Apologies, it has been an age since my last blog!  Life has been really busy: early season fitness testing, training camps, and coaching all take a large amount of my time, however, I also like to keep in touch with my academic background, and over the past few months I have been involved in a fairly large research project…..

It’s not unusual to see elite athletes with tattoos….is there some link with performance?


At present I am unable to reveal full results as we are undergoing the standard peer-review processes that all good academic papers have to be subjected to before they are published to the scientific community.  However, my co-authors have agreed that I can share some of the current finding as we may be looking to expand this work and may need further victims (sorry, I mean subjects).

So what have we been looking at, and what are the results….

Well, it’s not unusual to see elite athletes adorned with tattoos, and we wondered whether there was some link with performance.  It would seem highly unlikely, but from the sheer number of elite performers in a wide range of sports being covering in ink, there maybe something more than just a fashion.  We set out to investigate the impact of having a tattoo on cycling performance, and you may be very surprised by our initial findings!

It isn’t a surprise that Chris Hoy wants to remember his Olympic efforts, but is there more in a tattoo than fashion and vanity?


Our study:

We took 16 club level riders of similar ability, and half of the group willingly had a tattoo of their choice.  The other 8 riders undertook a series of acupuncture sessions that was focused on relaxation.  Riders were tested for VO2max, lactate threshold and 10 mile time trial performance before and after the tattoo/acupuncture sessions.  We were astounded by the results (as mentioned before I am unable to share the full numbers until they have been fully published in a peer-reviewed scientific paper), however in brief we saw the group that had been tattooed:

  • increased VO2max by around 3 percent
  • increased lactate threshold by approximately 17 watts
  • reduced (laboratory) 10 mile time trial performance by 33 seconds
We wonder whether the size and placement of the tattoo has an impact on performance.  For example Adam Duvendeck of the United States, back to camera, during a training session, at the Olympics in Beijing, Friday, Aug. 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)


These changes we believe are significant for athletes of all levels, and whilst we are unclear about the exact mechanism, we believe that there is a connection between the pain tolerance associated with the tattoo process and the ability to suffer during performance.  It leaves us with many more questions and avenues for research, primarily:

  • are the gains short term, or are they sustained
  • will further tattoos give the same performance boosts
  • does body position (and therefore pain levels [for example a rib tattoo]) impact of the level of performance gain achieved
  • is there an impact of the size of the tattoo and sitting time
  • does emotional connection with the tattoo have any additional benefits

All of these studies are going to take a large population of riders to help us better understand the outcomes, and if you are a willing volunteer, please get in touch with us!

In the meantime could the cost and pain of getting a cool tattoo be worth the performance gain???  I am considering this….


…after all I need something bionic to help me go faster!

If you don’t want to consider the option of being inked for life (and are female), another option that you could consider to gain a performance advantage is going through 9 months of pregnancy, and subsequent childbirth, as this has similarly been suggested to have a positive effect on endurance performance (does childbirth improve athletic ability).  From the initial results in our investigations we surmise that some of the performance advantages for pregnancy are not just physiological, and also come from pain tolerance, but again these need to be studied further.

Then again, there are some significant gains in performance that can be gained from training smarter and also by considering methods of enhancing recovery.

I hope this gives you something useful to consider, and if you want to learn more, become a participant in further studies, or want to learn more about the testing and coaching services we offer at Sportstest, please get in touch.


Dr Garry Palmer