Source: Whitney Dolsy
Every black woman would likely agree that working out with black hairstyles can be challenging. We deal with the intense anxiety of scalp sweat and the weight of extensions–and don’t even get me started on swimming when you have that chic hairstyle on!
The reality is that, for most black styles, there’s no such thing as wash-and-go. Every black hairstyle requires a process involving thorough thought and planning.. All of those obstacles can easily discourage us from working out altogether.
You ‘quick-spritz-of-dry-shampoo’ people don’t have to worry about special planning. As for those of us with natural, weave, braids, or relaxed hair, we know our style needs some intense love, time, and attention. These necessities can genuinely influence how often black women hit the gym.
Imagine training with butt-length box braids. Just so you know, that is no walk in the park. It’s hard to run around with five pounds of extra weight affixed directly to your scalp. When you run, it hurts; jumping is unthinkable, and even turning your head at any speed is a daunting task.
As if all those challenges aren’t enough, you also have to deal with the sweat that comes afterward. The decision to wash or not to wash can be complicated. For example, box braids don’t last forever, and the more you wash these braids, the quicker they go frizzy. This happens especially if you have a slightly more delicate, mixed-race texture.
So, what’s the way out? No one wants to live with an itchy, sweaty scalp for weeks. These struggles we face as women of color, and our options for finding solutions , will be my focus in this post. Keep reading!
The Struggles and the Endless List of Impractical Options
First, you can consider the option of applying ‘refresh’ oils to your scalp. These oils work a bit like dry shampoo, purifying the skin. However, it’s a strenuous process trying to dot oil between hundreds of braids. Plus, you never feel truly clean after applying the oils.
Even those with natural hair still face barriers to their gym goals. They can still do some form of fitness training on most days, but they always avoid swimming. Even strong swimmers who really enjoy it as a pastime find that the challenge of washing their hair afterward means it’s never worth the stress.
No one wants to hang around their local leisure center deep-conditioning their hair for 40 minutes, while their white friends skip off for brunch with their hair in clean post-swim messy buns. The struggle is real, indeed!
You may be wondering why you can’t just give it a quick rinse or wash it later? The answers are simple. First off, chlorine and black hair do not blend well. Secondly, if you don’t get that pool water out of your hair immediately, you’re inviting a matted nightmare. Eventually, you will need an appointment with the kitchen scissors, which you will hate yourself for.
As for travel-size hair products: they don’t quite cut it. Most women of color need a vat of conditioner every time they wash their hair. The mere thought of lugging leave-in products, your conditioner, and your dry oil around is overwhelming.
Overall, most black hairstyles are costly. Therefore, the last thing you want to do after paying hundreds of pounds or dollars and spending several hours getting ombre crochet braids or a mermaid weave is to get hot and sweaty and ruin your stunning hairstyle. No one ever wants frizzy edges!
Dealing with the Struggles of Working out with Black Hairstyles
A 2014 study showed that 45% of black women in America avoid exercise because of their hair. It’s likely a similar story in other parts of the world. Even so, I believe there must be a way to make it easier. I’ve drawn insights from the opinions and experiences of women of color who’ve faced these struggles, and they help to shine a light on possible solutions.
Their coping strategy often comes down to careful planning, unwavering devotion, and a readiness to leave the house at an ungodly hour.
- Our first story is of Kimberley, a policy officer and columnist.
Kimberley confessed that box braids made doing any fitness program nearly inconceivable: “I grew my relaxer out over about two years. Last year I had grown most of it and was ready to experiment with different styles. For winter, I got long black and gray expression extensions put into box braids,” she explains to Metro.co.uk.
According to Kimberley, “The initial pain was unreal, pretty unbearable and itchy. Even when it stopped, the weight meant I couldn’t tie it up in a bun or a ponytail that would stay. This made most cardio at the gym really difficult as the bun would inevitably fall out, and heavy plaits were flying everywhere and putting pressure on my scalp. Yoga was impossible – you can’t really downward dog with plaits crowding your vision and the pulling hurting your head. I had to stick to the cross trainer.”
