Michelle Welling

Navigating Natural Hair and Fitness

Words by Kira West

exercise with afro hair

The song “ I am not my hair” by India Aire always plays in my mind as I reflect on the ways in which I’m so much more than my hair. But as a Black woman it’s played such a key role in my decision making, especially around wellness. 

As an Afro-Carribean woman with hair that is thick, curly and tightly coiled, I’ve faced many challenging choices. I want to feel comfortable, whether I’m at work or working out. Fitness is my pathway to mental clarity, and I really do love a good sweat. But working out with Black hair whether it’s natural, relaxed, braided or in a weave is a process in itself. Very few people have a hair texture that allows for just a quick spritz of dry shampoo post workout. Black women have hair that can do so many amazing things, but that also means more intensive maintenance, more money spent on wigs, weaves and braids plus so many products for upkeep. 

TOUGH CHOICES: NATURAL HAIR AND FITNESS

For years I tried to find ways to work out and keep my hair straight, to maintain a weave or a straight style that I felt looked neat enough for work. I failed often. Either my hair took a beating from the constant heat to try and keep it straight, or I wasn’t able to take my favourite sweatier classes or run as often as I wanted to. The calculation that goes into the decision to workout is so far beyond what many people may realise when you’ve got to add professional development and work into the equation. 

After several years of trying to fit in my workouts while maintaining straight hair, I decided a decision had to be made. My hair was mostly relaxed at the time, damaged from the heat that I used daily to keep it straight and from the tight buns I wore to quickly make my curls neater. I felt that there had to be a better solution. So I decided to get braids and hoped that they wouldn’t come off as unprofessional because they were down to my waistline. 

afro braids for working out

I thought this would be the real hair solution but there really isn’t one - for Black Women it’s a constant balancing act. Braids can be a protective style that is relatively easy to maintain, but you’ve still got to care for your sweaty scalp and keep the braids clean which takes time. Braids also add 3-5 lbs on to your workout, which can be an additional challenge. Nonetheless, I’ve found knotless braids to be the best solution for my active lifestyle. This is a personal choice based on my decision to prioritise my sweaty workouts, which represent my ultimate ‘me’ time. The ‘me time’ that makes me a better daughter, friend, sister, girlfriend and employee. 

However you choose to wear your hair, take back the power and choose what works best for you. If you’re struggling to make your active lifestyle work with your natural coils and curls, here are 5  tips that have really helped me! 

working out with afro hair

5 TIPS FOR WORKING OUT WITH CURLY HAIR

1. Embrace your texture and length

Your hair is beautiful in whatever state you choose to keep it in and should be loved. Black Hair is so dynamic, we don’t give it enough credit. People wish for hair that can do the multitude of things our coils can. There will always be some styling work required, but having hair that is dynamic is an incredible thing!

2. Protective styles are useful, but still require maintenance

Try to workout with your hair up if possible, to avoid sweat on the ends of your hair. After you’re finished working out, allow your hair to dry before taking down your style.

3. Cleanse and treat your scalp

Use a scalp oil or treatment on your dry post-workout scalp to avoid sweaty build up and keep it fresh and healthy.

4. Use a Silk or Satin Wrap

This will really help protect your edges! Using a scarf can help maintain your style for longer without damaging the hair. If you’ve got curls, you can easily put them up using silk or satin wraps and scrunchies.

5. Use a heat protecting serum/spray

Always use heat protection then allow your hair to dry before applying heat. Heat in itself isn’t bad for your hair, but when you apply it consistently without any sort of heat protection it can definitely cause long lasting damage.

how to exercise with afro hair

CONCLUSION

These are a few of my key takeaways after years of working out with a variety of hairstyles. Ultimately as Black Women our hair is just one of many challenging choices we’re faced with in our lives. But now is the perfect time to take control and confidently do the things we love. It may not always be easy, but it’s definitely worth it to be able to show up as our best selves.