Exercise and Natural Hair

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If you read My HairStory, you know that the primary deciding factor in my journey to natural was related to my exercise regimen. I was wearing my relaxed hair curly (with the aid of Frizz Ease Hair Serum and L’Oreal Pumping Curls) because it was far easier to maintain than straight hair with a 6 day a week exercise schedule.

I began exercising between my sophomore and junior years of college. Prior to that, I was very inactive, about 15-20 lbs. overweight and the heaviest of my sisters, who were always athletic, petite and thin. However, something clicked that year when an aunt told me to”make sure you can fit down the aisle” as I was going to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. I think I just decided I was sick of being the “fat one” and constantly being chastised about my weight by the older members of my family. It was a challenge and I had something to prove. So, the summer of  1992, I began working out, lost 15-20 lbs. and have been exercising ever since (with some hiatuses-see below;). I even competed in five all-natural bodybuilding competitions for 2 years in my late 20s, placing in all of them.

However, from 2009 through the end of 2010, I pretty much fell off of the wagon with only a few brief stints of working out and eating right. I was under a lot of stress, started eating badly and gradually began putting on the pounds until I was 25 lbs. over my ideal weight by the end of December 2010. So, a month before the Grow Out Challenge (GOC) began, I knew it was time to get myself back together in regard to my diet, exercise regimen and nutrition. Then, the GOC came along and helped to further motivate and focus my health goals. As of present, I have lost 24 pounds with 1 more to go to be at my ideal weight of 120 lbs (I’m 5’1″) by the end of the GOC, which is over at the end of July.

To get here, I’ve been exercising 5-6 days a week, as previously indicated (see My Regimen under “About Me,” if you are interested in my diet and exercise routine). Although natural hair is far easier for me to handle, that is not to say that it is without its own unique set of challenges with a regular, very sweaty exercise routine. However, it is doable. As I often see questions on the hair sites/blogs/pages about what styles to wear and how to preserve styles when one works out regularly, wanted to provide some suggestions based upon my own experiences.

  • Wear protective styles like cornrows, flat twists, braids and/or two-strand twists. If your braids or twists are hanging, pull them up into a bun or high ponytail so that they are off of your neck. Tie a satin/silk scarf around your hairline and then a wear a cotton bandana or a sweatband over the satin/silk scarf. The silk/satin scarf with keep the hair smooth and keep your hair protected from the moisture robbing cotton of a bandana or sweatband. But, the bandana/sweatband will absorb the sweat, unlike the scarf.
  • When wearing a TnC, BnC (Braid and Curl), WnG or Twist/Braid-Out, put the hair in a high, loose pineapple with a satin scrunchie. If your hair hangs a lot like mine, fold the ponytail over towards your face and place another satin scrunchie (no wrapping) around the base, leaving the ends out to preserve the curls. Then, tie a satin/silk scarf around your hairline and put a bandana or sweatband over it.
  • When wearing a bun, again tie a satin/silk scarf around the hairline and then don a bandana or sweatband.
With any of these options, once you finish your exercise routine, remove the bandana or sweatband, but leave the satin/silk scarf until hair dries. You may decide to replace the sweaty scarf with a dry satin/silk scarf until your hair dries so that it dries more quickly. Two more option that you can use instead of the scarf/sweatband combo are the Dri Sweat Edge Women’s Headband or the Dri Sweat Active Wear Protector Cap  (if you wear a low ponytail/bun).
You can pick both of these up at Sally’s for $3.99 each. I purchased the cap a few months ago, but rarely wear a low ponytail. So, I wasn’t able to use it that often. However, I picked up a couple of the headbands this past week after being reminded about them by fellow GOC blogger JadeKoi. They work pretty well and I really needed something very absorbent, but less bulky and hot, for hot yoga.

