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Curly Nikki

Exercise and Natural Hair Styles

By January 27th, 202121 Comments

Exercise and Natural Hair Styles

by Shelli of Hairscapades

The primary deciding factor in my journey to go natural was related to my exercise regimen. I was wearing my relaxed hair curly (with the aid of Frizz Ease Hair Serum and L’Oreal Pumping Curls) because it was far easier to maintain than straight hair with a 6 day a week exercise schedule.

I began exercising between my sophomore and junior years of high school. Prior to that, I was very inactive, about 15-20 lbs. overweight and the heaviest of my sisters, who were always athletic, petite and thin. However, something clicked that year when an aunt told me to”make sure you can fit down the aisle” as I was going to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. I think I just decided I was sick of being the “fat one” and constantly being chastised about my weight by the older members of my family. It was a challenge and I had something to prove. So, the summer of 1992, I began working out, lost 15-20 lbs. and have been exercising ever since (with some hiatuses-see below;). I even competed in five all-natural bodybuilding competitions for 2 years in my late 20s, placing in all of them.

However, from 2009 through the end of 2010, I pretty much fell off of the wagon with only a few brief stints of working out and eating right. I was under a lot of stress, started eating badly and gradually began putting on the pounds until I was 25 lbs. over my ideal weight by the end of December 2010. So, a month before the Kim Coles Grow Out Challenge (GOC) began, I knew it was time to get myself back together in regard to my diet, exercise regimen and nutrition. Then, the GOC came along and helped to further motivate and focus my health goals. As of present, I have lost 24 pounds with 1 more to go to be at my ideal weight of 120 lbs (I’m 5’1″) by the end of the GOC, which is over at the end of July.

To get here, I’ve been exercising 5-6 days a week (see My Regimen). Although natural hair is far easier for me to handle, that is not to say that it is without its own unique set of challenges with a regular, very sweaty exercise routine. However, it is doable. As I often see questions on the hair sites/blogs/pages about what styles to wear and how to preserve styles when one works out regularly, wanted to provide some suggestions based upon my own experiences.

  • Wear protective styles like cornrows, flat twists, braids and/or two-strand twists. If your braids or twists are hanging, pull them up into a bun or high ponytail so that they are off of your neck. Tie a satin/silk scarf around your hairline and then a wear a cotton bandana or a sweatband over the satin/silk scarf. The silk/satin scarf with keep the hair smooth and keep your hair protected from the moisture robbing cotton of a bandana or sweatband. But, the bandana/sweatband will absorb the sweat, unlike the scarf.

Exercise and Natural Hair Styles
  • When wearing a Twist and Curl, Braid and Curl,Wash n’ Go or Twist/Braid-Out, put the hair in a high, loose pineapple with a satin scrunchie. If your hair hangs a lot like mine, fold the ponytail over towards your face and place another satin scrunchie (no wrapping) around the base, leaving the ends out to preserve the curls. Then, tie a satin/silk scarf around your hairline and put a bandana or sweatband over it.
  • When wearing a bun, again tie a satin/silk scarf around the hairline and then don a bandana or sweatband.
With any of these options, once you finish your exercise routine, remove the bandana or sweatband, but leave the satin/silk scarf until hair dries. You may decide to replace the sweaty scarf with a dry satin/silk scarf until your hair dries so that it dries more quickly. Two more option that you can use instead of the scarf/sweatband combo are the Dri Sweat Edge Women’s Headband or the Dri Sweat Active Wear Protector Cap (if you wear a low ponytail/bun).

Exercise and Natural Hair StylesYou can pick both of these up at Sally’s for $3.99 each. I purchased the cap a few months ago, but rarely wear a low ponytail. So, I wasn’t able to use it that often. However, I picked up a couple of the headbands this past week after being reminded about them by fellow GOC blogger JadeKoi. They work pretty well and I really needed something very absorbent, but less bulky and hot, for hot yoga.

Exercise and Natural Hair Styles
Hope this is helpful. However, as you all know, what works for one curly may not work for another. I don’t and have never really experienced a flaky, dry or itchy scalp. So, I only wash once a week with no rewetting or co-washing between wash sessions. When I wore WnGs the majority of the time, I did co-wash during the week to refresh/re-style, but not due to scalp problems. So, if you do experience a flaky, dry or itchy scalp or dry hair, you may not be able to go a week without washing or co-washing. However, if you wear a style that exposes your scalp, an option may be to swab your scalp with an astringent mix and then oil during the week. You’ll have to decide what works best for you.

What do you do with your curls when it’s time to work it out?


  • Klaycart says:

    It’s also important to let your hair dry properly after exercise, so leaving the satin/silk scarf in place until your hair is dry is a good practice. Overall, it’s wonderful that you’ve found a way to balance your fitness routine with taking care of your natural hair

  • hairscapades says:

    Anon @ 10:19 (although this response you will probably never see … sorry, just seeing the comment), it's just chunky twists (probably 10-15, I don't really remember) wrapped in a bun with the ends left free.

