Black Women, Hair, and Exercise. Tips From the Pros

Here’s one natural hair story I’m sick of — the “black women don’t exercise because of their hair” story. It’s been written too many times and guess what? It isn’t necessarily true.

Image via naturallyleslie.blogspot.com

Yes, sure — there are women of color who don’t want to get their hair all sweaty, especially after getting their hair freshly done from a salon. I think that holds true for women across ethnic lines — women of all races have their own hair hangups and concerns. And I am of the personal belief that if you’re gonna let your hair be the reason you don’t exercise, the issue probably goes deeper than that. There are many other reasons we don’t work out as much as we should. You might blame it on the hair, but more often it really is about what lies underneath it. It’s all about the MIND. Tapping into the motivation within, finding the time in your day and then fighting the phobias that keep your rooted to your seat and staring vacantly at a computer or television. That’s where fitness truly begins, and to be really real with you, that’s the battle I’m fighting.

I can’t claim to identify with the the “black women don’t exercise because of their hair” story. Because I wear my hair natural, I don’t really have any hair-related excuses. My own mind prevents me from greatness and I’m doing my best to overcome THAT. It’s about so much more than hair. It’s about scraping myself up out of my chair and away from blogging and social media long enough to hit the gym or do my Core Fusion DVD workout. It’s finding the time and devoting it to MYSELF.

But for those of us who have lamented about not knowing how to wear our hair while working out, for those of you who have felt like the need to wear your hair in a particular way while working up a sweat — I reached out to some experts. Two of these women have run marathons this year. One of them just appeared on the Dr. Oz show to share her amazing weight loss story. All of them wear proudly wear their natural hair, and have figured out how to keep their hair cute even while exercising.


Tina Shoulders is the creator of popular pop-culture inspired home furnishings line, Laidback. And she ran the Nike Marathon this year — check out all of her training info at beautifulathlete.com.. Here’s what she had to say about natural hair, styling techniques, and her workout regimen.

I’ve been natural for about 16 years now and have gone from years filled with monthly spurts of exercise to disciplined running. My exercise doesn’t affect my styling too much. I sweat profusely and there is just no geting around it, so many times I just let my hair rock in a high afro puff or have the occasional cornrowed style.

I started running about summer time last year, early last year I was speedwalking with the occasional block long run in between and I lost a 6 year old (about 60 lbs) and it felt amazing! So in taking back my health I decided I would use my new superpower to raise money for a major health issue that both of my parents were affected by and many friends, cancer. So I trained and completed a half marathon, and then another this year I decided why not go all in? I also needed something more, I am transitioning in my life’s dreams and refocusing goals and in the midst of a major shift and just needed something that would propel me to challenge myself for a better more fulfilling life.

…Men love a sweaty woman with endurance, LOL! I meet more men while running than when I am dressed nicely with every hair [in place]. But really its about life and preserving our life and that trumps a cute hairstyle any day. However that being said and vanity many times getting the best of us, try a high bun or high loose ponytail if you have long hair because it lets your hair breath a bit more, so it doesn’t get so sweaty. Talk to other women working out in your area that seem to manage still looking good while working out and get tips and tricks from them. As far as feeling restricted by your body, nobody is really paying you that much attention. I know when I was alot heavier I would always think that someone might be looking or laughing at my jiggle, they weren’t. We are our own biggest critic and if we don’t like the way we look or feel we think about everybody else snickering and they are not. You simply have to get over it and for me I wore the tights and tanks, get something cute that fits and feel good about yourself. It makes you want to work even harder.

When training, Tina wore her hair in a cornrowed style and refreshed the style once a week. Here she is after running her first marathon!


Renisha James is a personal trainer available for hire in Chicago — check her out at Renewed Fitness! This year she ran the Chicago Marathon, and is an active member of the local chapter of Black Girls Run — click here to find a group near you!

Photo by chuckstrphoto.com

At one point in my life, yes exercise did play a small role in how I wore my hair. Whenever I first got my hair done (relaxed) I always took a few days off of exercising because I didn’t wanna “sweat my hair out”. After running became something very important to me, I’d just slip my hair back into a ponytail and wear it like that for weeks. I sort of transitioned out of wanting to preserve my hair, to wanting to preserve and feel good about my body and health. It no longer mattered if my hair would “sweat out” or not.

