If there’s one sport that punishes your body and pushes it to its limits, it’s Mixed Martial Arts. If you practice MMA and you just got a tattoo, you’re probably wondering if it’s okay for you to still train or step into the cage to grapple with an opponent.
As anyone with ink knows, the longest part of getting a tattoo isn’t the time you spend in the tattoo artist’s chair – it’s the time you spend waiting for the tattoo to heal. That process is important because a tattoo that doesn’t heal properly could come out with mucked up line work, faded or patchy colors, or other imperfections that you wouldn’t want to have permanently etched onto your skin.
There’s a standard aftercare routine that your tattoo artist will walk you through. Chances are it will mostly cover how to keep your tattoo clean and when you should or shouldn’t cover it. What those aftercare instructions probably won’t include is any detailed information about healing a tattoo while undergoing strenuous physical activity.
If you’ve got a new tattoo and you want to keep performing Mixed Martial Arts, here are some tips to help you heal properly without benching yourself for weeks.
Tattoos & MMA – Do’s & Don’ts
DON’T train or perform MMA for at least 24 hours. You might not want to hear this kind of absolute statement, especially if you’re the type of fighter who doesn’t care too much for rest days, but this is a really important step. Healing is a prolonged process, but the first day is absolutely critical. That’s when your body will be healing the worst of the skin damage, and you need to do what you can to make sure that the whole process gets a good start. The best way to do that is to take it easy for the first 24 hours. That way, your body will be able to use all of its energy reserves to work on healing your damaged skin instead of using it to recover from the physical strain of training or sparring.
DO consider staying off the mat for 5 to 12 days. If you didn’t like the advice to take it easy for the first day, then you won’t like this one, but most tattoo artists agree this is the best course of action. If you wait a week or two before sparring during training sessions or getting into the cage for a match, your tattoo will have done the bulk of its healing and it will be a lot more resilient. It’s optional, but it’s the only way to be sure that your tattoo won’t take a beating even if you do.
DON’T work out the day before your tattoo or the morning of your tattoo appointment. This one comes as a surprise to a lot of people who do MMA because their instinct is to get as much training done before they have to take a break to let their tattoo heal, but it’s a bad idea for one simple reason: working out makes your muscles sore. You’re no stranger to sore muscles, but you’re also not regularly spending time under a tattoo needle. The tattoo gun can pierce your skin a few thousand times a minute, and if your muscles are sore, that’s going to be a lot more painful than it should be.
DO give your body a real rest in between training sessions and matches. If you do decide to train or spar while your tattoo is still healing, then you should do your best to give your tattooed skin a rest in between each session. Avoid bending or stretching the tattooed skin as much as possible to prevent any complications and to make sure the colors come out as vibrant as they should.
DON’T train or spar out in the sun. Most aftercare routines involve keeping the tattoo away from direct sunlight whenever possible. If you tend to train or spar outdoors, consider moving the sessions to an indoor location until your tattoo has finished healing.
DO apply lotion and any other products your tattoo artist recommends. Tattoo lotions are designed to hydrate and nourish your skin. That speeds up the healing process, but it also provides some extra protection to your tattoo. Since you’re going to be putting it through a lot even if you’re just doing a bit of practice, you’ll want it to be as tough as it can be. So, apply it generously and regularly.
DON’T skip the shower. Clean your tattoo right after any MMA practice, spars, or matches (following your tattoo artist’s aftercare instructions, as always). You need to keep your tattoo clean, but it probably won’t be after all that sweating and grappling. So, hit the showers as soon as you’re done.
DO ask your tattoo artist for advice. Your tattoo artist has seen it all. They know what can ruin an aftercare regimen and mess up a tattoo. Let them know you’re planning to keep doing MMA while your tattoo is healing and follow whatever advice they give you.
Dan Hunter, a self-confessed ink addict and studier of all forms of tattooing for over 10 years, is the chief editor at AuthorityTattoo.com – a website that prides itself on being one of the most well-respected and trusted resources for tattoos and piercings on the internet.
While no longer as active in the tattooing community, Dan still strives to relentlessly improve his knowledge on the various methods of tattooing throughout the world, and is here to help educate, teach, and advise readers on all things tattoo-related.