Best Protective Styles for Working Out (and the Worst!)

I’ve lived a pretty active lifestyle for the past few years, and I’ve also gone through my fair share of protective hairstyles during that time: crochet braids, knotless braids, wigs, braids and beads, cornrows, and many more styles. It’s pretty much a given that wearing your natural hair in a protective state — versus in a blowout, twist out, or fro — will least obstruct your ability to get that cardio in, but what are the best protective styles for working out? And which are the worst?

Worst: Weaves

Do people still get weaves in 2020? Although they’re a super cute way to change up your look, weaves aren’t a great protective style for exercise because they give very little scalp access, and your hair is usually braided down in a pattern that has little spacing. When you’re working out, there’s nothing worse than a sweaty, itchy scalp that you can’t reach! You might get an arm workout trying to get the itch out, but not much more.

Not so good, But Doable: Wigs

So my Fingercomber Kinky Kurl Out half-wig largely inspired this post, because I wore it to the gym one day and said never again. Wigs may seem like a good options because your hair is cornrowed straight down underneath, but unless you’ve glued your wig down, they’re often too unstable to wear while doing burpees and crunches. Plus, if you’re using a kinky or curly wig, it’s hard to pull the hair back away from your face and into a ponytail without exposing your edges. If you’re a wig wearer and want to work out, make sure you’re rocking a customized unit (cut and styled to perfectly fit your head) to avoid any slip offs.

Better: Cornrows/Twists/Flat Twists (No Extensions)

Whether you’re a wig wearer or just rocking medium sized twists for the week, doing a protective style with your own hair like cornrows, flat twists, or two strand twists gives you the necessary scalp access to freshen up your hair between workouts. Though you might not want to wash your natural hair frequently, you can at least get some tea tree and peppermint oil on your scalp to soothe, refresh, and hydrate if you have one of these protective styles.

Better: Braid or Twist Extensions

Why styles like box braids, senegalese/havana/passion/spring twists, and crochet braids make the best protective style choices for people serious about their exercise is because they give you access to your scalp with minimal manipulation of your own hair. While you risk ruining a perfectly good hairdo if you wash your sweaty flat twists, you can easily dab a washcloth or soaked cotton ball throughout the scalp of your braids with extensions to keep your scalp fresh. Or go ahead and shampoo weekly, you won’t damage your hair by frequent detangling since it’s all put away!

Best: Shoulder Length Braid or Twist Extensions

I made a distinction between regular braids and shorter length braids and twists, because shorter braids tend to be lighter than heavier braids. When we workout, we often do a lot of movement, and butt length box braids can tug and pull on our edges with all our movement. Shorter braids won’t strain your hair as much, especially if worn in a low ponytail as opposed to a bun. The style I have in this feature photo — spring twists — are ridiculously light and the absolute best protective style for working out.

Do you feel like your hairstyle impacts how active you are? What are the best protective styles for working out in your opinion?

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  1. Hi I am a 14 student athlete. I play volleyball practice three times a week or more and sometimes tournaments on the weekends. I really want to do my own box braids without extensions is this ok.

  2. hello, I have been trying to research which style to wear for swimming daily in the ocean and also doing hot yoga weekly. I live in Hawaii so it is very humid, but can’t complain 🙂 Typically I just go natural but the humidity is creating some interesting mushroom shaped dos, haha, and I want a change. I think I have 3c or 4a hair just above my shoulders (my hair doesn’t really grow and its looked the same since I was 11 🙂 Im now 44, haha. I am curious about light weight dos like twists or braids (using extensions). Any ideas would be appreciated.

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