By Brandon Collins
It's fairly common knowledge that being a tattooer isn't the healthiest of professions. For some of us, our days consist of smoking cigs, drinking, eating and sitting (and sadly more of the latter). Working 10-12 hour days with little to no breaks can do a number on, not only your physique, but your overall health and wellness. Luckily, with some dedication and a few sacrifices... it doesn't have to be...
If you are still reading this, than you than you probably have an interest in making a change to your lifestyle. A question that many tattooers have is; "How can I make time to eat healthy and/or workout?" In the next few paragraphs, I will do my best to answer that question. I'm absolutely NOT saying that this is going to be the answer, and in no way am I claiming to be a nutritionist or a physical trainer. I am only writing this to share my personal experiences from being an athlete, my service in the Marine Corps and my many interactions with other fitness nerds like myself. I promise that I won't bore you with scientific jargon and $5 dollar words. I just want to pass on what I have learned and what works for me. Please only use this as a guide and not as "scripture."
Dedication is THE most important element to becoming healthier and/or more fit. Without it, you might as well not have even tried. Not to say that you have to be 100 percent into fitness all day, everyday to achieve anything, but only going half-assed isn't going to help either. Everyone, I'm sure knows the ol' adage: "You only get out of something, what you put in" and with your health, it isn't any different. Once you make the decision to make a change, stick with it. Don't make excuses or veer away from your original plan. It' won't be easy but hard work always makes the reward that much sweeter.
Diet is second only to Dedication. Diet is quite possibly the most important and overlooked part of a health and fitness regimen. What you put in your body directly affects everything from muscle contractions and brain function to sex drive and overall health.
Now, I am not going to tell you that you have to switch to an all natural/organic diet or become a vegan/vegetarian, you don't even have to count calories and measure each portion like some sort of evil genius if you don't want too. The real goal here is to start making good decisions on your food choices. First of all, do some research and read labels. Learn about the ingredients and what they do. STAY AWAY FROM PROCESSED FOODS. I have a rule that if I can't pronounce an ingredient, I won't buy it. We (humans) really are what we eat.
Secondly, learn about the serving sizes. A big problem with being a tattooer is that we don't really have a lot of time to eat during our day so we get in what ever we can, when we can. Unfortunately eating one or two large meals a day isn't really gonna cut it. That kind of eating is not good for your digestive or metabolic system. Smaller meals more frequently is a good start. It helps to keep your metabolism going and because it's a smaller meal your body is able to absorb more nutrients thus giving you the fuel you need for your day.
I have found that a good way to help maintain a healthy diet is to pre-make meals for the week. It may not work for everyone but it works for me. For example, if you work Wednesday thru Sunday, make five days worth of sandwiches or pasta or what ever it is you want to eat for the week on Tuesday night. Add some fruit and some cottage cheese or maybe a yogurt and a granola bar you have yourself a week of good fuel for your body. Vegetables are very important as well for they help with abdominal function and there in helping posture and lower back pain. There will obviously be times when you forget your lunch or you just didn't get around to making them, and that's totally fine. When you have to get food delivered or ordered from a restaurant use your gut and make a good decision on what you eat. I try to stay away from a lot of cheeses, (I know... I love cheese too) ask for light or no dressing, (i.e. mayo) sour cream, and of course, stay away from deep-fried anything. More importantly try not to eat the entire meal.
We (Nightmare Studios) call it "halfing it." Eat half of your meal, put it away and go back to doing what ever it was you were doing. It would probably be better to not go right back to tattooing but we all know that isn't really possible. With only half of a meal in your stomach the adverse effect of sitting won't be as bad and in just a few minutes you will feel full anyway. In a couple of hours if you are hungry, go ahead and eat the other half. We call that "round two." Try to get your ENTIRE shop involved in eating like this. It's much easier to do it as a team and plus it's a good way to bond.
As I tried to make clear earlier, I am not a dietitian nor am I a doctor, but water is the most important thing you can put in your body. Water transports nutrients and oxygen into the cells, it moisturizes the air in your lungs, regulates body temperature and detoxifies. More importantly for tattooers, water aids in metabolism (the process of breaking down food for fuel to the muscles and organs) and lubricates and moisturizes the joints. After all the human body is two-thirds water. Brain function is also effected by water consumption. Your brain consists 90 percent water, so without an ample amount of water supplied to the body the brain cannot function correctly. With the concentration and dexterity function of a tattoo artist we should all try to drink at least three liters of water a day!
