16 Tips For Working Out With Curly Hair So It Flourishes & Grows
Updated: Dec 11, 2022
Learning How To Workout With Curly Hair
Working out with curly hair isn't always the easiest thing to navigate.
Let's be real - most things with natural curly hair aren't easy to navigate. If you have this type of hair...you know what I mean!
But embracing your curls is important to me on so many levels, so I had to figure out how to continue running with curly hair every single day.
Because when your hair is stopping you from doing things you need or want to do...it's not fun. I've been there as a curly haired athlete:
Not wanting to go outside in the rain. Running track workouts with a hood tied tightly around to protect straightened hair. Which still curls anyways because of head sweat under the hood.
Going to practice with straight hair, washing it completely, and re-straightening it. Every single day until it burned to a crisp.
With extremely damaged hair that wouldn't grow, and a deep dislike of my natural self, I decided to make a change and learn how to grow and workout with natural hair.
After several years of working out with natural hair, I learned what works and what doesn't. I doubled my hair's volume, got back a beautiful curl pattern, and even reached nearly hip length.
In this post I'm sharing some of my best tips for taking care of natural curly hair while working out. These are the things that I've researched and done, so this is coming from personal experience, yes, but also an educated process.
Everyone's hair is different and I try to address that in each tip. But remember that what works for others might not work for you and it's a learning experience.
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Why Do You Need A Special Routine For Working Out With Curly Hair?
After you workout, you shower right? (I hope so!)
While most types of hair you can wash everyday, most people recommend not washing curly hair after workouts every day. That's simply because curly hair and natural hair is more prone to breakage, drying out, and frizz.
Washing every day can make those things more intense.
So when it comes to working out with curly hair, a lot of naturally curly haired people avoid doing it. They don't want to sweat in their hair and ruin it, which might require washing it again.
Sweat also dehydrates your hair. The grime and dirt that gets caught in knotted, sweaty hair needs to be resolved.
Staying active is so important for mental and physical health, so it's important to learn how to workout with curly hair. Stop sacrificing the gym for your hair and just learn how to protect curly hair when working out.
Here are 16 tips for working out with curly hair that can help your curls flourish and grow!
16 Tips For Working Out With Naturally Curly Hair
As a disclaimer, all hair is different. Try these tips out to see what works best for you! What's most important is learning the basics for working out with curly hair and then creating a sustainable curly hair routine around your own hair's needs.
1. Embrace Your Curls
The very first thing you need to do is embrace your curls! Especially if you're transitioning from wearing it straight/differently. Curly hair is a process and you have to embrace it.
Realize that there is no "get rich quick" curly hair solution. It could take months or even years to see the results that you want. But if you don't stick with it during the tough times and stay consistent, it'll take even longer.
A girl once reached out to me about getting her curls to look more "curly" and grow out. When I responded with my best tips, she added that she "had to straighten it every weekend" so that she could go out partying.
I wish that wouldn't matter, but the fact is that it does. I truly believe that you can use heat and still have amazing curls. You just have to do it the right way.
But if you're really trying to get your curls back it's important to stop heat for awhile (definitely longer than a week until your next party).
There may be times where you're not happy with your hair in the transitioning stage, but this is where embracing your curls and natural look is so important.
Which brings me to number two:
2. Find Healthy Ways To Wear Your Hair To Avoid Heat/Styling
As I said, the transitioning stage can be tough.
If you haven't been treating your curls with the love they need for several years, going curly isn't going to "look cute" at first.
(At least to you maybe - but your hair is beautiful in all it's stages I promise!)
To help get through this curly hair stage, get creative!
You have to stick it out through the transitioning stage, even if you want to just straighten your hair to "fix it."
I found hair styles that still made me feel cute that didn't require me to use heat on my hair. They were mostly low buns and maybe some braids. That way I was comfortable and could focus on building my curly hair routine as an athlete.
I didn't need heat and I didn't hate the way my hair looked in these styles. So I was able to just leave it be - no heat at all - while it started to grow and curl again.
3. Find Curly Hairstyles For The Gym That Protect From Damage
Speaking of hairstyles, avoiding heat styling isn't the only thing to consider. You might be past that stage and just trying to figure out the best workout hairstyles for curly hair.
