Exercising with Natural Hair – Tips to Maintain Your Hair

Exercising with Natural Hair

Is there anyone else besides me who really wants to exercise but is hesitant because of the disaster they know their 4C natural hair will become afterward? We all know that exercise is necessary but come on…who wants to sweat out the hairstyle that took an hour to complete the night before? Who wants to go to the gym with a scarf on looking like they just rolled out of bed?  Worst of all, who wants to feel the hard and brittle texture of their hair after the sweat has dried in it?  Its just plain awful.

However, we can’t let our hair stop us from being the best version of ourselves and that includes being healthy and living an active lifestyle. We’re going to find a solution for our problems and it starts with these tips.

Cleanse Your Hair 

This tip is IMPERATIVE to maintaining healthy natural hair when you work out. You wonder why your hair gets so hard and dry after a workout? The are two reasons:

Salt and Lactic Acid

Salt is osmotic, meaning it literally sucks the water out of your hair, ripping it of its moisture, softness and elasticity. The lack of moisture is what causes the hair to be left dry and brittle. We all know what happens to natural hair when it is too dry…breakage! Lactic acid on the other hand, is just as bad for the hair, if not worse. Lactic acid breaks down the outer layers of the the hair, eventually causing damage to the hair follicle and gradual hair loss.

It’s obvious to see how seriously damaging sweat can be to hair health. I hadn’t even mentioned that the buildup of sweat can also create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Having bacteria in the hair can cause all kinds of scalp conditions such as, folliculitis. Therefore, cleansing the hair is a must.

How Often Should You Cleanse Your Hair

This has been a topic of much controversy for those with natural hair because washing the hair too much can strip the hair of its moisture and irritate the scalp as well. The answer to this question is that it all depends. As a rule of thumb for everyone, if you exercise heavily during the week then you should wash your hair at least once a week. For some this may work very well. If you don’t sweat a lot and your scalp doesn’t feel irritated then you may be able to last that long. My suggestion in the mean time would be to spritz the hair with water. Use enough to allow some of the salt to drain from the hair. Then use a hydrating leave-in conditioner and light moisturizer to add some moisture back into the hair.

For some people, washing the hair sooner may be necessary. If you sweat profusely during a work out and you realize that your scalp is irritated and itchy and your hair has an unappealing odor, then you should not wait a week to wash your hair. My suggestion would be to co-wash your hair once or twice a week or at least rinse the scalp to wash away the sweat.  A co-washing shampoo is the best option because it doesn’t strip the hair of it’s moisture but still acts as a great cleanser. For people (like me) who aren’t able to just rock a wash-n-go, it would be better to wash/rinse your hair while it is twisted or braided. Doing this will make the styling processes a lot faster and will help to retain some of your length. After washing, apply some type of hydrating leave in conditioner and light moisturizer. 

Experiment with Protective Styles

Again, if wash-n-go’s just aren’t an option for you, there are several protective styles that are quick, manageable and very nice, that can be created daily with little hassle. You can experiment with pinups/updo’s. Pinups are great hairstyles that can be achieved whether your hair is loose, braided or twisted. Use bobby pins or clips to achieve your desired look…even add accessories if you like.

Buns and puffs also hairstyle options that are quick and easy to achieve during and post workouts. These hairstyles are all work appropriate, making them good options for people who may have to go to work soon after their workout. Plus, if you are crunched for time and aren’t able to wash your hair right after you exercise, many of these hairstyles are pretty durable and can be maintained throughout your work out. However, just make sure you wash your hair when you get a chance (if you are a person that needs to wash it more than once a week).

Note: I’ll be doing a post on hairstyles that are work appropriate and very nice to give you some options, so stay tuned. 🙂

Stay Away from Heat

Since you are already manipulating your hair more than you would otherwise by rinsing/washing, stay away from heat styling. Flat irons, blow dryers, and other heated styling tools can cause damage to hair on their own. Coupled with hair that has been sweated in or washed everyday, these styling tools can be even more damaging because they put more stress on the hair. Stick to hairstyles that are more low maintenance and allow the hair to rest.

Do What is Best for You

Everyone has a different lifestyle and preferences. Feel free to tweak these tips to your liking. They are only meant to be a starting tool or bases for your hair maintenance. Like I always say, hair health is the most important factor at the end of the day. If there is a method that works better for you, do it! Matter of fact, share it below.

Have you found a way to maintain your natural hair while working out? Please share it in the comments below! 

About author


Angie is the founder & Editor-n-Chief of napturalhairlove.com, a natural hair site and brand encouraging naturals to embrace the hair that God gave them. Through creating a platform where other naturals can shine and also sharing her journey, she hopes to help unveil the unique beauty of natural coils. You can connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.


  1. justin 7 February, 2015 at 03:08 Reply

    i think this kind of info is very important to people with naturally hair, who also live active lifestyles. These are great tips to exercise & live a healthy lifestyle without compromising your hair

    • Angie 19 February, 2015 at 02:43 Reply

      Yes, I completely agree! Plus, it’s a major problem for people with natural hair. Even to the point where some may decide to not work out because of it. That’s not a good option so it’s important to find away to work around those roadblocks. Glad the post was helpful. 🙂

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