    BlackgodessISIS, it doesn't protect the hair, it just generates body heat if you wear a plastic baggie. So, I deep condition while exercising. If you sweat a lot and don't feel like the post condition rinse will eliminate the sweat, you can deep condition before shampooing. Some do their DCs prior to their shampoo rather than after. But, I personally, have applied my DC before working out to allow my body heat to heat the DC. Hope that helps!



  • BlackgodessISIS says:

    I was wondering if deep condoining while you workout helps protect the hair? Or does the sweat (salty water) ruin the conditions properties?

  • Anonymous says:

    how did you create that bun style with chunky twists…it's very pretty.

  • Anonymous says:

    Anon 9;27, I understand what you are saying about life's activities taking over. I was speaking for what has worked for me.
    I worked out quite regularly during a period of time when I was literally working 24 hrs on in a hospital (with 24 hrs off ). This schedule in reality turned out to be more like 30 hrs on and 18 hrs off. Although 18 hrs left to do everything else every other day is not much, I demanded exercise from myself during that time.

    Extreme? Maybe, but it worked for me.
    It would have been far easier for me to allow myself to not exercise during that time in my life than it was for me to tell myself that it was absolutely necessary for me to do so- like brushing my teeth. That's what helped ME. Perhaps my thoughts about this won't work for you or some other people, but it may help someone- and that was my intent.

  • Anonymous says:

    @anon 7:12
    Falling off wagon is easy even with a routine. Throw a few days or weekends of travel,late nites at work, all niters at school or a couple kids in the mix and its fairly easy to get off course.
    I've been active since hs and have seasons where exercise unfortunately takes a back burner to life.
    Anyhow,don't judge me, i wear a wig and bb cap to the gym. And no my hair doesn't smelland i don't co wash. I'm a yr post relaxer and keep my hair cornrowed underneath hairpieces.Hair is not long enough for most of the suggested styles.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think if you have a regular exercise regimen for a long enough period of time, it becomes habitual. If one makes it a part of daily activity- like brushing your teeth or eating, your body starts to expect it and when it doesn't get it, things just don't feel right. Once one reaches this state, it becomes virtual impossible to "fall off the wagon". Essentially, there becomes no wagon, just a mandatory activity of daily living!

    Best of luck with "getting back on"!

  • hairscapades says:

    Okay, first, thank you all so much for the kind comments and thoughtful responses! It's been a rough week at work and coming home to see the positive and encouraging responses to this post brightened my day:).

    Second, I have sooooo slacked on my regimen lately and haven't been as hard core as listed in my regimen. I did the Rugged Maniac in July and, since then, haven't been consistent with my diet or exercise regimens, though I'm still doing well enough to essentially maintain my weight (after a couple hot yogas, I'm down to 118 … after a "10 pound" weekend, I might go up to 124 … right now, 121). I really need to get it back together, but I've allowed stress at work and the work of a new blog to interfere with my exercise routine. HOWEVER, The Biggest Loser just returned last night and I wrote on my FB fan page how I'm so happy that it has because it helps motivate me! I don't think that you can sit and watch that show every week and not do something. If I'm being lazy, I can't watch it because I know I have no excuse!! So that will help motivate me. Laurie, in regard to your question about motivation though, I actually did a post on my site with that EXACT title and all the techniques that helped me get back to my ideal weight!! Here it is:

    But, long story short, what works for me is rewards (which was hair blogging when I was working towards my goal weight) and short term goals where I have to be seen or compete (vacations, events, etc.)!! Obviously though, it hasn't worked too well lately:/. But, I always get back in … Although I wish I was always consistent, I give myself credit for never accepting the weight as inevitable or unavoidable and get it back together. So, to those who have always maintained their regimens, I applaud you because you are amazing!!! For those who struggle from time to time, know that you are not alone and that as long as you never let it get too far and always get back into your healthy eating practices and exercise routine, you're doing more than many and every little bit helps. We'll just keep trying to do better.

    Doc, my hairline sweats a lot, but the only thing that really bothers my whole scalp is hot yoga. I usually wash after my evening Friday hot yoga class and the one session on Sunday doesn't make it too bad. One day a couple of weeks ago, I did hot yoga three days in a row and my hair was ICKY!! So, then I washed. But, generally, I'm good for a week because my hair is almost always in a protective style when I'm exercising.

    Anon @ 11:41 am, girl, Ella's Kitchen organic baby food is da bomb and HappyBaby banana, beets and blueberries is frickin' DELICIOUS!!! try to mostly get the ones with a vegetable and fruit and not just fruit alone. I love that they are low sugar with a couple grams of fiber in each serving, the convenience of the pouch and that they don't need to be refrigerated!! They are truly a healthy, go anywhere snack!!! LOL!!!

    I hope I responded to everything! Thanks again all!! You're wonderful:)!!


  • Anonymous says:

    Good post! Congratulations on reaching your weight loss goal! Your activity schedule sounds awesome.

    I have been exercising all of my adult life and love high intensity aerobic activities- spinning, running 4-5 miles, aerobic dance (like Zumba).

