IG: @iamchrissyking

20 Pretty Protective Styles for Working Out (Beauty in Beast Mode)

If you’ve ever been known to skip the gym or shun an active lifestyle in general because your hairstyle can’t keep up, we get it. And we’ve got you.

You actually have far more styling options than you might realize. Whether you want to work with your natural hair or add some extensions while you exercise, scroll down for some fab, fitness-friendly, protective styles that can survive even your toughest workouts.

FYI, some concessions will still have to be made, whether it’s a tweak to your regimen or just your personal views. For instance, despite how you might feel about bonnets in public, don’t sleep on scarves at the gym. They’re not just for nighttime anymore.

How do you protect your hair while working out?

Tie your hair up and ideally wear a protective style. Also, never cover your entire head while working out. That can make you sweat even more and keep it trapped. Using a secure, soft-touch, sweat-wicking headband should be enough to keep your edges laid and preserve your pretty. Wrapping a silk scarf around the perimeter will also do the trick.

The Best Protective Styles for Working Out

The bottom line is, you don’t have to choose your hair over your health. We’re here to share the loveliest and least damaging hairstyles for the gym, so no matter what type of exercise you engage in, you can still be a beauty in beast mode.

1. Classic Bun

Black woman with natural hair wearing a bun hairstyle and workout gear
IG: @syeda_bombom

From weight training to HIIT, and everything in between, a bun is one of the best, not to mention easiest natural hairstyles to rock when hitting the gym. If yoga happens to be your activity of choice, opt for a high bun, so you can lie on your back comfortably without your mane pressing into the mat.

2. Space Buns

Black woman with natural hair wearing space buns and workout gear
IG: @syeda_bombom

Sometimes despite your best efforts, you can’t avoid making changes to your hair regimen to accommodate your healthy new habits. We think adding an additional rinse or wash however is a small price to pay.

If you just can’t work one in midway through the week, at the very least, mist with an odor neutralizing leave-in conditioner to refresh and replenish nutrients, as well as protect against breakage and dryness that can result from sweating.

3. Two Strand Twists

Black woman in sweats wearing her natural hair in two strand twists hairstyle
IG: @curldaze

Shout out to this low manipulation look. Although two strand twists are technically not a protective style, they can become one just by pinning, tucking or putting the ends of your natural hair away. Not to mention, they’re flexible enough to accommodate any fitness activities.

4. Short Spring Twists

Black woman with natural hair wearing short spring twists and workout gear
IG: _iamlenn

Short braided styles, like spring twists or a lob, check all of our boxes, and are probably the best for being able to werk it, while working out.

Fashionable and functional, they’re lightweight, low maintenance, easy to install, they allow your scalp to breathe and can typically be kept in for 6-8 weeks. So if you have short-term fitness goals, you can put them in, and then get it in, confident that your style and edges will remain intact.

5. Goddess Braids Lob

Black woman in home gym wearing goddess braids lob protective style and workout gear
IG: @massy.arias

6. Chunky Lemonade Braids

Black woman with natural hair wearing chunky lemonade braids protective hairstyle and workout gear
IG: @mynaturalsistas

Often a go-to for vacation, cornrows are a great hairstyle when you’re trying to get that beach body too. And there’s no need to worry about trapping dirt, odor or drying sweat. You can simply refresh hair and scalp in seconds between sessions with a soothing braid rinse.

7. Zig-Zag Cornrows

Black woman wearing a zig-zag cornrows protective hairstyle and workout gear
IG: @kensthetic_

Not to mention, cornrows score bonus points for being able to fit under a helmet, if biking’s your jam.

8. Straight-Back Cornrows

Black woman wearing large straight-back cornrows and workout gear
IG: @followthelita

9. Ninja Bun with Cornrows

Black woman with natural hair wearing a ninja bun hairstyle with cornrows and workout gear
IG: @jd_winters

This hairstyle has two cornrows braided up the back for visual interest, but similar to a bun, don’t underestimate a quick yet super chic top knot, to preserve your slay while you get your body in tip-top shape.