It comes down to one simple thing. Find styles that protect your hair from sweat.
For example, make sure your longer hair is tucked into a bun or a high enough pony that it doesn't touch your neck.
Hair that can rub up against your neck and back collects sweat and dirt from your skin. The more sweat your hair touches, the more likely you'll end up washing your curly hair after the workout.
The sweat dehydrates your hair so you want it out - but the best thing to do in a curly hair routine for athletes is to avoid getting excess sweat on your hair.
Obviously, your scalp is going to sweat. Don't waste time trying to avoid that to the point it ruins your workout. One thing that worked for me was finding workout hairstyles for curly hair that leave some breathing room.
Braids leave some scalp exposed, so there's more breathing room than a tight bun. Just something to consider!
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4. Stop Touching Your Hair
This is more of a general tip; this doesn't just apply to taking care of curly hair when working out. But it's still important to mention here.
It can be tempting to play with your hair a lot. Twirling it when you're bored, or putting it up and then down again.
And when you're working out, your hairstyle might loosen and you have to redo it 100 times as you exercise.
But you can't manipulate your curly hair too much if you want it to grow. Obviously we all have different hair so this applies to certain hair types differently. But essentially:
When you pull and tug on natural hair, which is often fragile, you
unwind the curls
create frizz and dryness
break it off
Let your hair be as much as possible to avoid hurting it. So as you're learning how to wear curly hair while working out, focus on hairstyles that your hair doesn't fall out of easily.
You should also do this next tip:
5. Diversify Your Curly Hair Workout Hairstyles
I feel like this is a secret pro tip when it comes to knowing how to protect curly hair when working out. Diversify the hairstyles you use for your daily exercise. Here's why:
When you put your hair up all the time, you risk ruining your edges or the parts of your hair where the hair tie touches. Repeatedly doing this every day can lead to your hair getting frizzy and falling out/thinning in those places.
The pulling and tugging compounds after doing it day after day.
So one way to lessen the intensity of this dilemma is by frequently shaking up which hairstyles you wear.
side parts and middle parts
and whatever other style you like to wear your hair that keeps it out of your face.
By shaking up the hairstyle each day, you give you hair a break from constantly pulling it a certain way. This can help you see more growth!
Just remember that hair elastics and tight buns can actually thin out your hair and cause other damaging problems. Instead of always pulling it into a bun, I gave myself a middle part and did a low bun or ponytail. This put less pressure on the fronts of my hair and allowed those curls to grow.
6. Take Care Of Your Scalp
What if I told you that the secret to healthy hair was actually not about the hair at all?
The scalp is an area of hair care that I think was (maybe still is?) often overlooked as being essential.
But your scalp where your hair actually grows, after all. And it's where you sweat.
So keep your scalp moisturized and clean with a consistent routine, and see if this helps your hair grow faster and healthier.
Washing everyday is notoriously not recommended by pretty much every curly hair expert. It's just too much for curly hair.
But if you work out and sweat a lot, you do want to keep your scalp happy.
On your wash day, make sure you scrub your shampoo into your scalp to wash away any impurities and dirt. Your hair will feel better and do better.
I also love to use a hydrating scalp oil directly on my scalp on wash day. It's the perfect time to get in there!
If you're working out everyday with curly hair, you should have a refresh routine anyways. Look for products that can be used daily to specifically refresh the scalp after working out. Healthy hair starts at the roots!
7. Try Co-Washing After Workouts
On hot summer days or when you're pushing yourself hard, it's basically impossible to stop sweat from dripping down your forehead. That can be kind of gross to deal with until wash day.
Instead of just waiting it out, (and potentially being smelly or itchy), try co-washing!
Essentially this means washing your hair with conditioner. The benefits of co-washing:
adds more moisture
helps wash your hair without using shampoo
makes it easier to re-style your hair
Instead of stripping your hair all the way down with shampoo and starting over, a wash with conditioner allows your hair to get back some moisture and rinse off the sweat, dirt, and grime from a track workout.
Which can help with growth and general health - because dry, brittle hair is more likely to break.