    As a result, I am usually totally soaked at the end of my workouts (6x/wk). I usually just use a sweatband placed around the front of my head with a high bun. After my work out, I take the band off (it's totally soaked), undo my hair and either cowash or let it airdry and put it in twists or 5 frenchbraids. In the am, I take the twists down, moisturize the ends a bit and put it back up in a bun. So, when it's time to workout, all I need to do is put on the band.

    I DC once a week.

    This (along with trying to be vegan 80% of the time) has worked well for me over the yrs. As a middle ager, I am proud of the fact that I am right in the middle of a desirable weight and BMI for my height, take NO meds, have a normal cholesterol and blood pressure. So, I am glad to see this post and hope it will encourage young adults to get into healthy living NOW rather than when trouble starts. Lol!

    Thanks Shelli!

  • Anonymous says:

    After working out consistently for 11 years (even during my 2nd pregnancy), I've been awol from the gym for almost 6 months. Long story…but stress is at the root. Thankfully I only gained a few pounds but I felt sluggish and lazy. So I recently started walking at the track, 4-5 miles, 4 days a week. I figured this was a simple way to ease myself back into a fitness routine and enjoy the last days of summer. I am committed to be back in the gym and back to strength training once the weather gets cold.

    Like you, goal setting helps my motivation so I will be working to get back down to a consistent size 4 by the time I turn 44 in April. I'm 5'5" and currently between a 4 and 6 so that goal is achievable.

    My hair has to look somewhat presentable in the morning when I take my sons to the school bus stop and then go to the track. I also hit Starbucks after my walk and I can't go in there looking too busted…lol! My hair is CBL when stretched so I usually sport a pineapple. I have been wanting a better headband so I will be hitting up Sally's.

    Your post was right on time for me. Thanks for the tips and inspiration to get back on the fitness wagon!

  • Anonymous says:

    With my WNGs I put my hair in a loose pineapple with a satin scrunchie. I skip the headband because it's just too hot. After the workout I let my hair dry in the pineapple, then let it down and shake. This works pretty well and as my hair has grown I'm able to cowash or wash just once a week with 4-6 days of working out. My scalp tends to be dry naturally but I haven't had any real problems with not rinsing after workouts.

  • Dealeya says:

    So Happy TO see this post. I've run 6 days a week for years and I'm currently training for a 1/2 marathon. Additoinally, I lift weights and practice Bikram yoga 2-3 days a week so I'm pretty active. I've been transition for 13 months So, post like yours are very helpful. Thanks you! Thank you! Thank you! I'm headed to Sally's to checkout those headbands for sure. Congrats on gettin back on track w/ living a fit life. I pray for your continued success :)

  • Doc says:

    awesome post, thank you.

    i find it surprising that you don't have to rinse between shampoos with your vigorous workout routine. maybe i'll try to stretch my hair styles longer…i always feel the need to rinse–i think i'm afraid the sweat is going to damage my hair. perhaps that is a myth.

  • Anonymous says:

    I too have shorter hair and if I have twists, when I unravel them they are frizzy because my hair is still damp:-(
    I wear a headband which helps a little. I'm currently working out @ 6 days a week and have decided exercise will win over hair…

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Shelli – congratulations on your successful weight loss journey and thanks for posting the idea for the band and the link to your regimen.

    ROFL on the babyfood – when mine were younger I loved to sample from their Gerber banana and dutch apple!

  • Anonymous says:

    Are there any suggestions for those of us with shorter hair?  I can't pull my hair into a bun or a pineapple.  I sweat enough that my hair shrinks in stretched styles.  I've kept my hair in twists before but since my hair is so thin, I look awful during the week. 

  • laurie aka newlynatural26 says:

    Shelli i would like to know how you keep yourself motivated to continue working out. i've been awol from my gym for about 2 weeks now and finding it difficult to get back in there. Any tips or suggestions?

  • Anonymous says:

    the headband sounds like a great idea for when I am sporting a a straighter style, which for me would ususally consist of a dry flexirod set on flat-ironed hair.

    For my braidouts I usually will just rebaid, so that really isn't much of a big deal for me.

    My Wash and gos primary get cowashed, oil rinsed, or just rinsed with plain water to bring it back to life.

  • Anonymous says:

    Thank you Shelli for this post. I am a marathon runner and I am always struggling to keep my hair in check. I am going to look for that headband! Congrats on getting back to your goal weight :-). What an accomplishment! -Clarise

  • Missy says:

    Congratulations Shelli on the weight loss. Your hair is gorgeous too. I haven't been protecting my TWA when I work out and the sweat band would be perfect especially for the back of my head when I hit the mat for crunches :) Thanks for the info

  • ktcheval says:

    Shelli, thank you for this!! I didn't know you were so tiny!! We're the same height. 120 is my goal, too, and I've got about 15 lbs to go before I get there. I do hot yoga 2-3x a week but I've been having a hard time dragging myself to the gym lately. I'm gonna have to go to Sally's to pick one of these up. Good luck with the rest of your journey, and with keeping it off! Sometimes that's the hardest part.

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