Looking good and working out: The hair problem

Image description; Sam wearing a purple headband/hair cover that says “being badass” in black letters

I was back at the hair salon last week, getting shorn. As usual, we had the age old debate about how long/how short etc etc. I tend to keep my hair longer on the top in the summer (because curls) and short on the sides and back (because summer sweat and bike helmets). In the winter I have to blow dry (because cold and Canada) and I don’t have the patience so I like it short then too.

All of this is just to say that I get it that my hair choices are heavily influenced by my workout habits. I don’t have fancy long hair (as much as I’d sometimes like to) because it simply isn’t practical. But I get that lots of women–faced with this conflict–choose the other direction, prioritizing hair over working out.

I’m in a forgiving career path for hair choices. Short hair also helps me with other kinds of visibility. And I’m not a particularly appearance focused person. Short, curly hair works for me.

Hair and working out is obviously an issue for lots of women. In studies about why women don’t exercise as much as we ought to, hair is often raised as an issue, especially for black women. That’s because the kinds of hairstyles that count as professional for black women often involve big commitments in terms of time and cost. See Black Hair v. Working Out: 3 Black Women Share Their Stories and Hair deters many African-American women from exercising.

I got chatting about this with the stylist who does my hair. She admitted that she doesn’t exercise much because she only washes her hair every second or third day and that that timing adds an additional constraint to the already vexed “when do I find time to workout?” question. She says she maybe gets one workout a week in.

While chatting about hair and exercise, I mentioned  the older women I know who get their hair done once a week and who spend the rest of the week protecting their ‘do. She says that’s on the rise again, the weekly blow out. She has a a few young women who come in once a week to get their hair done, usually on Friday, and they also don’t workout–except maybe Thursday night or Friday morning. Again, once a week to go with the weekly hair ‘do.

The internet is full of articles about it. Just look! See Is Your Workout Ruining Your Hair?  and How to Deal With Your Hair After the Gym also Here’s How To Avoid Washing Your Hair After Working Out and How To Maintain Your Edges While Working Out.

We’ve written about it too. See Sweaty hair solutions (Guest post) and Helmet Head, Sweaty Hair, and Summertime Curls.

It’s tempting to think about this as just a question of values, weighing caring about hair against caring about time for fitness activities. But it’s not just a matter of individual women and our values and choices. There’s also the matter of judgments that others make.  Some of the articles about black women and hair talk about women being nervous wearing a hair covering to protect a hair do for fear of mockery. And we as a society also aren’t easy on women who wear their hair natural for the purposes of sports.


Do you experience a tension between hair and working out? What’s your personal solution?

Sam’s new summer hair cut

9 thoughts on “Looking good and working out: The hair problem

  1. I also share the same concern…with naturally curly hair and living in the Southeast US, the summer is a frizz situation. I started getting Keratin treatments, they last about 4 months and keeps your hair straight and not frizzy. It is not the dangerous Brazilian chemical treatment, this is much healthier for your hair. Not recommending it for everyone, only those who don’t feel themselves when they have a curly head.

  2. Great question – I have been moving towards washing my hair only every 2-3 days, and using less shampoo when I do wash, for environmental reasons. I have noticed that, increasingly, my hair doesn’t mind a good workout even if I don’t wash it the next day. I have wavy hair that I keep longer than shoulder length so I can pin it up, or at least put it in a braid or ponytail. Frankly, I think we are our own worst critics. I work in management in the public service; over the years I have abandoned make-up, business suits, heels, and now daily hair washing. I bike to work and sometimes arrive looking distinctly bedraggled (I don’t have access to showers and change rooms so need to towel off and dress in my office or the bathroom). Absolutely no-one has ever commented on, let alone criticized, my choices.

    1. I love this! I wash my hair daily because I sweat from the head a ton while working out and my hair gets super oily in 1.5 days. But I do wear my hair in a wet French braid to work almost daily and no one has said anything. My boss gave me a fistbump one day after I told him about a double workout.

  3. I get a weekly blow out.
    I have long, thick and very curly dry hair. It would probably be very gray if I didn’t colour it.
    I practice yoga daily. All kinds of yoga. Intense sweaty yoga, more still yoga.

    I have found that tying it up, dry shampoo and a little touch up can get me an entire week of pretty, waved hair. I also often cover it (think kerchief) when cooking.

    My stylist has my blow out down to 30 minutes. And it looks great all week…having thick frizzy hair really is the secret.

    It’s possible.

  4. My solution, finally, was to go so super short and stop blow drying altogether. i just slap some mousse in my wet hair to keep it flat and that’s how I wear it every day, year round. Also, ball cap while running. I love my short hair and I actually get lots of compliments on it (people who say they “wish” they could do that lol).

  5. My hair is a huge issue for me! I have very fine, straight, super oily hair. I absolutely need to wash it every day or it looks horrible. I have tried super short, chin length, shoulder length and now middle of my back length. Each length has its advantages and disadvantages. Wearing it long now means no worrying about helmet head. It just is always super flat on top, helmet day or not. For work, I tend to wear it up in a bun, right out of the shower. I take it out at the end of the day to braid it for a workout and it’s sometimes still damp. Then I sweat in my workout, come home to have a body-only shower, but go to bed with sweaty hair. I think there are only about 3 hours out of 24, just before waking up, that my hair is actually completely dry, at least in the summer. Obviously, super short hair would be much easier, but I don’t feel it is flattering for my facial structure. I really like having it long enough to braid, but I don’t know how long I can handle the hassle of having it this long.

  6. I have to wash my hair after I run, but I don’t usually wash my hair on a day I lift weights. I have fully bleached, unicorn frappuccino highlighted, dry, curly hair that I blow dry and curl every few days. I used to have short hair (a pixie that was longer on top) which was awesome for working out, but I got tired of it after a few years and grew it out recently.

  7. I have longer curly hair and I’ve had loads of trouble with it this summer. I want to condition extra because of sun & salt water exposure, but I’ve also had to wash more (because sweat & salt water). I have the advantage of working from home and having a very flexible schedule, but I can certainly see that it would hinder workouts for many women.

  8. Haha. The struggle is real. I gave up today. Bun styled with sweat. You look great! 🙂

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