoo bruise.

For example, if you have got a tattoo around your knees, then squats, kettlebell swings and running are off-limits till the tattoo is fully healed.

If your tattoo is around your elbows then planks, push-ups, and running must be avoided till the elbow is fully healed.

It is to be noted that moving and pulling the tattooed area during the healing process can not just prolong the healing, but also disfigure and discolor the tattoo.

The Type of Workouts You Prefer

Any full-body workout, intense cardio, or weight lifting which moves every muscle in the body, is to be avoided. Regardless of the location, the tattoo may get affected due to heavy sweating and full-body movement. Hence, it is best to avoid such workouts till healing is complete.

man with tattoo working out

If you are working out to gain muscle, be aware of the fact that it may spoil your tattooed area due to overstretching.

The Conditions Under Which You Work Out

If you work out alone at home or in your personal gym, chances are it is way more sanitized than a public gym that has a high footfall. This makes it safer to start soon as the initial healing period is over, say around 2 weeks.

The Type and Size of the Tattoo

The method by which you have received the tattoo makes a huge difference. Typically, hand-poked tattoos tend to heal a little faster than those done by a machine. This is because hand-poked tattoos are less invasive and less traumatic a process to get inked.

In hand-poked tattoos, the needle doesn’t go very deep into the skin, which is why those tattoos heal faster. Moreover, the size of the tattoo affects the speed of the healing process. Bigger tattoos are at a higher risk of getting affected by workouts, friction, scab scaling, etc.

A Little About Tattoos and Sweat

It was found as per a study, that the tattooed skin isn’t capable of sweating the same way as skin that hasn’t been tattooed. The kind of sweat coming out of the tattooed area is very different, having almost twice as much sodium than sweat from normal skin. All the more reason to keep the tattooed area clean and as sweat-free as possible in the first two weeks.

In summary, just continue the right skincare for your tattooed area and keep these points in mind before you begin your workout after getting a tattoo and all will be fine.

About Gaurav Dhir

Gaurav Dhir, B. Tech, PGDCM is an engineer and MBA by training. A fitness aficionado, Gaurav follows a strict diet and exercise regimen to keep himself vigorously active. He loves playing sports and being outdoors. Gaurav is responsible for the health and wellness of 4 generations including his son, elderly parents and very elderly grandparents.