Recently, Kimberley confessed to wanting to try something new, but her hair is always an obstacle:.
“I want to take swimming lessons this winter and having learned my lesson from last year will be leaving it short and smothering it in conditioner to try and counteract the inevitable dryness the chlorine will cause. It’s not easy.”
- Our second story is of Janice, a sales trainer and consultant.
Janice struggled for years to work out with her relaxed hair. As she explained to Metro.co.uk, “I used to run half marathons, and I still do 10Ks. In the gym, I love spinning, pump classes, yoga, and hot yoga. I struggled for a long time with my relaxed hair. I sweat a lot and it would ruin my hairstyle, and so I often had to think whether it was worth going to the gym if I had an event that evening. I would use Witch Hazel to freshen my hair and I washed my hair more often with the straightening chemicals; this took a toll on my hair strength.”
She continues “The hardest thing was the cost to keep my hair looking good, although my hair was suffering from the damage and I did not think my hair looked great because working out really compromised its condition. That’s why I knew I had to find an alternative. Now, I plait my hair and have it up in intricate designs that I can glam-up, but always looks good whether I go to hot yoga or spinning.”
- Then, there is Rochelle, a trader from Manchester.
Rochelle is a devoted gym bunny. She’s into anything that gets you hot and sweaty. However, that lifestyle doesn’t pair well with her hair type.
She explains, “I do two spinning classes and two HIIT sessions a week, so it gets really sweaty. Depending on what style it’s in, getting sweaty can really ruin it and there isn’t often a lot of time to make it look good again, especially as I work out before work in the mornings. What I often end up doing is leaving it tied up and waiting for it to dry, but when I do that I know it could really damage my hair.”
Rochelle also added that her biggest hair-related struggle after exercise is not forgetting all the little things she needs.
In her own words, “There’s so much preparation before and maintenance afterward. If I forget a product or comb when I go to the gym, it makes it so much harder to sort out afterwards. Planning is key. I tend to work out Monday to Thursday, so then I can wash and restyle it over the weekend when I’m more likely to be going out and needing to look presentable!”
Tips to Conquer Hair Struggles While Working OUt
The natural salts in sweat can dry out your hair and scalp, resulting in a lot of damage or breakage. Allowing sweat to linger in your hair for an extended period will dry it out.
If you go to the gym regularly, it’s critical to stick to a weekly cleansing and conditioning routine. Putting a mild oil on your hair and scalp will help. The more you exercise, the more you’ll need to hydrate your hair.
- Choose the best hairstyle to suit your workout routine
Select a hairstyle specifically for every sport! For example, the high bun is ideal for Pilates workouts, because it keeps your hair out of your face while allowing your head to remain flat. In contrast, wearing your hair in a high ponytail with a headband at the hairline is ideal for high-impact aerobics.
Braids are wonderful for skiing because they keep your hair clear of tangles and knots caused by downward wind. They’re also suitable for cycling because they fit well under a helmet.
- Opt for workout-friendly bands.
“Buy a headband made of moisture-wicking cloth for your workout.” Bondi Band, Nike, and Lululemon all provide excellent options that are stretchy, breathable, and meant to keep your head cool and dry.
- Stay Away from Baseball hats
Baseball hats should be banned because “they may keep your hair out of your face, but a baseball cap increases the heat on the scalp, which leads to increased sweating.”
- Brush Your Hair before Working Out
If you’re on Team Extensions, brush your hair before a workout. When you start moving, your extensions can become matted or knotted. Hair should be brushed and styled into a high ponytail or top knot. We recommend braiding extensions into a large plait.
It’s best to replace dry shampoo with conditioning gel to care for extensions or any other protective style after a workout. It refreshes the hair and scalp like dry shampoo, but it won’t destroy your style.
- Activate the Cool Button
Allow your hair to cool down before removing it from a high bun. Using a hairdryer on a cold setting is a great technique. Blow chilly air over your hair and scalp for two to three minutes, or until all moisture has been eliminated.
- Consider wearing a silk accessory
Consider wearing a silk hair accessory. This is one example of how taking simple actions before getting physical can make a significant difference. To protect your hair during exercise, choose a preventative strategy based on your hair texture or style.
