Protect Your Hair and Get In a Good Workout

7 ways to work with your hair during exercise sessions, including tips to protect your edges.

By Leslie Quander Wooldridge

You know how it can go. You’re supposed to work out, but you had an exhausting day at work. Or you’re busy taking care of loved ones (and yourself) at home. Or — wait for it — you’re worried about your hair.

I’ve been writing about health and wellness for years. So I know that if you fall into that last category, you’re not alone. While many of us are out here running marathons, lifting weights and looking fierce while killing it at the gym — we see ya’ll — some of us can sit on the sidelines (or on the sofa, let’s be real) because we don’t want to deal with our hair when we sweat. (Just 27 to 41 percent of adult Black women reported meeting federal physical activity guidelines according to one 2018 analysis of four national surveys in AIMS Public Health.)

I mean, washing our hair can be its own side hustle, even when we’re just prepping for a twist out. And a blowout and press can cost as much as dinner for two. (I’ve even skipped a sure-to-be-sweaty salsa party after a night in with my flat iron.) But physical activity can have serious benefits.

If you’re able to move, know that physical activity can help boost your energy and mood along with helping to control weight and preventing or managing concerns like high blood pressure and arthritis, Mayo Clinic reports. It also can help with cognition and better balance, according to the American Heart Association.

Exercise also can promote better sleep (just don’t do it too close to bedtime) and it may even help your sex life by, again, boosting your energy and potentially helping with arousal, according to Mayo Clinic.

Personal trainer and group fitness instructor Crystal Malone, based in Evanston, Illinois, wears her hair straight and understands how it can affect our motivation. “Clients are often afraid to sweat because they don’t want to ruin their hair,” she explains. “And to be honest, I’ve had my moments too. Especially when I have a special event coming.”

“These feelings are normal, but we can’t view skipping workouts as an option,” she adds. “We just have to get a little more creative. Exercising is always the best choice!”

So consider these workarounds if your hair seems to hold you back. And talk to your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about starting or continuing a fitness program.

Schedule your sweatiest sessions. Ideally, you’re getting “at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both,” the American Heart Association recommends. But preferably this activity should be spread throughout the week. So plan moderate activity (brisk walking, dancing and even gardening count!) when your style is fresh. And consider higher-intensity sessions (running or swimming laps) on, or close to, your wash days.

Be open to the new. All workouts don’t begin at the gym. Those that can get you moving without getting super sweaty also include yoga, tai chi and sculpting sessions. You can even try them over lunch.

Tie up your tresses. “Wrap your hair tightly in a satin scarf before your workout and allow your hair to dry before you take it off,” advises Malone. “The tight wrap will help to hold the hair straight when it gets damp.” Yes, this is Black girl wisdom 101, but we know it for a reason. I’m also a fan of buns to keep hair out of my face and pulled together.

Slick on some edge gel. You might be using it anyway because those baby hairs need to behave. “Edge gel is a lifesaver! When my roots revert to their natural state, I’ll slick my hair back into a ponytail,” Malone reveals.

Embrace your natural texture. You may feel more relaxed if styling your hair doesn’t feel like another marathon. For serious activity, a natural style could be the move.

Pop your hair into a pineapple. You know this style, a loose ponytail on top of your head for bedtime prep. But it also can help protect your curls from denting or frizzing during workout time, notes Malone.

Believe in braids. You don’t need them all over. Malone appreciates goddess braids along her hairline to help with puffy edges. But if you want more, go for it. To help avoid hair pulling and hair loss, just make sure you’re not braiding too tight or keeping the braids in too long.

And there it is: Our hair doesn’t have to stop us from taking control of our health. Now if we could only find more time. Oh, look … here are some quick tips for time management. We can help with that, too.

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