However, keep in mind the concerns with co-washing your hair. It can lead to product build up because you don't completely wash away products.
And build up leads to things like:
eventually creates a barrier that prevents moisture and good ingredients from getting into your hair strands
Figure out a wash (and maybe clarifying) schedule that works best for your hair. Make sure you do take time to wash product off instead of just adding more and more.
8. Avoid Product Build Up
I just covered this in the above tip, but making sure it's on the list so anyone skimming this article doesn't miss.
Build up - which is defined as products sitting on your hair as you continue to add more and more on top - can affect your hairs ability to grow. It also can affect how it holds a curl pattern.
Essentially, build up starts to block essential nutrients and moisture from getting into your hair. Imagine product clogging the pores of your hair.
That's basically what's happening, and you'll feel like you're doing everything right, adding all the right products...but won't have the same results. That's because your hair isn't truly getting what you think it is.
Plus, build up can be actually felt when you touch your hair. If you're working out frequently and that causes you to do a refresh routine almost daily, just be careful with the products you're using. If you continue to add products throughout the week on top of each other, that's build up territory..
9. Make Sure You Stay Moisturized (Porosity Tips)
Moisture is the key to happy, healthy curly hair. There are different types of hair that get moisture in different ways (porosity, more on that in a second), but at the end of the day hair needs moisture to have shine and hold a curl.
I recommend looking into hair porosity and learning what might be best for your hair. Hair porosity is about the way your hair absorbs and maintains moisture.
Hair with high porosity (or very open pores on the cuticle) can take in moisture very quickly. Aka water saturates the hair rapidly, because it's easy to get in.
Low porosity hair on the other hand struggles to get that moisture past the cuticle, because the holes aren't letting much in!
Porosity can also determine how much your hair holds that moisture. So even if it get into the cuticle quickly, how fast does it leave?
If your hair dries very fast...it's not good at holding moisture.
I have seen curly hair experts argue that that means you have high porosity, because the moisture can just leave back from through the giant holes. But I've also heard curly hair experts say that means you have low porosity, because the water can't get in well and therefore dries quickly because it never got that wet.
I encourage you to read more about hair porosity and study how your hair receives and maintains moisture.
For example, if your hair doesn't get wet fast and it takes a long time...you could then try steaming or heating your hair before conditioning. Heat opens the cuticles and can help you get more in.
Another example, if your hair dries extremely fast the second you get out of the shower, you need to create a curly hair wash day routine that locks in moisture with oils and gels.
Either way, make sure your hair stays moisturized after your workouts!
10. No Heat
Did this come up yet? 😂
I'm sorry about this one but stop using heat. I even stopped using hot water because cool water made a difference for me.
I mentioned above that hot water opens the cuticle...well cold water closes it. So finishing my hair with a cool rinse helps lock in the conditioner I used.
Using only extremely hot water just made my hair frizz and be unhappy. So see what works for you.
But no hair straighteners and blow dryers. If you do like to do this make sure you:
don't use heat frequently (I'm talking like take several months off in between heat
use heat protectors and proper styling techniques to prevent your hair from being overheated and burnt
11. Shampoo Less, Even If You're Working Out Every Day With Curly Hair
How much you shampoo is largely a case by case basis. But in terms of working out with natural hair, general rule of thumb is to not shampoo every day.
Sweat dries your hair out, but shampoo can too.
If you use water-soluble hair products, simply getting your hair wet can reactivate them. Which can help hold the curl and keep some of that moisture from your last wash day inside your hair.
Shampoo less and replace with co-washes like I talked about in an earlier tip. But find a shampoo schedule that works best with your hair and workout routine.
It might take some playing around but it is so worth it and your hair will thank you!
12. Create A Consistent, Sustainable Routine & Stick With It
There's a lot of advice out there about curly hair. But if I could only give one tip for growing out your curls and working out with natural hair, it would be this:
Create a sustainable routine and stick with it.
Don't try something once then never do it again. Or switch your routine up every two weeks. Of course you should try things and adjust based on your hair's reaction...but you have to give a routine a go for awhile to see if it works.
