Unruly baby hairs, extra frizz, damp edges—after a good sweat session, your hair may look less than photoshoot ready. In fact, 38% of naturals reported that hair is a major motivation for skipping the gym.1
However, your health is more important than having perfect hair. How can you get the best of both worlds—a.k.a. beautiful curls and a good sweat session?
Fear not. We've got your soon-to-be-sweaty back!
In this blog post, we'll be discussing top tips for how to exercise with curly hair. Keep reading to discover how to beat the sweat and heat, how to choose the best workout styles for curly hair, and how to prep your curls before and after exercising.
The Impact of Sweat and Heat on Natural Curls
So, what exactly about working out takes your curls from springy to limp? It all comes down to two main factors—sweat and heat.
Most good workouts come with a little perspiration. However, sweat isn’t just harmless water—it’s a saline solution that can be damaging if overproduced. Sweat comes from sweat glands in the skin near hair follicles, like those on the scalp. While increasing circulation, excess sweating on the scalp can lead to:2
- Follicle clogs – The more sweat on your scalp, the more likely it can irritate and clog surrounding hair follicles. Oily scalps are particularly more prone to clogs, since the excess sebum will make sweat more clogging.
- Irritation – Unfortunately, hair follicles can be hot baths for bacteria and fungi. If clogged by sweat, any microorganisms in the hair follicles may be trapped. This could lead to excess irritation or folliculitis—small red pimples in hair follicles that may itch or burn.
- Dryness – You know how the ocean saps up your hair’s moisture? Sweat can also do the same thing. The salt content of sweat can draw out moisture from hair, leaving it dehydrated and brittle. Down the line, this could increase natural hair breakage and damage.
Another factor? Workouts often generate body heat (which is why your body sweats). This heat can cause your hair cuticles to open up—which allows more moisture to escape. As an end result, you experience more unwanted frizz.3
How Should I Prep My Curls Before Exercising?
You wouldn’t skip warming up before a heavy workout—and you shouldn’t skip hair prep before a sweat session, either. Preparation is key to working out with curly hair, so that you can avoid any damage down the line.
Everyone’s pre-workout hair routine or style may look a little different. However, these steps are proven to whip your hair into gym-going shape:4
- Moisturize – Prevent salty sweat from dehydrating your hair by adding extra moisture to your curls or coils. Before hitting the gym, spray a product like our Hydrating Mist onto your hair until damp. You can also add oils to your edges for extra protection, which lock moisture into the hair follicle.5 A weekly deep conditioning treatment can also battle any dryness from the gym.
- Pass on the shampoo – While cleansing your scalp is essential to fight clogs or product buildup, too much cleansing can leave you with limp and brittle hair. Adjust your hair routine for the gym by cutting down on your shampoo use. For particularly dry coils, try co-washing (a.k.a., washing with just conditioner).
- Schedule smartly – There’s nothing worse than a fresh wash and style only to realize you signed up for pilates that same day. Avoid wasting a good hair day by aligning your hair care and workout calendars.
5 Workout Hairstyles for Curly Hair
Pause before you throw your hair into a messy bun. When it comes to gym hair, a protective style is everything—and we’ve got some ideas.
Too-tight ponytails, loose buns and loose styles can add friction and excess movement to your hair during exercise. With the tips and styles, you can keep your curls and coils looking good and protected during your workout. Here are some gym hairstyles for curly hair:
The pineapple is a classic go-to style for many natural hair girlies, simply because it's quick and protective. This high, softly-gathered ponytail gives curls the freedom to bounce during movement while keeping them out of the way. To achieve this look, follow these steps:
- Gather your curls at the top of your head, leaving your curl ends to fall freely.
- Secure the curls with a soft hair tie or our Satin Scrunchies.
- Slick down your edges with a lightweight gel, hairspray or oil.
This one’s more of a long-term option. Cornrows are an excellent and versatile protective style that can prevent friction, sweat and breakage across multiple workouts. However, make sure you have a healthy scalp and roots before committing to cornrow braids. Otherwise, you may make any damage or scalp buildup issues worse.
Cornrows come in all patterns, from simple and straight to complex triangles. No matter the pattern, you can self-braid cornrows with these steps:
- Use our Wide-Tooth Comb to gently detangle your hair, starting from the ends and working your way up to the roots.
- Section your hair depending on the size, number and direction of cornrows you want. You can use clips or hair ties to keep the sections separate.