My first inspiration into the marathon world was when I went to volunteer at the Chicago Marathon as a senior in high school. I just couldn’t believe all those people were going to run 26.2 miles, but somehow I wanted to try it and to be able to say I did it. Since that day, it’d been on my “Bucket List”. 10 years and 3 marathons later, I’m almost addicted to it. The preparation for it has pushed me to (and through) limits I never thought I’d ever encounter both physically and mentally. It’s the ultimate challenge of strength, but has shown me what I’m made of. It helps tremendously to have supportive people around you and running with you, especially if it’s your first one.

To women of color who want to do what I’m doing, but feel restricted by their hair or their bodies — I want to tell them there’s nothing you can’t do. Change the way you’re thinking and make yourself and your health a priority. Your hair shouldn’t hold you back from taking care of something so important. Find and research styles, techniques that will preserve your beautiful crown, then…get moving.


Erika Kane is the creator of incredibly motivational and inspiring blog Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. She has lost well over 100 pounds by changing the way she ate and the way she lives, and her recipe guides have been helping other women change their lives through clean eating. She recently addressed hair and exercise in this post.


For me, exercise is the reason why I stopped straightening my hair. The minute I started actively and regularly doing cardio, I realized my hair would be an issue. It’s long, it’s thick and it took forever to straighten… but I was walking/running every day. There’s no way in the world that I was going to be putting heat on my hair every single day after a run. If it was difficult to make time for the run, it would’ve been an epic struggle to find time for the hair every day, as well.

In my mind, I understand feeling restricted by your body more than by your hair, because you can have legitimate physical issues that hinder your ability to run safely and without developing injury. Knee issues, joint issues… that’s how you know you need to simply be gentle with yourself and start off slow with walking. Your body becomes accustomed to the activity and your issues fade… and that’s coming from someone whose knees made this embarrassing cracking sound every time she ran. Hair? Pfft – it’s all about what you want. Have the confidence to know you can make any hairstyle look good and get adventurous with it. Put your hair in twists and plant them in a bun in the back of your head. Give yourself two big pixie braids on the sides of your head. There are tons of styles for women who cannot keep their hair straight and want to be runners, you just have to be confident and adventurous enough to give them a shot!

I hope these women inspired you, if you felt stuck for workout hair inspiration! I’m working on working out and they sure inspired me!

What are YOUR best hair workout tips?

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Comments

  1. Hair should be the least of our worries.. I never worried about my hair even back when I had a relaxer.. My health is much more important period. I am sweat heavily in my head so I towel dry after each workout and if it’s a morning or midday workout I may use a lil Ojon dry shampoo.. at least 2x a week I use seabreeze on my scalp to help with itchiness. I teach Jazzercise 4x a week and run 2-3x a week… Hair be damned.

    • BK,where do you teach? I’m about to head out to my class (student) in a few minutes. I’ve been natural for about 6 years and a few months ago, permed my hair and have regretted it everysince. My hair is cut in a faded type ‘doo and now I’m sporting a wig. The wig is killing me (LOL). I’m on day 11 of the Insanity Workout and go to Jazzercise 3 days a week. So now, with sweating 6 days a week. I believe I will let this perm go AGAIN. You are right, after my first workout after getting the perm, I slacked up because my “beautifuly” hairdoo just drooped and all I could think of was that I just got it done 2 days ago. thanks for sharing & you are right, hair should be the least of our worries….

  2. Any swimmers out there? I just got back in the pool after a long, long break and I really want to keep going with it, but I’m scared of what the chlorine will do to my hair. Any tips would be appreciated!

    • The BLENDED BEAUTY LINE offers a range of products that seal and protect your hair (it`s techincally a `kids line`) but it definetly protects hair from stuff like swimming.

