The Best Hairstyles To Work Out In

Say goodbye to boring, non-functional gym hair forever!
Publish date:
August 11, 2014
ponytails, buns, hairstyles, French braids, waves, topknots, fitness, ballet, gym hair

When it comes to my general well-being, nothing is as important as working out.

I'm a bit of a type-A perfectionist. I know, you're shocked. This intensity, while often really awesome, tends to make me very twitchy and anxious. If I don't expend a LOT of my nervous energy, I start chewing up the furniture like a neurotic dog.

Exercise is my saving grace. When I'm on the right side of physical exhaustion, my brain relaxes and I'm a happier person. Working out has become crucial for my mind as well as my body.

But lately, I've had a beauty problem. My hair has gotten a lot longer and I've been having a hard time figuring out how to wear it when I exercise. I can't exactly shave it all off when my head gets hot, so I needed to find an easy, comfortable way to style my hair for the gym.

To that end, I tested out six different hairstyles to find out the very best ones for the gym. Read on to find out which style gets the coveted five-out-of-five muscle-y arms!

Style #1: The Ponytail

A perennial classic: it keeps your hair out of your face and looks delightfully 50s cheerleader.

PROS: With a good elastic, it definitely keeps your hair back. It’s adorable on the street or in the gym, and no matter how long or thick your hair is, it probably won’t give you a headache from prolonged wear. Bonus: if you’re working out in the great outdoors, you can flip it around to keep bugs away from your precious face. What do we say to the God of wasps? NOT TODAY.

CONS: If your workout involves any sort of lying down or jumping around, you’re likely to get pretty annoyed at your pony. For one thing, the hair tie irritatingly digs into the back of your head and makes it hard to lie flat. For another, if you’re looking down at the floor (hi, planks!) your hair is STILL gonna fall in your face. And let’s not even talk about getting slapped in the face by your own ponytail when you run. It’s just so insulting.

OVERALL RATING: Three muscle-y arms. Not terrible, depending on what you’re doing, but room for improvement.

Style #2: The French Braid

When not adorning the heads of possessed Victorian babes, a simple French braid keeps hair out of one’s face while sweatin’ to the oldies.

PROS: It's stylish. If I wear my hair like this for Pilates, people always ask me what the occasion is (the correct answer being “life”). It’s comfortable to lie down on, and it doesn’t bounce around much while doing cardio.

CONS: You can’t wear a headband comfortably, which sucks for those of us with bangs. If your hair is very thick or you have shorter layers, you might also have a hard time--even if you plait it unbelievably tightly, little bits have a way of escaping during your workout.

OVERALL RATING: Two muscle-y arms. Heavy on style, light on staying power. Sad trombone noise.

Style #3: The Top Knot

Beloved of bloggers and models off duty, this seems to be the most popular gym-bound hairstyle lately.

PROS: It’s quick and it’s easy, and it gets your hair out of your face (and off your neck). It also looks really cute with or without a headband, and it can leave your hair in pretty, unkempt waves when you take it down (Rapunzel-style) after your workout.

CONS: If you’re running or doing some other form of vigorous cardio (squats to “Call Me Maybe” totally count), top knots also flop around uncomfortably atop your head. This is really annoying, because who wants to stop in the middle of a workout and fix their hair? And if your hair is shorter, you’ll either have to French braid the underside or use a shit-ton of bobby pins to keep the errant short bits up, up, and away. I’m willing to spend time fixing my hair for most occasions, but the gym is NOT one of them.

OVERALL RATING: Two and a half muscle-y arms. I see what this hairstyle is going for, but alas. Earwax.

Style #4: The Bun

As ballet becomes more popular (thanks for being amazing, Misty Copeland!), so too, does the simple bun.

PROS: When placed higher up the back of the head (as above), you can easily lay down on your back with no discomfort. You can run, dance, plank, kickbox, whatever--this style is SECURE. Spray it with a little hairspray and you’ll be greeted with loose waves when you take it down.

Super pretty.

CONS: Many people who didn’t spend their childhood having ramparts of pins jammed into their head find secure buns uncomfortable. So if you are tender-headed (and I am not), this might not be your bag. You may also have a hard time if your hair is short, very fine or has a lot of layers in it...or if you still have nightmares about your ballet teacher yanking your hair into a bun. Not that I have personal experience with that last one or anything. Nope.

OVERALL RATING: Four muscle-y arms. It doesn’t get a perfect score because I still have ballet hair issues. Don’t judge me.

Style #5: Half-Up-Half-Down

Apparently there are people who can work out with their LONG hair everywhere. I’ve seen them. I think they must be wizards.


CONS: Sweaty, gross, messy, and annoying in every way possible. Everything you think would be wrong with this, is wrong with it. Your hair gets in your face. It sticks to your back. It gets all stringy and dries in weird shapes. I guess you look cute walking to the gym, but that’s literally it.

OVERALL RATING: Negative two muscle-y arms. Hells bells, Trudy.

Style #6: Double French Braids

A staple of my high school years, I brought back this dual-braided style for the gym.

PROS: Because you’ve made thinner braids, no hair escapes while you’re moving around. Because there’s no hair-knot at the back of your neck, it doesn’t bug you when you lay on your back. And if your hair is longer and the braids themselves bug you, you can always cross them over in the back and pin them flat.

This can also be a cute non-working out style, too.

CONS: Depending on your hair type, the braids can leave some funky, crimped waves afterward, which is not everyone’s thing.

OVERALL RATING: Five muscle-y arms! This is the style I’ve been turning to the most lately, because it’s comfortable, quick to pull together, and functional.

Did I mention it's SEVERELY CUTE?

OK, everyone, let's talk. What's your favorite way to wear your hair for a workout? Does anyone want to defend the half-up-half-down style, or at least tell us how you stand it? I MUST KNOW!