Jerry Brainum breaks down the risks of having extensive tattoos as a competitive bodybuilder.

Tattoos are far more accepted today than they once were. This is also clear in the world of bodybuilding – where it’s become more common for a competitor to step on stage with more extensive tattoos covering their physique. But do extensive tattoos end up hurting their chances for a victory on stage? And are there other less known risks as a bodybuilder? In our latest episode of Straight Facts, Jerry Brainum discusses the potential health risks and competition risks of extensive tattoos in bodybuilding.

Jerry Brainum doesn’t want to upset people. He also doesn’t want to be overly critical of those who decide to express themselves with tattoos. That’s why before Brainum dives deep into this episode, he makes a point to not condemn those with tattoos. Brainum does not believe that value or personality of a person should be judged based on what someone has on their body.

However, in the world of competitive bodybuilding, tattoos have a more direct effect on how a physique is perceived. So rather than try to judge the morality of tattoos – Brainum wants to focus the more objective effect they can have on competitive bodybuilders. Let’s break it down.

Can extensive tattoos negatively impact competitive bodybuilders?

Jerry Brainum first explains the distinct difference between getting a simple tattoo and getting extensive one. Brainum does not believe having one or two tattoos on your body will have a drastic effect on a bodybuilder. However, extensive ones such as full body or “sleeves” covering large portions of the physique can, theoretically, cause more of a problem.

Jerry Brainum points out that the goal of competitive bodybuilding is showcase your physique and compare it to others. Extensive tattoos can make it harder for a bodybuilder’s definition to be seen. They can hide or obscure muscle definition – especially dark tattoos with plenty of fillings with black ink. This is less a personal taste argument and more a logical one. If a judge cannot see the details of your physique – the judge can’t score you as high as others standing next to you on stage.

Are there possible health risks from tattoos?

Beyond the competitive bodybuilding stage, there are other small but possibly dangerous risks to consider before getting extensive tattoos. Much as Jerry Brainum explained how they can obscure conditioning, they can also obscure or hide early signs of skin cancer. Skin discoloration or moles are warning signs that should always be checked out. This might be harder to notice with extensive dark tattoos obscuring the skin.

Jerry Brainum also points to a study that shows extensive tattoos can decrease your sweat rate by 50%. For bodybuilders, this can be a more damaging issue. Less sweat might make workouts more difficult. Not only that – but on competition day the hot lights and long periods of comparison rounds can become more challenging.

Lastly, Jerry Brainum points out some studies that showcase the toxic risks of tattoos. While Brainum himself points out there are very few anecdotal stories of people getting sick from them – it’s not impossible.

Many studies have shown that risks of infection or disease can occur if the tattoo artist does not follow proper cleaning procedures on the needle while tattooing. In addition to this, other studies have shown certain inks having contaminants including carcinogens. Again, the risk is extremely low for traditional or simple tattoos. But for those covering large portions of their body with heavy filling of color – the risk increases.

Wrap Up

Ultimately, Jerry Brainum reiterates that he doesn’t want to use scare tactics to villainize tattoos. While he thinks society should not consider tattoo inking as benign, it is extremely low risk overall. However, a competitive bodybuilder should think a bit harder as to whether or not to get extensive tattoos. It can potentially affect your sweat rate and make training more challenging. But worst of all, it can make your conditioning harder to see on the stage.

You can watch Jerry Brainum go into full detail about tattoos and bodybuilding in our latest episode of Straight Facts above. Make sure to check back every Wednesday for new episodes of Straight Facts!

Derek Dufour
Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.