Plus, I believe that curly hair just likes consistency. When you're trying to do the most, your hair doesn't know how to act. On top of that, it's really hard for you to keep up with!
Your life and workout schedules are enough to keep up with...adding a 100 step weekly curly hair routine is going to get old really fast.
Maybe you have time for that. But if you don't, you'll fall off from it instead of staying consistent.
The key is to create a routine that works for you that is simple and effective. What do you realistically have time for? Find things that work and stick with them.
I swear the more consistent I am with my hair, the happier it gets. And it's simple too with things like:
deep conditioning once a week
detangling once a week
scalp scrub twice a month
a specific refresh routine with leave-in after workouts
Nothing crazy. Just a realistic routine that I don't have to skip when life gets busy because I created it so it fits with my life.
13. Deep Conditioning
You probably already know that deep conditioning is a thing, so no need for a million details here.
However, not deep conditioning and starting to do it was one thing.
Creating a consistent deep conditioning routine that worked with my hair and workout schedule was another thing.
I had to find what works best for my hair. Do that and stick to it - and you're hair will love it. Tips for deep conditioning your hair as someone who works out a lot:
If you're co-washing a lot because you work out a lot, maybe you don't need to deep condition as frequently.
Over-hydrating your hair is a thing! If you have extremely dry hair that is exacerbated by working out a lot, it's tough to add too much moisture. But not impossible. If your hair is limp, squishy, and not holding a curl you may need to find a mask that is protein-rich to fix the over-hydration problem.
Stick to a deep conditioning routine. Don't do it every day, but don't do it every few months when it pops into your mind.
14. Keep A Hair Journal To Create A Curly Hair Routine
Ever buy a hair product then completely forget how it made your hair feel? Then you're in the aisle wondering for 20 minutes if you should buy something.
It can be helpful to keep a hair journal if you're trying to figure out what's best for your natural hair as an athlete. Write down products, where you got them and how they made your hair feel.
Compare before use, during use, immediately after use, and a few days after use between different products. Did they help your hair maintain moisture through a sweaty workout? Did it dry your hair out more?
I know this sounds like a lot, and I've never been that great about keeping one either. But if you're really struggling to stick to a curly hair routine that fits into your workout routine, this can help simplify things for you.
15. Trim Away Dead Ends
I guess this can be kind of controversial, but making sure I cut off dead ends often was big for me. Because I basically refused to cut my hair big-chop style, I had to make sure I maintained the ends.
You can schedule trims with your hair stylist and do that per their recommendation, but you can also do it yourself.
I heard a curly hair influencer talk about how she does the "search and destroy" method once and I was hooked. Since curly hair doesn't need to be as evenly cut as straight hair, there's usually no fault with just going in and cutting off dead ends you find.
Obviously if you straighten your hair often, you might face uneven hair. But when it's curly, it's a lot easier to just search out the bad parts and cut them off.
Trimming your hair the right way can help your hair grow faster. Plus, it just will look a lot better!
16. Create A Refresh Routine With Products Meant For Workouts
In this glorious natural-hair-accepting world we live in now, (at least more accepting), there are so many products for curlies out there. Some of them are targeted specifically for post-workout curls!
Look for product lines that have curl and scalp refreshers. These products can help you restore your hair after a workout without having to do an entire wash day.
This is huge for washing curly hair after workouts. These products can help:
re-moisturize from the water lost in sweat during a workout
replenish some nutrients to your scalp skin and hair (sweat takes nutrients with it!)
wash away some of the sweat and grime
prevent itchiness and smells
One product line I'd say is worth checking out is Sunday II Sunday. I've never used it but a lot of curly haired athletes swear by it!
Get Your Workout In And Treat Your Curls Right
Was that a lot of information? I hope so, but I also hope it's not too overwhelming.
Even though I've been building my curly hair routine around a rigorous workout schedule for literally 10 years now, I still get frustrated and confused about what my curly hair wants.
The best thing to do learn what you can and then take notes of the things that work best for your hair. Treat your curls right by not over-washing them, keeping them moisturized, and switching up hairstyles to prevent breakage and you'll be fine!
What are your best tips for working out with curly hair? Drop them below - even if it's one in this article!