Disclaimer: I’m not an artist or a doctor. I’m just a girl standing in front of your new ink begging you not to be an a**hole.
I’m passionate about pizza, strength, functional fitness, and tattoos. Over the past 6 years of coaching and 10 years of strength training I’ve accumulated a full sleeve, two side pieces, a random Albert Camus quote, and a badass Star Wars thigh piece. I’ve healed beautifully and maintained my strength throughout. Here’s my tips on healing while training, and overall tattoo care.
BODIES OF WATER
I’m not going to go into the dangers of entering pools of water while you’re healing. If you don’t understand what a terrible and life threatening idea it is to enter water like a pool, hot tub, the ocean, bay, river, creek whatever with a fresh tattoo (basically an open wound) you need to re-read the aftercare slip your artist supplied you with. If your artist didn’t supply with this information, you need a new artist.
When it comes to sun exposure, direct sunlight is the absolute best way to damage your ink, new and old. The UV rays legit BREAK UP the pigments in the ink, even if you don’t burn to a crisp like myself. If you want to keep your tattoos vibrant and beautiful, proper skin protection is a must.
There’s a ton of debate about which SPF or brand works best for skin protection. Personally, I use Bull Frog SPF 50 or above, lotion not a spray. The magic isn’t in the SPF, it’s in the frequency of application. I’ll reapply sunscreen every 45-90 minutes depending on my activity level. I’m also a big fan of “letting it soak in” as my mom used to make us do. My arm and tattoos will absolutely be white till that stuff is absorbed.
If I’ll be in the sun long term during the day I’ll grab a UV shirt as well. I have a long sleeve UV shirt from Lululemon and it’s saved me multiple times. It’s lightweight and open in the lower back for air flow. Last weekend I wore it competing outside in Highland Games, in the sun in 90 degree weather and felt calm, cool and protected.
Keep a towel or extra clothes in your car to throw over your tattoo. The sun is strong through your window and can cause damage.
There is nothing that drives me more insane than seeing fresh tattoos sweaty and gross touching equipment and people in the gym. I coach at CrossFit 1Force and for as clean as we keep that place there’s absolutely no reason to chance infection of a new tattoo because you “needed to get a sesh in, bruh”.
Here’s how I attack strength training while healing a new tattoo:
0-2 Days Post Tattoo:
Your tattoo is an open wound. You need to do everything in your power to keep it clean and avoid contact with any surfaces, people, creatures, or fluids that could possible introduce germs to the area. During this time it’s best to avoid stepping in the gym whatsoever.
Even if you put clothing over you tattoo (also terrible idea for healing the first 0-2 days) your can still contract germs off of equipment, especially if you’re sweating. If you’re a yoga pant wearing gal like myself, the constant movement of your tighter clothes over the tattoo will also lead to irritation.
Cool so you can’t go into the gym, how about hitting a run or HIIT session to get your heart rate up?
Nope. Nah. At this point in the healing process you should be applying aquaphor (or whatever you artist suggested) or my new favorite, Hustle Butter, to protect your tattoo. These applications keep harmful irritants out and also TRAP sweat in. Sweat is composed of water, urea, salt, and other chemicals your body is producing as waste and to cool you down. That mix of bodily fluids will get trapped under your ointment and most likely will clog your pores. This can lead to little bumps showing up on or around your tattoo.
Even the cleanest of gyms are filled with sweat, bacteria, and germs from your workout buddies. There’s no reason for you to chance your tattoo getting infected by a bench, bar, or other piece of equipment during this critical healing time.
2-3 Days Post Tattoo
By this point your tattoo should have developed a bit of a skin over top of it and may feel a bit tight then moving. You may or may not have moved on to lotion at this point. Even though your tattoo is no longer considered an open wound, it is still early in the healing process and can be easily irritated by excessive movement or sweating.
If you MUST train at this point, look at your programming and try and train an area that your tattoo is not on. If you follow a gym’s programming let your coach know you need a scale or alternative movements as you heal. If they don’t accommodate you or understand...find a new gym.
Currently, I’m healing the color on my quads, IT band, and hamstrings. I’m following Hybrid Performance Olympic Lifting Program. I’m going to avoid any of the pulls from the ground since it will put the barbell in contact with my quads. I’ll also abstain from squatting till about day 5 since it will cause the skin on my quads and hams contract. I’ll focus on upper body accessory work.
3-7 Days Post Tattoo
Depending on the area, and rate of healing I may work back in some movements like squatting. During this time I’ll most likely be peeling and there may be a small scab or so. I want to avoid any clothing, knee sleeves, or movements that are going to rub any of that skin off. I’ll also want to avoid excessive sweating that will soften and pull that skin off.
At this point I’ll begin to work pulls from the ground back in, most likely wearing a loose pant.
I 100% guarantee you won’t forget how to snatch or squat by missing a 1-5 gym sessions. You’ve already invested in this beautiful tattoo, don’t let your training obsession ruin that. Also, for god sake stay away from bodies of water and the sun while you're healing.