Hope this is helpful. However, as you all know, what works for one curly may not work for another. I don’t and have never really experienced a flaky, dry or itchy scalp. So, I only wash once a week with no rewetting or co-washing between wash sessions. When I wore WnGs the majority of the time, I did co-wash during the week to refresh/re-style, but not due to scalp problems. So, if you do experience a flaky, dry or itchy scalp or dry hair, you may not be able to go a week without washing or co-washing. However, if you wear a style that exposes your scalp, an option may be to swab your scalp with an astringent mix and then oil during the week. You’ll have to decide what works best for you.

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20 responses »

  1. Congrats on the weight loss! That’s excellent! You should post before and after pics! =)

    As far as the hair goes, I like the idea of the satin scarf under the cotton one. At one point I was just wearing the cotton one to keep my hair down, then I just let it be and would come home with a big frizzy, wet mess. No bueno!

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  2. Please google Ernestine Shephard when you have a chance. She is a 74 year old black body builder. She has long beautiful natural hair. Between reading your post this morning and seeing the young Ms. Ernestine featured on another site, I am so inspired! Check her out!

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    • Hi Valencia … glad to see a profile/avatar pic for you now=)!!! I saw Ernestine and that video about a year ago=). I sent it to a few friends myself=). Thank you so much for the continued support and encouragement=).

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  3. Hey I too go to the gym about 4 days a week . Im the same height as you but weigh 165 (my kids made me fat !) I cant keep my hair straight worth a damn and my wash and go’s look like a mess. I twist and its working ok. Im trying . Most of my classes are cardio and I wear my satin bonnet when working out. the other day someone asked me if I was going to bake a pie ..SMH

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    • Awwwww=). You should try the Dri Fit headband. Maybe that’ll work for you. And yeah, I don’t have any kids (one day, hopefully). So I never compare what I can do now to what I’ll be able to do once I have one. In fact, I’m terrified that I’ll put on tons of weight and won’t be able to spend the time needed to take it off!! One of the reasons I decided to get myself together is that I better at least start at “ground zero” before getting pregnant to give myself as much a chance as possible to regain my shape and conditioning! But, you go girl. If you’re going 4 days a week, that’s fantastic. I’d suggest adding weights though. Cardio burns calories while you’re working out. Muscles burn calories while you’re doing nothing. Increased muscle mass increases your base metabolic rate (BMR) so you’re burning more calories at rest whereas cardio does nothing for BMR.

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  4. I love your posts here (and on CurlyNikki, BGLH). Very inspiring on the hairstyle front (I am 13 months post, 1-2 inches relaxed hair in front and crown only) and this fitness post is amazing (I am 5’2 126 pounds, have lost 20 of the 26 I picked up between 09 and 11). All the best, look forward to your future posts!

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    • Wow Leslie! It seems like we are in the same boat!! Keep at it and you’ll get to your 120 soon too! And thank you so much for the support!! I remember your picture on CurlyNikki’s FB page! Lovely curls=)!

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  5. Can you email me your workout, diet regimen. I have been working out for years and just get bored even though I have just about every exercise tape. once i get started I do nto stop but I am 5’5 and weight 154(which is an all time high for me). I used to be 135 max and crave that # now. I am blessed that I am mostly muscle and wear it well cause most people think I weigh no more than 140 since my frame is very small and portioned right. i want to lose no more than 20 lbs by mid August so any suggestions are helpful. I eat VERY well and usually exercise 3-4 days a week at the most but I am a busy mommy of twins(age 3), so any free time is usually spent sleeping. LOL! my email is msguyana@nc.rr.com

    Thanks in advance.

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    • Hi Patrice,

      Did you read “My Current Regimen” post? Everything in my diet and my exercise regimen is essentially there. The only things I would really add is that I use Angie Miller’s Kettlebell Bootcamp DVD for my kettlebell workout 1-2 days a week. I think everything else is covered. If you tell me what you ae eating on a daily basis and what you do as your exercise regimen (and how long), I might be able to give some suggestions. Hope this helps and God bless you with 3 year old twins!! As I said in the post, it’s easy for me to talk big since I only have to worry about myself=). However, my SO has agreed that when we get married and have kids, he’ll watch them so that I can exercise. We’ll see how well that works in reality one day;-).

