Do you remember being at parties when you were relaxed trying to hold yourself back from having too good a time because you’d then get hot and sweat your hair out? (For the record, I was never this girl –fun first, hair later.) Can you remember times where you wouldn’t go for a swim or stick to your new year’s resolution to get the body you always dreamed of because you couldn’t afford to sweat your hair out working out?
Did someone tell you that natural hair could solve all those problems? I hope not. If they did, honey they L I E D. One of the most common myths, or not so subtle implications about natural hair has been that it is the answer to all of our gym-related hair problems. FALSE. In my opinion, there aren’t too many differences between hair care relaxed or natural as it relates to the gym. Continue reading to find out more about the struggles, solutions, and benefits to working out while natural.
Consider the common struggles:
If water is the Holy Grail for naturals, then sweat is the arch nemesis, well sort of. Let’s talk about the science. What we know is that the sebaceous glands produce a natural oil called sebum, which with curly/kinky textures has difficulty traveling down the hair shaft due to the curl pattern. Because of this, curly/kinky textures don’t need to wash as often as straight textures (since the sebum takes much longer to travel down the shaft of curly hair), and does need to add moisture. Since the sebum cannot travel adequately down the hair shaft, this means the hair lacks this moisture and a protective coating, thus extremely vulnerable. When we sweat in our heads, that sweat in fact does travel down the hair shaft (which already lacks moisture and protection) causing more dryness. As many of us endure a constant battle to add and retain moisture to our curls, it’s important to understand how sweat can make that more of a challenge.
It’s no secret that styling is a struggle when you’re hitting the gym hard. One important point to remember and accept is that your style IS going to change. Your silk press isn’t going to be as straight. Your twist out or braid out may get a little frizzy. The roots of your rod set may get a little puffy. Let’s be real, if you’re one of those people who sweat hard in the scalp, you might just lose your style all together. Manage your expectations, you’ll be a lot less frustrated.
Create a Schedule
Just like anything else, a schedule is going to help you save on time and escape frustration. Create a workout schedule to reflect how many times a week you plan to exercise, and if possible, when. From there, plan your hair regimen/styles around those days and times. Another thing I like to do is workout while I am deep conditioning because the heat you generate on your head will provide the same effects as sitting under the dryer, killing two birds with one stone.
In addition to scheduling your workouts, schedule your hairstyles too! There’s no sense in getting an elaborate hairstyle when you know you’re about to do an hour and a half of Insanity workouts 6 days a week.
Preserve your Styles When Possible
Take some time before your workout to preserve your hairstyle:
- For Pressed/Straight styles- Pin curl, Bantu knot, or wrap the hair, securing with pins and/or a scarf. Sweatbands or scarves are going to be essential for minimizing frizz and keeping those edges laid.
- For Twist/Braid Outs – I find that doing several loose, chunky twists or braids prior to exercising works best for preserving this style because it’s very quick and it’s tight enough to preserve the style while loose enough not to interrupt the curl pattern.
- Shrinkage – Sweat means moisture. Moisture causes shrinkage. Some of us incur more shrinkage than others. Shrinkage may or may not be your friend. Whatever you do, avoid simply wearing your hair loose (out) to the gym—it will call for one mean detangling session post workout and who needs that type of stress? When all else fails, throw your hair in a quick (but not too tight) puff or two French braids prior to working out.
- Let your Hair Dry Completely
This is probably this most important tip for preserving hairstyles after working out. You absolutely must allow your hair to dry completely before taking it out (unless you are restyling). Think of this the same way if you washed and set your hair on rollers, but took them out before your hair was completely dry. Your curls turn out puffy and nothing like how you imagined. Let it dry before manipulating it.
Consider Protective Styling
Personally there are always a few times or events throughout the year where I make a conscious decision to go hard more frequently in the gym. These are great times to consider a protective style so you don’t have to worry about your hair before or after working out. You save on time and your hair is safe from you—with your manipulative self.
- Washing/Co-wash: I am not a big proponent of co-washing generally but I do think it serves a great purpose for those who exercise regularly. If you’re sweating consistently co-washing is a great way to gently rinse out your hair and reset. Sweating regularly won’t cause your hair or scalp to be dirty to the point where you’d want to shampoo several times a week (which would dry out our hair), but rinsing that sweat out every few days is a great practice. During times where I exercise 4-5 days a week, I will co-wash 1-2 during the week, then shampoo on Sundays.
- Moisturize: Curly/kinky textures by nature are prone to dryness, and sweat or washing excessively can increase that dryness which can lead to brittle hair, and breakage. Whether you choose to wash/co-wash or not, recognize the sweat alone can cause dryness. Adding moisture back into your strands is going to be imperative to maintaining great hair health.
So earlier I said that ‘if water is the Holy Grail for naturals, then sweat is the arch nemesis, well sort of.” I explained how sweat is our curl-foe, now here is how sweat is our curl-friend—fair weather, I know. Sweat enables toxins to be to be expelled through the pores, which also which also unblocks hair follicles, creating space for new hair growth. Sweat also promotes hair growth by increasing blood flow to the scalp (among other things), which enables the delivery of more nutrients, yay.
As you’ve probably already experienced, natural hair is still quite the balancing act as it relates to working out, however we should never sacrifice our health for our hair. Not only is good, regular exercise excellent for our minds and bodies, it can do wonders for our hair! Nourish your hair from the inside out and you’re hair (body and spirit) will thank you.