  3. Sherry Blossom says:

    The only thing I worry about when exercising is if i’m keeping the proper form of the exercise im doing (Ive done different Insanity workouts and this is KEY!) and the second thing I worry about is can I keep this healthier living going continuously (I just finished a 30 days to get Fit Challenge on my blog at the beginning of the month and i’m still going strong!) So I guess my answer is wet/sweaty/frizzy/puffy/disheveled hair is FINE…. especially if its attached to a healthy body :) Thanks for addressing this!

    • Amen Sherry! I decided to be ok with having great hair 3 of 7 days in a week. After that 3rd day I’m in the gym at least 3 times. Thanks to that commitment I’ve been able to loose 49 pounds and keep it off!

      • @Shaye…..i do the samething…mon.tues.wed. im in the gym wed i wash my hair and tht way way im good thru the weekend to do whtever.

    • I’m on day 11 of the Insanity Workout. My hair is permed but I think I’m going to go back natural. This perm is for the birds when working out….

  4. Exercising does not have to be synonymous with bad hair days. In fact, you can improve the health of yur hair by the heat generated from your scalp which will help condition the hair.

  5. i used to have major issues with working out because i didn’t want to ruin my new washed and styled hair, but i have finally passed that phase and now if i work out, i just wash my hair at home to get the sweat out and call it a day.. i want both a healthy mind, body and HAIR :-) great post..

  6. Cassandra says:

    Would love suggestions for loc wearers when working out. Updo ponytail rinse and then dry? I dance for exercise and dont mind sweating just need ideas to freshen up after!!!

  7. Don’t worry about hair.Wash it regularly with a good shampoo keeping it free of dust and dandruff.

  8. I like to look good and hair IS important to me. I am like plenty of black women who do spend a lot of time thinking about their hair. I wear my hair natural, and one of the reasons that I wear it that way (besides the fact that I look darn good with natural hair) is because its easier to maintain, especially while being active.

    I wear my hair in small two strand twists (no extensions), and I put my hair in a ponytail when I exercise (I put a scarf and a knit hat on while I run outside in cold weather).

    I plan on training for triatholns in the future, and part of when and how I train IS dicated by hair as well. My plan is to mainly do this in warm weather and either find an adaquate swim cap or to wear wash and gos.

  9. Melly Mel says:

    I”m currently relaxed and have worn my hair natural and I would attest that there is a difference in your willingness to sweat depending on the amount of time and money invested in relaxed hair. When I find myself being reluctant to hit the treadmill because I don’t want to ruin my short relaxed cut I think its a total bummer and keeps me from feeling the freedom that comes with being natural. Avoiding sweat is so wacksauce.

    It’s a quandary but relaxed hair should not stop sisters from working out. Working out is a must in treating yourself well. Too often us sisters adorn ourselves with the latest beauty products and fashion discoveries and skimp on the most important aspect of our overall beauty: our health.

  10. I know 2 things for sure:

    1) Most people on the planet have some type of wavy, curly, or kinky hair.
    2) For optimal health, the human body must move.

    Who am I, then, to say hair and exercise don’t mix?

    Some believe afro-textured hair protects us from UV radiation, and springy coils allow for increased air circulation…a bonus for the outdoor fitness buff.

    As for me, on the days when I’m not wearing my go-to-style, the twist out, I get by with baseball caps or letting Mother Nature style my hair. When it’s all said and done, I get loads of positive attention for my natural hair and fit body. (I’ve been natural for over 20 years and an exercise enthusiast for 15.)

    I say, “Go on. Sweat it out.”

    When black women finally make peace with their hair (and get on with the business of living), we will be unstoppable!

  11. As for Black Women and their hair, I have been a Hairstylist for over 20 years. I have had the pleasure of seeing alot of trends come and go,ie the Jerri Curl hard curls relaxers , texturizers treads locs just to name a few. I do believe in excersize as a priority not only does it keep your body and mind healthy it also indirectly nourishes your hair.
    One of the tips that I share with clients that have long hair is to put the hair in a high loose ponytail. this will allow the scalp to breath and reduce the amount of perspiration that deposits on the hair, short hair can be wrapped. tie it down with a scarf around the sides and back, leave the scarf on during and after the workout . take your shower etc. by the youre dressed the hair should have molded on the sides laying nice and smooth. If you have to shampoo every day , instead of shampoo use a moisturizing conditioner to cleanse the hair. This will avoid the lost of natural oils being lost due to over cleansing.
    Then also Wigs and Weaves are a workable options, as long as its done properly and concerne for the overall condition of the hair is the priorty.