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  6. I found your website right on time. Congratulations on your weight loss. You look great and I want your abs. LOL I’m 5’1 as well and currently working out to lose at least 20 pounds which would put me at 126. I read your food and exercise regimen. My goal is to be in the 120’s by the end of August. Do you think this is doable?

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    • Thank you Jazmine=)!! Generally, 2 pounds a week is the amount that you should expect and work towards losing and the last week in August gives you almost 10 weeks. So yes, it should be doable, especially since you’re young and will most likely be able to lose weight more quickly than I=). I was probably almost exactly your age and almost your weight when I first decided to exercise and lose weight. And, I did it the summer between my Sophomore and Junior year in college, getting down to 120 pounds. Isn’t that crazy that our stories are so similar?!? Anywho, so I know you can do it. I’m planning a post about what I used to lose weight the very first time. I’m going to FB inbox you as I don’t want to give it away on here yet=)! There’s a book I’m going to recommend that you get and give the plan a try. That book gave me the foundation I needed and all the things I’ve learned since validate what was in that old book. It’s, like, from the 80s.

      I will tell you is that you shouldn’t get frustrated if the scale doesn’t move too quickly the first month (other than your first week). I find that I’m working out hard, but the scale doesn’t move much. However, I will physically feel the difference as my body changes and my clothes start fitting better. Then, once I get past that first month, the pounds start falling off. So, just stick with it. In order to do this though, you’ll have to be VERY disciplined. I wasn’t worried about losing the weight that quickly this time … hence the 6 months to lose 25 pounds … so I wasn’t militant about my diet or exercise regimen week in, week out.

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  7. Thanks Skills for getting back to me so quickly. I appreciate the tips. I’m in my early 30’s and people are always saying its harder to lose once you hit 30 and I noticed it took you 6 months to lose the weight but since you stated you wasn’t in a hurry to lose the weight I now feel hopeful that it won’t take me a long time to drop this weight. I’m eating better and exercising more.

    Kind of off the subject but its so liberating to be able to exercise and not have to worry about my hair so much. I’m natural as well and my hair is one less thing I have to worry about or use as an excuse not to work out like I did when I was relaxed.

    Have a good one!

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    • Ha! I thought you were a different Jas!! I have about 3 Jazzmine/Jazmine FB hair friends! I thought you were the college aged one as I didn’t cross check your surname! LOL! Anywho, in your early 30s, it’s not bad. Now that I’m almost 40, I can definitely feel the difference! But, one thing I realized is that I was doing myself a major disservice by wearing horribly worn out sneakers to run. That’s a future post too! Probably sooner than later so that others don’t make the mistake I did! As to the hair comments, that’s not off subject. The post is Exercise and Natural Hair! LOL!!! And yes, it is liberating! In fact, you can use exercise to deep condition your hair! Put in your DC, throw on a baggie and a Winter hat and hit the road, treadmill, gym or DVD and you’ll get conditioned in two places, body and hair=)!!

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  8. I am 11 months into my transitioning from a relaxer and am going to begin Bikram Yoga this week. Do you happen to have any suggestions as to what I can put in my hair while taking the class? The room is heated to 104 degrees with 40% humidity. I often wonder if I should coat it with coconut or olive oil to protect it from the heat. In the mean time I will look in Sally’s for the headband you suggested.

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    • Okay Heather, can I tell you that sometimes my common sense deserts me and I first read that 11 months as pregnant instead of transitioning!!! LMBO!! As to using oils, I think that could be problematic because you will sweat so much, it’ll run down your face and could cause other problems. I’d just suggest making certain your hair is moisturized with water and then seal with a cream and bun it, if you have the length. Twists or braids are also an option and will work for shorter hair as well as allow the scalp to “breathe” more than a bun or ponytail. However, to be honest, you will sweat so much, you will probably want to co-wash more often than not. I was usually taking a class on Friday, washing my hair that night or the following morning and then taking a class on Sunday with twists installed. I could go one hot yoga class and get through the week without washing. However, once I hit about three classes, it was hard not to wash and I don’t tend to have scalp issues. Hope that helps!

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