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5 Tips for Exercising and Swimming with Natural Hair

Avatar • Jun 27, 2012

By Jc of The Natural Haven Bloom

Choosing to wear your hair in its natural state should not hinder you from exercising, the benefits of which are numerous. This post is for the exercise enthusiasts especially if your chosen activity leads you to sweat. This is also a post for regular swimmers or those wanting to take up swimming.

Questions that many naturals ponder include how often should hair be washed, how quickly can you style your hair when you need to go to work after exercise and of course will sweat/chlorine damage hair.

Here are my tips on how to best care for your hair before, during and after exercise

1. Style choice

The first thing to do before exercising is to pick a style that will protect your hair. If you are going to swim or plan to wash your hair every time you exercise, it makes sense to select a braided or twisted style. Braids are a safe bet for most hair types but twists are more suited to hair where regular washing of the twist will not matt up the hair (from my personal experience, very kinky fine hair tends not to fair well with regular wetting of twists but does well with braids)

If you do not wish to braid or twist your hair, it is still possible to exercise with free hair. Simply aim to keep your hair up either by holding it up in a ponytail/bun, pinning it up or placing it into 1/2 large cornrows/french braids. If your hair shrinks heavily when wet (over 100%), you may want to consider not wearing it free unless it is short as knotting and tangling is highly likely to occur.

2. Wear a sweatband or a swim cap

Sweatbands are a greatly underestimated exercise accessory. They can easily soak up most of the sweat forming around the forehead and prevent it from going into the hair. If your physical activity is a dry land based exercise, consider buying and using a sweatband.

For swimmers, a swim cap will not keep your hair dry but it will greatly limit the amount of water contacting your hair and secondly it will eliminate the friction between the water and your hair as you swim. For this reason, hair extensions are not suited to regular swimmers as it can be difficult/impossible to actually fit them under a swim cap.

3. Will washing your hair daily damage it?

There is nothing wrong with washing your hair daily after exercising or swimming. The thing to remember is that such a high level of frequency means that your hair will not be particularly oily or dirty.  There are several options to your wash routine

-If you do not sweat heavily or are not swimming, you do not need to wash your hair. You can opt to rinse it with water to remove sweat or if you are using a sweatband and the sweat is soaked up well enough, you do not have to wash at all.

-If you wish to wash your hair,  select a very mild shampoo and follow up with a good quality conditioner to help to protect the cuticle. With swimming, I would recommend always using a shampoo with every wash but with general exercise, it is not always necessary to use a shampoo. You can opt to interchange cowashing and shampoo washes.

4. Dry your hair gently

If you are exercising daily, you should aim to completely eliminate heat drying as part of your routine. High or regular heat use can cause severe damage to hair which is not apparent initially. Opt instead to use a smooth absorbent fabric to dry your hair such as an old cotton t‑shirt or microfiber towel. Traditional terry cloth towels can be quite rough on hair in comparison. Aim to gently squeeze or pat your hair dry rather than rub when drying.

5. Styling post-exercise

If you do not use heat to dry your hair, in all probability it will be damp should you have selected to wash or rinse it post exercise. For those with free hair, a wash and go using your regular styling products and allowing your hair to dry on its own over the next 1–2 hours is one option. It is also possible to place hair into large twists, pin them up and then reveal the twist out after 1–2 hours. For those with braids or twists, life is much easier as you can style them as normal (hanging down, pinned up, french braided etc).

For the vast majority of naturals, it would be beneficial to add some oil to your hair after washing. A high frequency of wetting/washing hair leads to removal of oil and the oil on the surface of hair helps to maintain moisture. Coconut oil in particular is also known to protect hair from combing damage. However some naturals prefer heaving oils such as castor oil or shea butter for ‘sealing’.

Ladies, how do you maintain your hair while staying active?

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merry
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merry

i’ve never understood why black women seem to feel so handicapped by their hair when it comes to exercise. i thought being natural was supposed to make it easier for a lot of people, not just as, if not more complicated. good grief. just get your hair out of your face and off your neck. i also don’t understand the compulsion to wash the hair just because you’ve exercised unless you are swimming in saltwater or chlorine or you sweat buckets. otherwise, a simple rinse should suffice. even if you wash, you should maybe just wash your scalp and nothing… Read more »

Vonnie
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Vonnie

Completely agree! If I work out and have sweated a good amount, I simply rinse my hair with warm water, re-seal and call it a day. I haven’t swam as of yet (which I would see the sense in washing out chemicals), but everything else should be on a K.I.S.S strategy.

Tami
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Tami

There’s nothing more annoying than having your neck and nape soaked from sweat. I’ll take a tight polyester sweatband over that anyday.

