5 ways Black women care for their hair during workouts

While time, motivation and work stress might be common barriers to fitness, Black women face an additional obstacle: haircare. Writer Brenda Patrick has been exploring ways to get around the sweaty difficulties of exercising with afro hair.

If you’re a gym-goer with straight or easy-to-manage hair, then you’re probably used to washing it in the gym showers. All you have to do is use the shampoo and conditioner on offer and then blow-dry or towel your locks in the changing room after. Simple! Sure, you’ve got to navigate common barriers to fitness such as menstrual cramps, stress, time and lack of motivation to actually get to the gym in the first place, but we Black women have an additional barrier to movement: haircare.

When I started my own fitness journey, I was filled with enthusiasm. Having taken the decision to get strong, I was raring to take my health to the next level andcouldn’t wait to start seeing results. But I gave up almost immediately after I started –and it was all to do with my hair. 

You may also like

How often should you wash activewear? How to kill off germs while protecting gym clothes

I found that if my hair was braided, doing cardio exercises became as hard as hell. Jumping felt like I had an extra 3kg weight pulling at my scalp. Before long, it felt like my roots were becoming weaker.

And then there was the fact that my scalp was covered in sweat after working out. Now, that might be something other women expect to experience, but in my case, all that sweating left my scalp incredibly itchy. I knew that excess sweat wasn’t good for my hair, so I resorted to washing it after every workout. And that only made matters worse because my hair got drier by the day.

Regular washing isn’t good for Black hair; in order to be healthy, it needs to have all its natural oils intact. That’s because it tends to be drier and more fragile than other types of hair – and shampoo works by stripping hair of everything, whether that’s flakes, product build-up, sweat or oil.

I thought about other forms of exercise that might get my heart pumping without making me break into a sweat. Swimming? Absolutely not: chlorine isn’t massively friendly to Black hair. It dries it out by breaking down the amino acids in the hair and, as someone who’s already experienced quite a bit of breakage, I didn’t want to risk any more. There’s also the fact that most haircaps don’t cater to afro hair (although Soul Cap is one brand designed specifically to support Black swimmers). 

I’m not alone in finding my hair’s become a barrier. In fact, one paper found that 45% of Black women in the US avoid exercise because of their hair. And that’s a problem: we, like everyone else, could benefit massively from moving more. The benefits of vigorous exercise are well known and if we allow our hair to get in the way, we’re missing out on the mental, physical and social positives of movement.

So, I’ve been asking other Black women how they look after their hair during exercise to see if I’m missing a few tricks. These are the five hacks I tried on their recommendations. 

How to care for afro hair at the gym

Moisturise and cleanse regularly (if possible)

When you exercise, you sweat a lot. Sweat contains salt, which can make your hair dry. And as you know, dryness can equal damage.

A weekly wash or cleanse followed by conditioning might be enough; I used a light oil after conditioning to lock in the moisture. If you do have braids, washing regularly may not be an option as you’ll probably want to try to avoid frizz as much as possible. Instead, try spraying your hair with water and then applying a moisturising conditioner and a light oil afterwards. 

Use a satin head wrap

I love using head wraps – they’re not only chic but they’re also convenient for relaxed and natural hair. Oh, and they also go some way to help keep your hair protected from sweat while you exercise. A satin or silk durag, scarf or headband will do the trick.

Durags are my favourite option because they cover my entire hair as well as my hairline and keep them laid. Again, if you’ve got braids, you can just use a silk wrap around your hairline. But don’t tie it too tightly – you don’t want to damage your hair follicles.

Always dry before unwrapping

If you choose to keep your hair wrapped up, you should wait for it to dry before unwrapping it. You can use mild heat to dry up any moisture to prevent it from puffing up. If you’ve got a gym changing room with hairdryers, this might be your best option. 

You may also like

Afro hair styling: “A celebration of my natural hair after years of bad relaxers and hiding it away”

Exercise in a well-ventilated room or outdoors

Lots of gymshave powerful AC units blowing cold air all over the weights area. That can help with quick drying, but equally, you don’t want the AC sucking all the moisture from your hair.

I prefer to work out in an open environment rather than an air-conditioned one; running outside or doing a pilates practice on your balcony not only has plenty of mental wellbeing benefits but it also may help with sweat wicking.

Try a protective hairstyle

And then, of course, there’s choosing a protective hairstyle that’s not likely to move much when you’re exercising. 


While I’ve found it difficult to do cardio with braids, it’s still a go-to style. I keep them short so they add less weight to my scalp, and I tend to pack them in a bun or a low ponytail to keep them out of my face. I also recommend making the braids larger to keep your hair protected and less prone to breakage. Read our guide to keeping braids tidy for longer.

Braids can be uncomfortable, so it’s best to keep them short and tied up to reduce strain on your roots.


For me, twists are the easiest DIY protective hairstyles for workout. They take less than 20 minutes to style and take down post workout. And they look great whether you keep them in or take them out.

I personally don’t like the feeling of hair on my body while exercising, so again, I just pack them into a small bun leaving two twists in front for extra style. I recommend using a light oil to take it down to reduce breakage.  


“This is my go-to style because it’s very convenient and lasts as long as four weeks,” says Shalom Okpabi, a 20-year-old fitness enthusiast.

She recommends cornrows if you’re into intense exercise as they can just about withstand anything. “I wash mine as often as once a week and it still looks great after three weeks. Plus, I can always throw a wig on post-workout when it gets frizzy. Sometimes I’d use a durag to protect my hair and edges from sweat.” 


Tosin Afolabi, a natural hair content creator, tells Stylist: “A pineapple is super easy. My hair can stay like that for lazy days and still rock.”

This hairstyle lets your hair fall forward and keeps it on top of your head. That way, your hair stays off your back and neck while you exercise. I recommend holding your edges down with gel so you don’t have to deal with frizzy edges after exercise. 

Pineapple styles can be a good shout if you don’t like the feeling of hair on your skin as you workout.

Short hair

And if you’re really dedicated to your workout and over the whole hair convo, then going for a super-short cut might just be the way forward. It’s low maintenance and requires minimal styling and, unlike the rest, you can just wash and go whenever you get sweaty. 

Images: Getty/Brenda Patrick/Tosin Afolabi

Source: Read Full Article