A simple hair accessory can help people with relaxed and natural textures, as well as those who want to keep their blowout. “Wrapping your hair in a satin or silk headscarf or a doo-rag and fastening it with a doo-rag will protect it from perspiration dampness. Alternatively, while hair is in a ponytail, put a sweatband or silk wrap over the hairline to help keep it laid and absorb sweat,” Jackson suggests.
Aim higher if you have dreads, braids, or twists. “When working out, don’t let your hair down. Breakage might occur due to the shifting, shaking, and bouncing. Make a bun on top of your head with your hairstyle. A half-up the half-down style will do the trick if your style is shorter. Undo as soon as your sweat session is finished and leave strands to hang loosely while air drying.”
- Botox shot to the scalp.
Though this may sound excessive, many women who have hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) have found relief with Botox shots to the scalp. These injections can help reduce perspiration in this area and maintain your hair health by extending the time between washes.
Consider These Ideal Workout Hairstyles
- Ponytail with a low cut
A slicked-back low ponytail is ideal for wearing your hair down quickly after a workout while still looking presentable. To avoid post-workout frizz, pull any loose strands away from your face and secure the ponytail at the nape of your neck.
- Fulani inspired hairdo
The best grip combined with the ultimate look! We’re swooning over the prospect of wearing Fulani braids to our next barre, pilates, or yoga class. The hairdo is sleek and close to the scalp, thanks to the flat braiding technique, so it won’t be bothersome or uncomfortable if you decide to take an unexpected headstand!
- The Pineapple
The pineapple is the most low-maintenance and straightforward hairdo available. It’s ideal for sprints and fast, high-impact exercise. It doesn’t require any fancy hairstyling abilities, and if braids and plaits are too fiddly for you, this is a perfect alternative
Keep your pineapple high to reduce the time your hair comes into contact with your clothes. You want to avoid any unwanted friction or breakage! Remember that moisturized hair is less likely to break.
The LOC method (using a liquid, then an oil, and then a cream, in that order) or the LCO method (applying a liquid, then an oil, and then a cream, in that order) can effectively moisturize your hair before and after gym sessions.
- Buns in space
Want to make your workout look like it’s from the 1990s? Then we can’t say enough about space buns. We love this hairdo for dancing or Zumba lessons, whether it’s worn high or low.
Cornrows are ideal for you if your workouts are reactive, high-speed, or intense.
This hairdo can handle just about everything you throw at it. As a result, you’ll be able to focus on your activity rather than your hair!
- Head Wrap
Head scarves are appropriate for any season or activity. Wrap a scarf around your head when you’re having a horrible hair day, and you want to forget about it and go for a run or a class to release those endorphins.
Simply braid or twist your hair to avoid a lumpy or bumpy appearance on your headcover. You can also liven up your exercise updo with an attractive head wrap!
Aesthetic interests like hair should never stand between you and your fitness goals. This is easy to say, but we can agree at this point that the practicalities of sustaining your black hairstyles make working out complicated for women of color.
However, if you’re determined to achieve your fitness goals, come up with a routine and stick to it. You might need to assign a set day for washing your hair, or make sure you always have conditioner in your gym bag. Good planning goes a long way towards making fitness easier and more effective for you.
Remember to prioritize what is important when listing your goals. I know there’s nothing quite like walking down the street with your hair blowing in the breeze or your curls finally cooperating for a bomb twist out, but being physically fit is just as satisfying.
It all comes down to balancing the needs of your health and your hair. As black women, we’re in a partnership with our hair, and, as in any other relationship, compromise is essential. Don’t let your hair hold you back; you can find a way around the challenges!
One thought on “Hairstyles and Workouts: The Struggles of Staying Fit and Slaying”
I just work out with my natural hair and leave the poof. If I want to be saucy I get Marley twists which are surprisingly light. It surprises me that people let their hair dictate their health. When all else fails, I put a wrap on but I have also been working from home for the past 7 years. I’m a really lazy 4C natural.