LBell
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LBell

My mother, who is in her 70s, is finally exercising every day and she uses a sweatband — not a polyester one, but a terrycloth one from the 80s. 🙂 It’s not the coolest look but I’m overlooking it because…she’s EXERCISING. In her 70s! Work it, Mom! Other than that, I agree with merry. One of the reasons why there are so many health issues amongst us is because looking good takes precedence over feeling good. That applies to diet as well as to exercise. I learned how to swim as a relaxed head and my hair was (almost) the… Read more »

anastasia
Guest
anastasia

LBell: Your mom sounds awesome!! Never too old to start, love it!

Jc
Guest

Lol Tami, I agree with you. I think that wiping your sweat with a towel is fine but a sweatband has the added benefit that the sweat does not get into your hair as much. My sweatbands are cool too in pastel shades to match the outfit of the day 🙂

Shawanda @ You Have More Than You Think
Guest

I don’t do anything special with my hair now that it’s locked. If I work out four days a week, I have to wash my hair more often than I normally do. (Rarely do I work out that frequently.) When my hair was loose and I wore a twist out, the style wouldn’t last a long.

I don’t sweat a ton while I’m working out. I still want to look cute at the gym, so I can’t fool with a headband. If necessary, I just wipe my face with a paper towel between sets.

binks
Guest
binks

Agreed! Honestly, I just make sure my hair is off my face/neck and just do my thing in the gym. I don’t worry about specific styling. And if my hair feels a bit grimy and dirty I wash it afterwards but if not, just rinse it, moisture, and seal and braid. I just don’t get hair being a big roadblock for working out or something you have to go out of your way to plan early to get your workout on. Hopefully, I can get my hair in braids so I really won’t have to worry about it…lol.

Alana
Guest
Alana

I feel handicapped by my hair b/c the A/C is on high at work, so going to work in an air-conditioned building after morning exercise and wet hair from rinsing or washing is cold and uncomfortable when trying to avoid heat.

aprilracine
Guest
aprilracine

There are many ways to wash hair. I might use 10% shampoo to 90% water. As far as headbands go;I would like you to try doing Downward dog or Wheel yoga poses while using a towel. Take a picture and send it to me. For some women hair is the reason given for not exercising because they are more ashamed to admit that they can’t stand working out. If someone went from a relaxer to an twa and still refuse to exercise, then chances are that they don’t like it. I have five sisters who don’t exercise, however they are… Read more »

LaNeshe
Guest

Two strand twists save the day.

anastasia
Guest
anastasia

1. Two-strand twist placed in an updo work coupled w/ sweat band for any aerobic or resistance training (except hot yoga) 2. Currently swimming 3x/wk and I am able to get my MBL senegalese twist under my silicon swim cap. I plait the twist, bun, place plastic cap (like a conditioner cap), and then slip on my swim cap. So far, this method has prevented my hair from getting wet. I sweat like a man unfortunately, lol, so co-washing works for me when I bike or run over 5 miles or more, or do HIIT. I’ve found that pH balancing… Read more »

Jc
Guest

Side note — I love HIT!! I wanted to write an article on the benefits of it, more people should know about it.

anastasia
Guest
anastasia

Yes JC, yes!! BEST workout ever!! I do Tabata intervals 2–3x week! I use to get my HIIT workouts from Bodyrocktv, but Zuzana is no longer affiliated with them BUT she is on Youtube where she uploads a new HIIT workout weekly. I luv Zuzana!! Check her out Jc =)

P.S. Love your blog and magazine! Congrats on the move! 🙂

anastasia
Guest
anastasia

Side note:

The new lady (cant remember her name and too lazy to google) on Bodyrocktv is ok (she’s too lean IMHO- I grimace and my bones ache when I see her vids), but I find the routines overly complicated (‘I see injuries’, lol) and often require equipment.

purplestarz
Guest
purplestarz

Lovely to see more z‑warriors out there. I tried to stay with Bodyrock after she left, and I did for a while. Once I found Z on youtube again I kinda left bodyrock in the dust lol

DeeJ085
Guest
DeeJ085

I usually exercise on a regular basis and whether natural or relaxed, as long as your hair is up you should be fine. I could see the dilemma if you wear your hair straight because you flat ironed it, or straight and relaxed, the sweat plus water will make your hair revert. My hair is natural and when I work out my hair in a puff or two flat twists on each side of my head. I took a shower but didn’t wash my hair, but if I chose to wash it I wouldn’t even have to untwist my hair.… Read more »

Chardae
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Chardae

And I was just thinking about getting two strand twists for the rest of the summer due to my workout schedule.

