For many of us, tattoos and strength training go hand in hand. They conjure images of the classic strongman, the badass—the warrior. They can both be brutal and demanding, but each one of these physical manifestations ultimately serves as a means to the same goal: making your body look the way you want it to!
However, this transformation transcends just the physical aesthetic. When you're working out and sporting ink, there is always more than meets the eye. A powerful, muscular body may broadcast health, strength, and attractiveness to someone looking at it, but many of us see the hidden meanings of determination, struggle, and dedication. The tattooed body showcases those same qualities, as well as other meanings. Whether you're getting tattooed or getting diesel, you wear your results like a badge of pride. You have to earn it!
Oh yeah, there's one more big similarity: There's a lot of questionable information floating around about training and tattoos. As someone with extensive ties in each community, it's not surprising that I'm often asked tattoo-related workout questions. Here are my answers to the ones I get the most.
I want a tattoo on my arm, but I'm about to get huge! Won't the tattoo get stretched out?
The short answer is no. You see, when skin stretches, there are only certain areas from which the stretching occurs. The biceps/triceps area is not one of them. When your arms grow, it's the skin around the armpit that shows the evidence. For proof, take a look at the location of stretch marks on people who have had rapid changes in their weight. They're almost always around the pits. (And, unless you're me, it's unlikely you will get tattooed there!)
Even with substantial muscular growth, there is only so much your tattoo can realistically enlarge. A difference of a few inches in circumference would be astronomical on your arm's appearance, yet would be virtually unnoticeable to the actual look of the tattoo. Hell, whether you work out or not, skin changes over the years. That's just life. So if you want that biceps piece, just get it!
I heard tattoos need to heal. Do I have to stop training if I get one?
Not necessarily—though you do have to allow it to heal. Think back to your last intense, heavy leg workout. Remember how you felt the next day? Well, just as your muscles require recovery after trauma, so does your skin.
In fact, the way you take care of a new tattoo the first 10-15 days is more important than the way you take care of it for the next 10-15 years. Just as your physique is not guaranteed when you leave the gym, that new piece is not guaranteed when you leave the studio. Keep it clean and moisturized, and stay out of the sun.
I also recommend not training the freshly inked area for at least 2-3 days. This doesn't mean you need to stop working out altogether; just be smart about it. If a sleeve is healing on your arm, train your legs. If you just tattooed your thigh, work on your abs and do some pull-ups.
That said, regardless of any new tattoos, if you feel particularly debilitated, drained or tired, then I encourage you to listen to your body. You are a better judge of your own recovery time than anything you read, including what you're reading right now. Sure, I encourage you to push yourself if you want to achieve great things, but respecting your instincts in the present moment is generally more conducive to results than ignoring them.
I've been making great gains in the gym. If I get a tattoo, will it obscure my physique?
Clearly, none of us who train hard want our tattoo work to outshine our work in the gym. Thankfully, the two make a perfect pair! One need look no farther than real-life examples like Dave Bautista, Christmas Abbott, or Jim Stoppani to see that bold, strong tattoos fit a bold strong body like a proverbial glove.
When your tattoos conform to your own musculature in terms of shape, flow and size, it will enhance your hard work, not hinder it—in most cases. I don't recommend getting a tiny piece on a big body part.
If you have any further tattoo-related training questions or advice, let me know in the comments section below. In the meantime, keep America beautiful. Work out and get tattooed!