  12. I put my hair up in a crazy librarian bun during my workouts.

  13. I never really understood this whole idea that you can’t work out with relaxed hair. I don’t even understand the idea that it is supposedly easier to handle natural hair while working out, esp. not if you have really long and/or thick hair.
    I worked out like mad with relaxed hair. Chemically straightened hair cannot revert. I had really long and thick hair. I wore it in a loose bun to work out, and afterwards, while getting dressed, tied it down and made a neater bun for work or school. It also meant that if I felt I needed a wash mid-week, it was easy to kind of wash, condition, and go b/c I’d pull my hair into a bun or ponytail that I’d properly tend to (rollerset for example) after work. And during the weekend, I’d pull the hair through the back of a baseball cap and let the length air dry.

    Now I’m natural, and yes, have a ton of hair again. I have found a routine that works well for me since there is no way I can wash my natural hair more than once a week (no time). It works, and I’ve found a method that lets me have good hair days about 95% of the time post workout even though I sweat a LOT in my head.

    But I can’t lie, between the two things, the relaxed hair, which was only a few inches from my waist at its longest, was 100x easier, and on days when I have to rush in right after working out, the results aren’t as good (I ideally want time to let some of the dampness from the workout to air dry before I unravel the twists that I sleep and workout in).

    I really think that when discussing this, it’s not so much the relaxed hair but the fact that a lot of women didn’t do their own hair. I was shocked by how many of my college friends didn’t even learn to do their own relaxed hair. I could to my own hair start to finish. No heat tools, just rollers and a comb. Therefore, no “fear” of having to do it again. I just was low maintenance and it was really healthy that way.

    So yeah, I think the hair might be the excuse but the mental hurdle is probably the hardest thing.

  14. I agree with Nic, I’m doing a small study on this. We have over 1100 participants so far, and looking at their answers women who exercise regularly tend to do their own hair, no matter what style they are wearing. Getting heat free is a big help because it makes doing it yourself a lot safer, no worries about burning out your ends So salon independence seems to be the most important factor in exercising.

    As for the bloggers original question-I don’t straighten my hair anymore and my favorite exercise friendly style is double strand twists. They even last through a swim if I treat them properly afterwards.

  15. I work out 6-7 days /week. I did so while I was relaxing and now that I am natural ( been natural since 2000).

    I do at least 1-2 hrs of pure, high intensity cardio and I am totally soaked (hair and all) at the end of a work out.

    I wear my hair in a bun or a high puff and wear a sweat band around the front during my work out. I wash once a week, cowash every 2-3 days and DC weekly. I also use aruyvedic powders (shikaki, henna, brahmi and amla) 1-2x/ month.
    Daily hair styles include buns, puffs, twist outs or some variation of the three. I work in a white collar environment and have never had issues with hair styling options/ professional appearance.

  16. Forgot to add:

    I tend to work out in the evening, after work.

    On the days that I do not co-wash:
    I come home, take my hair down and let it air dry, then put 2 strand twists in (10-12 twists) for a twist out the nest day.

    On co-wash days, I wash, towel dry, put in a leave-in conditioner and style according to however I intend on wearing my hair the next day

    I do not use a blow dryer, flat iron or hot comb on my hair. I also do not wear wigs, weaves or any form of attached hair.

  17. Afrobella thank you so much for this post. This is such an inspiration and reminder of why I went ‘natural’- was to get myself physically together. Thanks for all the info!

  18. As one who exercises by running, yoga and aerobics, I have never related to the idea that women of color do not exercise because of their hair. It’s a really sad excuse and although I am sure that there are those who feel that way, I just can’t imagine that hair trumps health and wellness. Thankfully, I have seen quite a number of women of color in various places working out at the gym, Central Park races or even in their neighborhood. I even saw Tina on a jog while heading to a meeting. It was such a fun sighting, I love to see people working out, especially those of color as we have suffered the most in the areas of health and wellness. Thanks for addressing this topic, a great post!