Jules
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Jules

I’ve been swimming at least 3 to 4x a week and at first it use to kill my hair. I guess I assumed I didn’t need a swim cap, I quickly learned that wasn’t true. So I research swim caps for thicker hair (because my hair is out of control thick) and came across My swim “diva” cap. It’s amazing. It’s made for people who have thick hair or wear weaves (extensions) I can truly say that when I swim almost 90% of my hair is dry after I finish. Just in case I do get my hair wet a… Read more »

Annie L.
Guest
Annie L.

Tks for swim cap reference!

Jc
Guest

Thanks for sharing Jules

anastasia
Guest
anastasia

Diva’ cap.…niiiice! Thanks! Off to amazon!

Crocoodile
Guest
Crocoodile

.….I had locks for 12 years than shaved my head. My hair is still natural today, and I swear by wigs. I wash and condition my hair…cornbread it, and I wear one of those silk caps under my wig. It does get hot, but it works for me.

Kailyn
Guest
Kailyn

I agree with some other folks opinions. I never understood being handicapped by natural hair. It made sense back in the relaxed days, but now, I only worry about swimming. I think maybe a lot of it is that old habits die hard? If we were always afraid to workout because of ruining our hair, maybe it’s difficult to get out of that mindset? I’m a dance/fitness instructor and I found natural hair to be so much easier. It gets badly frizzy, because I sweat a lot, so keeping it up in a bun has kept that from happening, and… Read more »

LM
Guest
LM

i am taking an aerobics class for the summer and, for the first day, I had my hair in two flat twists on the sides with the ends tucked and pinned. I find it kind of challenging to keep my hair from sliding out of the pins and the pins from sliding out of my hair so I am thinking about trying a wash n go puff even though I’m afraid of wash n go’s. Haven’t done one since my twa days and am afraid my hair will tangle immensely.

Sara
Guest
Sara

If you are a swimmer, it is definitely worth buying a chelating Shampoo, which removes chlorine and balances the hair’s pH. I would recommend the Joico brand. It cleanses effectively and leaves the hair moisturized.

Marie
Guest
Marie

Thank you,i’m thinking of starting swimming.

Moglet
Guest
Moglet

wow, I am too excited to hear all these responses from black women that swim regularly! I am ordering my diva swim cap today, currently have my hair in twist extensions and plan to wear all summer. It is a bear trying to get all these twists under my current swim cap. Thanks!

Maria
Guest
Maria

I have long locs and I swim regularly but I have not been able to find a swim cap that will fit my big head and all of my locs. Does anyone know of a place that sells large swim caps that will keep my hair dry?

Jules
Guest
Jules

My swim “diva” cap will probably help. You can order it online only.

Zenith
Guest
Zenith

I run 40 mi a week (10 mi, four times a week) and spin 2–3 days a week. I sweat A LOT and LOVE challenging myself to new aerobic fitness levels of intensity! Lol! I co-wash 3 times per week, use a leave-in and sometimes use a homemade mix of coconut and argan oils for a bit of extra moisture. This combo works so well for me, as these are two oils which actually get absorbed into the cuticle and won’t weigh my hair down and make it look and feel oily. I also ALWAYS use a sweatband and wear… Read more »

Melissa
Guest

Two awesome tips for swimmers:Before you leave the house, seal hair w/ high quality oil, this will act as barrier. 2nd before you jump in the pool wet your hair — soak it up really well since your hair is like a sponge. This way less of the cholorine of water is absorbed in hair. Again this also acts as a barrier. After your swim — rinse your hair well & seal.

Alana
Guest
Alana

I used to swim on a regular basis and work as a lifeguard. What worked for me (APL 4abc hair): 1. two-strand twists, braids, or cornrows 2. wetting hair with water 3. squeeze out excess water and put conditioner in hair 4. put on a swim cap- swim caps are made to keep hair out of your face and out of the pool. If you can find one that keeps your hair dry, more power to you. swim 5. after swimming, rinse hair and use swimmers conditioner & seal w/ oil She’s not black, and she does have a contract… Read more »

MzKiwi
Guest
MzKiwi

Thanks Alana, I think this is the best advice that I can use.

Hidaya
Guest
Hidaya

The trick to using a swim cap is to first wrap your hand tightly using those men Wave Caps (they are usually black satiny feeling with the 2 hanging strings to wrap around the head). The are at Sally’s beauty or a Walmart type place. THEN u put the swim cap OVER the war cap. It WORKS wonders and will keep your hair dry when swimming.

sshabonna
Guest
sshabonna

I workout 5–6 days a week and I sweat buckets with every workout. I am still having trouble finding a routine to care for my hair. I will workout in the evening and my hair will be dry but will smell if I do not wash or co-wash it. This gets very old really fast each week. I do get frustrated and I refuse to not workout because of my hair but I would like to go a few days with “good hair” days.

