Hat Hair - Workout Hairstyles

Hat Hair - How to Wear Your Hair When Walking and Exercising

Bad Hat Hair After the Marathon
Bad Hat Hair After the Marathon. Wendy Bumgardner © 2003

Is your hairstyle making you fat? If you put off exercise because you don't want to ruin your hairdo for the rest of the day, it's time to change something.

Does it seem silly to call hairstyles saboteurs in the war on obesity? In 2011, US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin called upon hairdressers to suggest exercise-friendly hairstyles to women. She found herself using her hairstyle as an excuse to skip exercise. A study of African American women found that one third used their hairstyles as an excuse to not exercise.

We All Get Hat Hair
Hair concerns cross all boundaries of ethnicity, age and gender. A hat will keep your head from getting sunburned, only to leave your hair a crushed and sweaty mess. Ponytails or braids can leave your hair with weird waves until you get around to washing it. Should you just cut your hair short or even shave it off and be done with the problem?

Here are some common hair and hat solutions.

  • The Ponytail
  • Buns and Braids
  • Buzzed, Spiked or Bald
  • Walking Hats: rated for their hat hair potential.


Smith, S. Presentation at the Fourth International Symposium of the L’Oréal Institute for Ethnic Hair & Skin Research. Miami, Florida. November 9-11, 2000.

African American Women's Hair Issues and Engagement in Physical Activity Focus Groups. Executive Summary, AARP. November, 2009.

Workout Hairstyle - The Ponytail

Walker with Ponytail
Walker with Ponytail. Wendy Bumgardner © 2011

The ponytail is my go-to hairstyle for walking and exercise. A bouncing ponytail is girlish, sporty, sexy and (above all) easy to do if your hair is long enough to gather into an elastic band.

Ponytail Pros

Gender neutral: All you need is long-enough hair, and if you have hair long enough to go into a ponytail, you understand why you want it out of your face when you are walking or exercising.

No skill needed: Just brush it back and grab it with an elastic band. You can use barrettes or bobbie pins to tame any loose strands.

Hat-Friendly: Easy to wear with a sun visor, and many hats come with ponytail holes.

Quick Clean-up: If you want to take a quick shower or wash your face after exercise, your hair is already up.

My male walking buddies think a bouncing ponytail is sexy.

Ponytail Cons:

Hat Hair Meet Ponytail Hair: A ponytail is going to wreck your regular hairstyle the rest of the day without major re-work. The elastic band makes a mark in the hair, so if you want to wear your hair down you need to wet it down and dry it to get rid of the mark.

Ponytail tan marks on the back of your neck if your pony is long enough to shade your neck.

If your ponytail is too tight, you can get a ponytail headache.

If you try to wear a hat without a ponytail hole, you spend a lot of time adjusting your hat, then adjusting your ponytail, and still end up with it feeling weird and the hat not sitting right on your head.

Workout Hairstyles - Braids, Cornrows and Buns

Walker with French Braid
Walker with French Braid. Wendy Bumgardner © 2011

If you want to keep your hair under control and still rock a great look before, during and after your workout, there are several choices other than the simple ponytail.

Buns: Take that ponytail and pin it up, either on top of your head or at the nape of your neck. Want to hide that hat hair after your workout? Wet it down and pin it up. Tidy or sloppy, you can rock any number of looks from "librarian" to "Red Carpet-worthy." 

Simple Single Braid: A simple braid starting at the nape of your neck is quick and easy to do yourself. However, if you leave your hair like that the rest of the day, people may wonder if you've gone "earth mother" or even "sister wife."

French Braid: You can rock a French braid all day as a sophisticated style. Exercise might produce some fly-away strands, so you may need to rebraid it after your workout. I do my own French braid in just seconds. You can pin the tail end under for a tidy look, or wear it out.

Small Braids: Tiny braids all over you head is generally a look done in a salon. It works well for workouts, although you may want to gather them all together in a ponytail if they are long. 

Cornrows: Cornrows are a unisex look that will keep your hair tidy for weeks, although it also is typically done in a salon. It's workout-friendly. 

Workout Hairstyles - Short - Buzzed - Bald

Buzz Cut
Buzz Cut. Wendy Bumgardner © 2011

Hat hair is no problem when you don't have hair. Sweaty head? Just run it under the faucet with a little soap, instant dry. These hairstyles will fit under any hat -- no ponytail hole required!

My crew-cut walking buddy Will doesn't own a comb or a bottle of shampoo or conditioner. He says he used to have longer hair and used hair gel. But hair gel plus sweat equals a sticky, gooey mess.

Bald is beautiful
Hair getting thin? Comb over flaps in the breeze? Just shave your head or give what little you have left a short buzz cut. But be warned, naked heads need a hat or sunscreen or your red neck will reach all the way to the top.

Women go short
Short, spiked hair can work for women as well as men. If your hair is driving you crazy to try to keep presentable, try something super short and low maintenance. Ask your hair stylist for a cut that doesn't need anything but a quick comb and maybe a little gel to look great after your workout.

But won't I look like a lesbian?
Some women rock the butch look. Others don't want to set off gaydar if their hair is too short. If you want to stay feminine but short-short, discuss it with your stylist to find the best solution for your face shape and hair type.

Post-Cancer treatment hair
At breast cancer charity walks, I've seen many women out getting the recommended amount of exercise post-treatment. Their hair comes back in differently at first and can take some extra care. How to Care for Your Chemo Curls

Next: Walking Hats and their hat hair potential.

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