Training is only a small part of your overall health. That's not to say that a strong body won't be more resilient to the beatings that a tattooer's (back, shoulder and wrist injuries are all common ailments for tattooers) will endure than that of a soft one. Weather you get a gym membership, join a softball league or buy a bike to ride to work, you are being active and you are strengthening your body, which makes it a better tool for tattooing. I train six, sometimes seven days a week and don't take that as bragging but as proof that it is possible to do. I usually workout/swim/run in the mornings. I have found (for me) that getting an early start on the day works. It gets me up and ready, jump starts my metabolism, and keeps me burning fat all day long. Not to mention, after working out in the morning and working a full day at the shop I am exhausted when I get home and sleep like a baby!!
Core strength is becoming quite the popular topic with health nuts around the globe. I couldn't agree with them more, especially being a tattooer. Every movement you make while you are tattooing starts out at your core. If you have a weak core than you will slouch at the waist, middle back and shoulders, multiplying the already insurmountable stress on the body incurred by tattooing.
As a tattooer, having a strong core is paramount for any kind of longevity. Core workouts can range from hardcore cross-fit/boot-camp styles to something as simple as planks or doing ab squeezes while you are tattooing. Yoga (I know it seems lame but I swear it isn't) is probably THE BEST thing a tattoo artist can do for their body. It's low impact, calming and it will strengthen the shit out of your core.
I would like to get into specific training regiments but like I said I'm not a personal trainer so I would like to leave that up to the professionals. If I do get a decent response to this blog then I might do another one on tattoo artist specific workouts.
Posture has to be THE biggest "no-no" that tattooers are guilty of, and the number one reason tattooers are so physically messed up. Just walk around a convention and look at how all the tattooers are sitting; hunched over, low light and cramped spaces are all typical of tattoo artists' way of sitting. Fracturing my back in the military many years ago has taught me about how the back functions and has forced to be very mindful of my posture. A couple of things we (tattoo artists) can do to help give some longevity to our careers is adjust your position and take breaks.
First off, sit up... Lower your seat and raise your client to get their body part closer to you. Remember to keep your shoulders back and if you have to bend, do it from the waist not from the middle of your back. Get as close to your client as you possibly can. Try this when you are doing more mindless tattoos (i.e. filling in large color areas or tribal) so that you can concentrate on both body position and what you are doing. It WILL be really awkward and alien to you at first but it will eventually become second nature. Also try to do this when you are drawing, watching TV, eating and driving so that it can eventually become part of your everyday life.
Secondly, take breaks. I know that it is hard to do but taking breaks can have substantially positive effects on a tattoo artist. I'm not saying that you have to take a 10 minute break every hour, because you would never get anything done. Just little rests can break up the repetitive action that is so detrimental to a tattooer's (or any working person's) muscles, joints and overall health. I like to stand up ever hour or so and stretch. Push up and down on the wrists, do the interlocking finger thing and just kind of shake everything out. It only takes a few seconds but it can add years to your career (in my opinion that is). This can also help with your vision. Look up periodically and let your eyes focus on something far away for just a few seconds. I have noticed a significant decrease in headaches from doing this.
Being a tattooer can be very rough on a human body, just ask any old-timer how they feel every morning. Do yourself a favor and make some changes to your diet and be more active. It can be a little overwhelming at first to try to lose that beer gut, or to break all the bad habits that many years of tattooing have created but after you start to see the results it will motivate you to keep going and do more. Not unlike your career as a tattooer, in that you are always striving to do better tattoos, strive to be healthier so you can do this job that we all love so dearly, longer and more efficiently.
For any questions or comments please feel free to e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brandon Collins can be found at Nightmare Studios Tattoo in Reno, NV.
Related TAM Blog Articles:
Markus Lenhard: Workplace Ergonomics and Long Term Health Improvement Techniques for Tattoo Artists
Durb Morrison: Tattoo Artists, Loosen Your Belts While You Are Tattooing!
Health Issues With Tattooing (Seth Ciferri)
Health Issues With Tattooing (Marcus Kuhn)
Health Issues With Tattooing (Mike Giant)
Health Issues With Tattooing (Mike Rubendall)