EJ
Guest
EJ

It is so funny how people think those with natural hair can just two strand twist and go or wash their hair or even rinse their hair every day or every other day. NEWSFLASH MOST OF US CAN NOT DO THAT SINCE WE WORK IN A VERY ULTRA CONSERVATIVE PROFESSIONAL ENVIRONMENT! I am sorry about the all caps but I am SICK of ppl thinking it is so easy when it is not. Can the women who actually have to press their hair because it is too short and coarse to leave out natural actually stand up and gives some… Read more »

LaNeshe
Guest

If your hair is still short you might have to consider getting extensions so that you can work and work out.

Danni
Guest
Danni

+1000 — for people to say “natural hair women can swim and walk in the rain without a problem” must have hair that does not shrink to their temples or hair that is disastrous free. its not easy unless you wear your hair shrunken anyway. for me shrunken is not possible unless i want every strand to have ssks and tangles. i need a style for short 4b hair that will look great once i finished getting out of the ocean or pool without issues. and for me extensions are a no go for my fine strands.

Hidaya
Guest
Hidaya

Buy a Quality wig… Even if u have someone to make it especially for your head. U (we) have no more excuses in these days and times.

Paula
Guest
Paula

When I workout I have my hair in two low ponytails. Twist them and tuck the ends, then I were a cap for the cool look. Always have a towel handy so my hair does not get so sweaty, wash it once a week.

kj
Guest
kj

Whoever said natural hair is easy lies!! There is NOTHING easy about natural hair.(depending on your texture i guess). I personnally would not wash my hair just because I worked out and sweated, but the each his own. Now with swimming it is important to wet your hair with regular water first and put on a hefty amount of conditioner. A cheap one will do the trick. Dry hair absorbs more water and chlorine with it. The chlorine will bind more tightly and is harder to clean out causing more damage. Pre-wetting and conditioner prevents this. Wash with a chlorine… Read more »

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Guest

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Olivia
Guest
Olivia

Whenever I’m in the gym, I put my hair pinned up in a high bun or some kind of tuck and twisted pinned style. Works out good, I don’t usually sweat that much and wash once a week anyways so I’m good

Karisa
Guest
Karisa

I wear any hairstyle that keeps my hair off my neck. And I wear a headband to hold my edges down and keep them from frizzing lol

LivingWell
Guest
LivingWell

Greetings. Please simply share these links on your Twitter and FB pages:

Too Many Black Kids Can’t Swim. It’s Time They Learn. See: http://bit.ly/ZgFQm1

ED, VD & AARP? Senior Sex in 21st Century’ article at PsychToday: http://bit.ly/140TLyi

Web site: http://www.DrMcCloud.com/
Twitter: @DrMelodyMcCloud
Author, Living Well: The Black Woman’s Guide to Health, Sex & Happiness [Denzel’s wife, Pauletta, wrote the foreword!]

Dr. Melody’s Blog at Psychology Today Bitly: http://bit.ly/xn5g5g [Various topics! Scroll!]

Lorissa
Guest
Lorissa

Ummmmm seriously?

Cecret
Guest
Cecret

I workout often and sweat a lot. I don’t have the time or the patience to wash my hair every time but I still want my hair to be fresh. I use Tresemme dry shampoo to clean my hair. You spray it in then wait a few mins then comb it out. It makes it smells so good and leaves my hair soft and shiny. I do live in a area with dry air so I do follow up with a leave in conditioner. If you have braids or twist use the Tresemme waterless foam shampoo. You just rub it… Read more »

LaShanda
Guest
LaShanda

Where can I find the Tresemme waterless foam shampoo? I was wearing my hair in a high puff (it’s too think to wrangle into a ponytail at my current lenght) but noticed I was not retaining as much lenght as when I was protective styling. I prefer to use no add-on hair so I have my own hair braided and was trying to figure out something to do after workouts. This product sounds perfect. Will it only work with free-standing braids or 2 strand twist? What if I have corn-rows?

Gabrielle
Guest
Gabrielle

With swimming, especially something like an everyday thing, I recommend wetting the hair before going in the pool (it won’t nearly soak up as much chlorine as dry hair would), and putting a leave-in conditioner or regular conditioner on the hair while swimming. You should put your hair up, and if you have one, put a swim cap on. Afterwards, was the conditioner out, and if you’d like, wash your hair. I know this seems like a lot for just a day, but this is what we have to go through…

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[…] usual, I decided to do some research. According to this article by black girl with long hair, if you don’t sweat much during a workout, you could possibly get away with wearing a […]

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