  19. RocketGirl says:

    I love exercise and even when I had a relaxer, I worked out every morning. Now that I’m natural I continue to workout everyday and enjoy not worrying about my hair. I think we have to remember that hair is hair. Its ment to go through many different cycles of growth and shedding. Your health and wellness is another thing. Not only do I have more energy but there is no greater feeling than not needing to squeeze into your favorite jeans, skirt our blouse because everything fits! I feel sexier more vibrant and live when my body is toned my skin is beautiful and my natural hair is bouncy and healthy.

  20. Since I work in an air conditioned office, my hair gets really dry, really fast (kinda helps that I’m mixed too). Since I work out once a week, I put a conditioner in it and then feel free to sweat it out. Since i dont have to steam anymore it saves on the hair dresser bill too!

  21. Well ladies, I hate to be the odd one out but I have to tell it like it is for me! I am not lazy or glued to blogs and devices. I am health conscious and i enjoy exercise. However, I also enjoy looking like a gave a hoot about my hair. I am a religious relaxer because I am PARTICULARLY nappy headed (sorry if the term is insulting, I mean no harm clearly since I’m referring to myself) and on top of that I have the nerve to be awfully “tender headed”! I don’t like the look of locks or my natural hair so going natural is not a viable option for me. I relax. Its what I’ve always done, its what I plan to do. During that week when I’ve spent $120 of my family’s money to go to the salon you’d better believe I will not be in the gym. Unfortunate, but true. Say what u will. After that week, I go and go hard I do. I need tips on how to look normal after a workout without losing 2 hours of my already too short day. Any tips? Not other options, just tips. Like the stylist gave (shout out to you!) Is there really no one else out there who understands?

    • My daughter called me at work today,she’s 30yrs old. She said,” Mom for Mother’s Day I want you to find out what can she do with her hair while exercising. She sweats alot and there goes the relaxer! So if you have any tips or ideas P-L-E-A-S-E email me

  22. Djenane Scott says:

    I don’t mean to be negative but I not only want the healthy and nice body but I want the hair as well. I sweat like a dude and this hair is soaked after every workout. People say I should go natural but I don’t see that ever happening for me. I’ll never give up working out but I just wish I knew what to do with this hair. Pony tails are so bad. I’d have to put a pound of gell just to be presentable. I press or curl it in the morning for work but by noon it’s flat. HELP!!

  23. Shenell says:

    I still haven’t seen any good tips for women with locs. Mine are nearly waist length. Buns fall easily during a good cardio workout and high ponytails do not stop the dripping sweat. With locs washing and twisting my hair weekly is not an option. I would work out alot more if it did not require so much hair maintenance. Locs don’t dry as fast as unbound hair so the sweat is an issue. I am all natural but I refuse to walk around with sweat stinky hair because of a workout.
    How can a lady with locs work up a good sweat and still upkeep her hair without having to washvand retwist after each workout? Thnx!

  24. I agree with Nic’s comments about relaxed hair not reverting after working out and the problem being most people don’t know how to take care of their hair. I was natural for a year and a half and when I worked out my hair puff up and the braid outs couldn’t even help it. Since I went back to relaxing my hair, I noticed that there are hair bands in the black hair sections in stores. I have the dri sweat band and the save your do bands and they do wonders. All I do now is lightly put coconut oil on my edges (coconut oil helps hair not to revert) and then I put on one of the bands (I prefer Save your do over dri sweat because it doesn’t slide down) and put my hair up in a bun.

    Here are the links to the bands:
    http://www.sallybeauty.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-SA-Site/default/Search-Show?q=dri+sweat

    http://saveyourdo.com/

  25. Looks very fun for Summer!It does look fun!

  26. I have natural hair and I have to admit I sweat like a beast during my workout! It is gross and embarrassing. I always make sure to wash my hair properly after each work out but I have noticed that I will still have salty sweat in my scalp area that makes it look like I have dandruff bad. It itches and it is gross. I know it can not be good for my hair and afraid of breakage also. Does anyone have advice on how to take care of this issue? I have tried many products and have even held off taking a shower after a workout to see if it helped. Nothing has so far.

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