10. Half-Up Half-Down Faux Locs

Black woman wearing a half-up half-down faux locs hairstyle and workout gear
IG: @mynaturalsistas

Faux locs are another fantastic and incredibly fitness-friendly look. If you start out a little distressed or boho to begin with, your style can take a beating without looking like it.

Just be sure to opt for pre-looped crochet faux locs, which give you much better access to clean your scalp and natural hair post-work out than those installed using the wrap method.

11. Ponytail

Alicia Keys wearing long braided ponytail hairstyle and workout gear
IG: @aliciakeys

12. Ghana Braids Ponytail

Black woman wearing long Ghana braids ponytail hairstyle and matching sweats

If you decide to go with long braids, err on the side of lightweight. While you don’t want your hair to dictate what you do, some styles are more suitable for minimal movement.

Ponytails are perfect, for example, if you’re someone who prefers to walk or weight train for wellness.

13. Havana Twists

Black woman wearing long side-swept Havana twists and workout gear
IG: @brittnebabe

From Havana to Marley, passion to kinky, twists can typically keep up with all of your turns. Just be mindful about the weight of your braids, potentially bouncing and pulling if you plan to engage in exercises that include a lot of running and jumping.

14. Copper Marley Twists

Black woman wearing copper Marley twists hairstyle and workout gear
IG: @crystalotv

15. Passion Twists in High Bun

Black woman with natural hair wearing protective passion twists in high bun and workout gear
IG: @sincerelyoghosa

16. Kinky Twists

Black woman wearing long kinky twists hairstyle and workout gear
IG: @naturallycha

17. Small Box Braids

Black woman wearing half-up half-down box braids protective hairstyle and workout gear
IG: @heycurlie

Another great choice, box braids don’t require you to compromise on your style for the sake of convenience. You can play around with size, length (within reason) and color to your liking. Even a few beads won’t necessarily get in the way.

18. Large Box Braids with Beads

Black woman wearing long box braids with beads and workout gear
IG: @aishabeau

From spinning to strength training, pilates to plyometrics, almost nothing’s off limits with this look. Worst case scenario, you might have to pin or pull your braids up for safety.

19. Chunky Side-Swept Box Braids

Black woman wearing long box braids and workout gear
IG: @followthelite

20. Gold Box Braids

Black woman wearing workout gear and blonde box braids in a partial halo hairstyle
IG: @thejennjackson

The Worst Protective Styles for Working Out

One thing’s for sure, we don’t recommend weaves or wigs as a protective style for working out. Think about it. Your natural hair is braided and then covered, trapping sweat, dirt and oil. Because it can’t necessarily dry thoroughly, your hair’s subject to matting and mildew.

An itchy scalp alone is enough to drive anyone insane, but why risk creating an environment where bacteria can breed and damage is inevitable?

That totally defeats the purpose of a “protective” style.

Not to mention, a wig can only withstand so much movement. And you don’t want to have to find a new gym because of a wig slip.

Back view of a Black woman wearing the Soul Cap swim cap
IG: @soulcapofficial

How to Protect Your Hair While Swimming

Even swimming’s possible, if you want to do laps without disturbing your look. Thanks to this swim cap, designed by Black-owned brand Soul Cap, to accommodate braided styles, swimming no longer has to be a high MANE-tenance sport.

Clearly, there’s no shortage of protective styling options for natural hair while working out. So let’s put more movement in the natural hair movement.

Besides, if you’re really concerned with caring for your hair, focus on the long term benefits exercise provides and how getting that blood pumping and hydrating with water are essential for hair growth.

And let’s not forget about the endorphins exercise produces. Also known as feel-good chemicals, which are released by the nervous system to help you cope with pain or stress, exercising actually adds to your happiness. That means you can glow all the way up and be body, hair and (mental) health goals.