10 Protective Hairstyles for Natural Hair That Can Withstand Tough Workouts

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

8 Protective Hairstyles That Can Withstand Even the Toughest Workout

When it comes to working out, there are obvious necessities such as workout clothes, comfortable shoes, and a water bottle. But for Black women, another equally important essential is a hairstyle that can withstand even the sweatiest of workouts. After all, your hair shouldn't be comprised by your health goals, and your goals shouldn't be compromised by your hair. 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 or tugging from regular styling. 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 for natural hair 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." (Otherwise, heavy sweat sessions and other activities often require frequent visits 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 protective hairstyle is best 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 for natural hair can endure even the toughest of workouts and allow you to look fresh afterward, too. Keep scrolling for eight protective styles for natural hair that you can sport when you hit the gym next.

Box Braids

8 Protective Hairstyles That Can Withstand Even the Toughest Workout
Courtesy of Chrissy King.

If you want to have a protective hairstyle for natural hair 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

8 Protective Hairstyles That Can Withstand Even the Toughest Workout
Courtesy of Amina Marie.

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.


8 Protective Hairstyles That Can Withstand Even the Toughest Workout
Courtesy of Temitope Adesina.

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.

Traditionally, this natural hair protective 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

8 Protective Hairstyles That Can Withstand Even the Toughest Workout
Courtesy of Gillian Margot.

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 Michael Duenas, celebrity hairstylist. To avoid frizz, make sure your knots are tightly secured to the head during your workout and don't feel loose or wobble with movement; you can also use bobby pins to keep the Bantu knots in place. The key is to make sure that your hair is fully dry before untwisting the buns after working out. 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

8 Protective Hairstyles That Can Withstand Even the Toughest Workout
Courtesy of Monica Jones.

When it comes to gym hairstyles (including protective styles for natural hair), 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. 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. Top knots are also a good choice for anyone who likes to change their look on the reg, adds LyVar.

Two-Strand Twists

8 Protective Hairstyles That Can Withstand Even the Toughest Workout
Courtesy of Malaika Russell Cherry.

Early morning exercisers, rejoice! This simple style — which is one of LyVar's go-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. You'll want to part the hair into small- to medium-sized sections and start twisting the hair from the root to the tip. In addition to being a timesaver, these twists stand out for their post-workout hairstyle versatility: You can either leave the twists as they are or unravel them to reveal a curly look.

Slick Pony

8 Protective Hairstyles That Can Withstand Even the Toughest Workout
Courtesy of Breanna.

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, try a semi-loose ponytail for a workout protective style for natural hair, recommends Monroe. 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 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

8 Protective Hairstyles That Can Withstand Even the Toughest Workout
Courtesy of Jasmine Shenice Brown.

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.

Crown Braid

Crown Braid
Courtesy of Curl Centric.

A signature protective style for natural hair is the beloved crown braid, perfect for keeping your hair neat and tucked away as you get your workout in. There's nothing like that gross feeling of your hair getting stuck to your face, neck, or back mid-workout. To prevent that, part your hair down the middle and start braiding one of the sections taunt to the scalp. Work your way around your entire head until all of the hair is tucked away in the braid. When you reach the end, use a bobby pin to secure the braid in place. The best part is that once you're done working out, you have the perfect hairstyle to run errands or grab food with friends.

Afro Puffs

Afro Puffs
Courtesy of YMHPRIDE.

Lastly, if you want to achieve a variation of the pineapple style sans the headwrap, you can create two afro puffs. Part your hair down the middle and gather each section at the top of your head, similar to the pineapple, and secure each side with a hair tie. This fun style not only helps to keep your curls and coils intact, but it also helps reduce puffiness and frizz at the roots from sweating during workouts.

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