8 Protective Hairstyles That Can Withstand Even the Toughest Workout

Sweat happens — but that doesn't mean your 'do has to suffer.

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When it comes to working out, there are the obvious necessities such as cute gym apparel, comfortable shoes, and, well, a place to get your ~fitness~ on. But for Black women, another equally-important essential is a hairstyle that can withstand even the sweatiest of workouts. After all, your 'do shouldn't be comprised by your goals, and your goals shouldn't be compromised by your 'do. Enter: protective styles for natural hair that, well, protect your strands from perspiration and the havoc that can come with it (think: all the frizz).

ICYDK, protective styles are just what they sound like: hairstyles that protect strands from damage caused by the sun, extreme temperatures, and excess manipulation. These styles keep your hair out of your face and your ends tucked in (both of which are an absolute blessing when working out) and don't require a ton of upkeep. Protective hairstyles also eliminate the need for heat styling and brushes or combs, and they shield your strands from constant wear and tear, such as friction from rubbing on your clothes, explains celebrity hairstylist Derick Monroe. (And on that note...do you really need to brush your hair anyway?)

"These styles tend to last through various activities such as swimming, running, and overall exercise," says Monroe. "And for women of color, the key to protective styles is allowing them to easily keep their hairstyle post-workout without having to restyle." (A process that can oftentimes require a visit to the salon.)

It doesn't matter if your hair is long, short, curly, coily, straight, a wig, or a weave: there's a protective style out there that can work for you and your workout routine. So, how do you know which 'do is for you? Whatever one makes you feel most comfortable, says Monroe. And while there are no rules to selecting a style, just know that some can more easily be DIY-ed (i.e. dutch braids or a pony) while others require a salon sesh (i.e. box braids). In general, however, your protective style can last up to two months or whenever your next wash day approaches, explains Monroe.

Whether you just went natural or have been for years, these protective hairstyles can endure even the toughest of workouts and allow you to look fresh afterward, too. Keep scrolling for eight styles that you can sport when you hit the gym (or, these days, your living room) next.

Box Braids

If you want to have a 'do that doesn't need much — if any! — styling after you sweat, braids might be the best option for you. From single plaits and mini braids to box braids and mini cornrows, there are countless ways to sport this style. Take box braids for example: while they can be a bit heavy (mini braids are a good alternative if that's the case), they're super easy to style pre- and post-workout and don't require a ton of manipulation. To keep them looking fresh over time, pull the braids back into a bun and cover them with a cotton bandana to absorb the sweat, says Daryce Tolliver, owner of A Curl Can Dream Salon and 4C ONLY hair consultant. (

Head Wraps, Scarves, and Headbands

Level up your look (and, in turn, your workout — it's science, seriously) by adding one of these accessories to your exercise ensemble. Not only are they protective but they're also very effective at keeping your edges in place and strands out of your face. While there's no right way to wear 'em, be sure to choose a silk or satin material — such as the Grace Eleyea Satin Lined Knot Turban (Buy It, $30, ulta.com) — to avoid excess frizz.

Don't want your entire head covered? Try a headband — aka "your best friend during a workout," says Nicolle Lemonds, colorist at New York City-based Devachan Salon. "[Headbands] keep your hair out of your face without causing frizz or roughing up the cuticle," she explains. When choosing the proper headband (or DIY-ing one with a piece of fabric or scarf), Lemonds recommends picking one that will lay close to the hair so strands stay smooth and in place. There's nothing worse than having to fix and adjust your headband every few minutes during an intense cycling class or outdoor run.


If you haven't heard of the pineapple, it's about time you do. This super high, loosely-gathered ponytail allows all of your curls to fall forward and stay on the top of your head, freeing you of that feeling of hair clinging to your neck and back while you sweat. *Shudders*

Traditionally, this style uses a loose hair tie or headband (Buy It, $11, amazon.com) to gather strands without making an indent. When putting your hair into a pineapple, Monroe recommends slicking down edges with gel, a lightweight hairspray, or a headband to make sure they stay smooth and secure. After all, frizzy edges aren't exactly ideal for post-workout styling. (

Bantu Knots

Similar to two-strand twists, Bantu knots make styling your strands after sweating a no-brainer by twisting different sections of your hair into tight little buns."When you release your hair [from the buns] after your workout, you'll still have your curls intact," says celebrity hairstylist, Michael Duenas. To avoid frizz, make sure your knots are tightly secured to the head during your workout and don't feel loose or wabble with movement. You can also refresh your scalp and hair with a quick spritz of dry shampoo before leaving the gym. (Need to refill your dry shampoo stash? Check out these Black-owned beauty brands for *all* of the hair-care products...and then some.)

Top Knot

When it comes to gym hairstyles (including protective ones), top knots — or messy buns, or whatever you choose to call 'em — are always a good idea. They're easy, cute, and take practically no time to perfect, especially when yours is full of spirals. A messy bun is the "perfect way to control your curls and keep them out of your face," says Dominique LyVar, senior stylist and educator at Devachan Salon, Dominique LyVar. Top knots are also a good choice for anyone who likes to change their look on the reg, adds LyVar.

Two-Strand Twists

Early morning exercisers, rejoice! This simple style — which is one of LyVar'sgo-to's, BTW — can easily be done before hitting the hay at night, so there's one less thing to do in the a.m. before breaking a sweat. In addition to being a timesaver, these twists stand out for their post-workout versatility: you can either leave the twists as they are or unravel them for an elongated texture.

Slick Pony

Ah, the ponytail: a tried and true way for keeping hair out of your face, whether you're following a yoga flow or lifting weights. For finer hair types, in particular, Monroe recommends a semi-loose ponytail for a workout 'do. The looser the elastic and 'tail, the less likely it is that oils and moisture from sweat will get trapped in the hair, which can cause odor, he explains. Better yet, opt for an oversized silk scrunchy, such as this one from LilySilk (Buy It, $10, amazon.com), which won't pull or tug on your hair during, say, burpees, but will still keep strands in place without leaving any indents. To be even more sure that your hair stays frizz- and indent-free, after exercising, let your hair dry completely before taking out your elastic.

Dutch Braids

If you're working with third- or fourth-day curls but you're still not quite ready to wash your hair, this protective hairstyle should be your go-to, says Lemonds. Just be sure to braid as close to the scalp as possible to avoid frizz and excess moisture build-up on the scalp. "You can braid them all the way down or even stop halfway and leave the ends out," she explains. Then once you're done sweating, if you choose to take the braids out, unravel them carefully for practically perfect waves. (Up next: 11 Black Women Get Real About Natural Hair at Job Interviews)

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