- Take one hair section and moisturize it with a gel or styling product like our Styling Cream. Starting at the hairline, french braid the section of hair tightly to the scalp (but not too tightly). You can braid the section to just the end of your scalp or all the way to the ends.
- Repeat this braiding for all sections, keeping the braids uniform.
3. Space Buns
Time to bring out your alien superstar—at the gym. Space buns are one of the best gym styles for curly hair, since they keep hair completely tucked out of the way. They also work well with all textures, from loose curls to tight coils. To create this cute yet simple look, follow these steps:
- Part your hair down the middle neatly with a comb. Section and clip the two halves.
- Take one section and create a high ponytail on that side of your head with a hair tie. You can use a gel, like our Curl Gel, to slick your hair to the scalp, if desired.
- Tightly coil the ponytail around the hair tie, creating a bun. Use bobby pins or another hair tie to secure the space bun in place.
- Gently pull on the curls around your space bun to create volume and shape. Secure with hairspray.
- Repeat steps 2 to 4 on the other side of your hair.
Consider a headwrap part accessory, part protection. This handy tool locks down edges, keeps unruly hairs from flying away and looks cute in the process.
To start, make sure your headwrap is either silk or satin—this will avoid any frizz-making. Then, choose which headwrap style works best for you, such as:
- Front bun wraps
- High wraparound scarf over loose curls
- Braided crown
- Full coverage scarf over a low bun
- Braided crown wrap over the hairline
Working on curls that aren’t so fresh? Throw them (or braid them) into two secure plaits. French braids secure your hair close to the scalp during exercise, so you can avoid any frizz. Get this sporty-cute look with these steps:
- Part your hair down the middle neatly with a comb. Section and clip the two halves
- With one half, take a small section of hair at the hairline and divide it into three equal sections.
- Start braiding the three sections, adding more hair to the braid by picking up small amounts from that half of your hair as you continue to braid. Continue this pattern all the way to the nape of your neck, by which you should incorporate all hair on that side of your head.
- Finish braiding the section all the way from the nape of your neck to your hair ends.
- Secure the braid with a hair tie.
- Repeat steps 2 to 5 on the other half of your hair.
How Should I Treat My Curls Post-Workout?
In workouts, the cooldown is just as important as the warm-up—and your hair is no different. To preserve your curl health after a good sweat session, try these protective and enriching tips:
- Towel off – If your curls or scalp are holding any moisture, dry them gently with a microfiber towel, such as PATTERN’s Microfiber Towel.
- Steam – Got a steam room in your gym? It could be your friend-in-moisture. If working out leaves your curls dry, apply our Leave-In Conditioner after exercise and enter the sauna. Just 15 minutes of the heat and steam can infuse all of that rich moisture into your hair.
- Cool down – For your hair, cooling down literally involves cooling off. Heat from working out can open your hair cuticles, which may let moisture out. After a workout, seal your hair cuticles with our Blow Dryer set on cool.
Get Your Curls Movin’ with PATTERN
Exercise doesn’t have to equal an “off day” for your curls. Whether you’re hitting pilates class or the weight rack, your hairstyle should feel comfortable and confident-boosting. These athletic hairstyles for curly hair owners will keep your precious locks intact through any workout—especially with the help of our products.
At PATTERN, we bring nutrition, moisture and love to natural curls through the power of natural ingredients. Before you hit the treadmill, incorporate our conditioners, style creams, other curly hair products or signature tools for curly hair to turn that gym hairstyle into an all-day hairstyle.
- NIH. Hair As a Barrier to Physical Activity among African American Women: A Qualitative Exploration. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5777534/
- Zoe Report. How Sweat Can Damage Your Hair & Scalp — Plus How To Repair It. https://www.thezoereport.com/beauty/how-sweat-can-damage-your-hair-scalp-plus-how-to-repair-it
- Madeline Kopp. 16 Tips For Working Out With Curly Hair So It Flourishes & Grows. https://www.madelinekopp.com/post/working-out-with-curly-hair
- Byrdie. A Trainer Tells Us Her Secrets to Maintaining Her Natural Hair at the Gym. https://www.byrdie.com/working-out-with-natural-hair
- StyleCaster. Best Sealing Oils for Locking Moisture Into Dry Hair. https://stylecaster.com/feature/best-sealing-oils-1151471/