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In swimming, a few tenths of a second can mean the difference between winning a gold medal and going home empty-handed. Athletes are willing to do anything just to shave off additional time (pun intended!).
If you’ve wondered why swimmers show up to swim meets completely hairless, we have the answers! There’s a good reason for it, we promise.
Why Do Swimmers Shave?
At the end of the day, swimmers shave to swim faster. But shaving wasn’t widely adopted by the swimming community until the 1950s.
It has been proven that shaving the arms, legs, back and pretty much any other part of the body exposed to the water reduces frictional drag, improves streamline and heightens the swimmer’s awareness and feel for the water (more on that in a second).
It’s also very common for cyclists and triathletes to shave. If they fall off their bikes and skid on the road, their body hair acts like Velcro, hooking into the road and tearing out patches of skin. Smooth legs create slicker contact with the ground, allowing the athlete to escape less-scathed in a spill.
Reducing drag is key to swimming faster, and body hair creates drag — up to 10kg of extra weight, to be exact! Removing that hair will help you swim faster almost immediately, similar to putting on a tech suit.
A few studies have evaluated the benefits of shaving. In one study of nine breaststroke swimmers, researchers found that after shaving, the swimmers experienced a lower level of blood lactate concentration, decreased VO2, and longer distance per stroke.
Shaving & Your Skin
When you shave, you’re not only removing hair. You’re also sloughing off a layer of dead skin cells, which awakens a new connection with the water. While the body is constantly shedding its top layer of dead skin cells anyway, the use of a razor speeds up the process and removes cells all at once, not a few at a time. That’s all well and good, but you’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of your skin before and after shaving to keep it healthy!
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While shaving definitely has some proven physical benefits, we can’t ignore the mental benefits!
If you’ve shaved before, you know that putting on a pair of jeans or getting into bed after a fresh, full-body shave is such a refreshing sensation. And that sensation translates to the water, too!
When you remove your body hair and that layer of dead skin, you unlock a new feel of the water. You’ll feel smoother and lighter — almost like a brand new swimmer! You’ll head into your race feeling confident and speedy.
For the ultimate compounding effect, add a taper to your shave! Learn more about how to taper >
Five Tips for Shaving Down
If you’re shaving down for the first time, make sure you do it right! Get our tips below, or check out our other blog on How To Shave Before a Swim Meet.
1) Plan Ahead: Make sure you have the proper space to shave, and gather all your equipment, including razors, clippers, shaving cream, lotion, etc.
2) Start with Clippers: If you’re very hairy, make sure to trim your hair first using clippers. The better you trim, the easier the actual shaving will be.
3) Take Your Time: Shaving could take you anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Set aside enough time to do a thorough job. Rushing yourself could result in lots of cuts!
4) Be Comfortable: You might find yourself in some awkward positions when shaving. Holding those positions for too long could negatively impact your taper, so make sure you have a chair and do your best to be as comfortable as possible.
5) Ask for Help: Ask a teammate for recommendations on shaving tools, and don’t be embarrassed to ask someone for help shaving areas you can’t reach. Chances are, most swimmers have helped someone shave at some point!
Have you shaved for a swimming competition? How did it feel on race day? Let us know your shaving tips and tricks in the comments! Get 40% off Geologie custom skincare regimens here >
Regarding shaving. I find shaving causing a burning sensation in the water, which I do not care for. The freshly shaven skin opens pores and causes a sting on skin.
Please comment on the sting. Is it good?
In my last competition I got my chest, arms and legs waxed for the first time. The actual waxing was a bit uncomfortable but bearable. I did this 2 days before race day and when I dived in for my pre-race warm up I was blown away by the difference in the sensation of my body moving through the water. It’s hard to describe but it was like I was slipping/sliding through the water.
I always train in two pairs of swim briefs and with the wax and racing togs I felt a lot faster than I ever did in training This came out in my times where I set a new PB for the 100 mtr free which was 5 seconds faster than my previous best. I was 2 secs faster in the 50 mtr. I wouldn’t race without a full body wax now!
I was made uncomfortable once when someone shouted out in front of the workforce at a company bbq, “Ooo, arent you hairy??!”
I read that shaving the whole body was beneficial to sport swimmers and just applied it to my amateur swimming. It fits in with the whole sleek in the water look and I’ve never really looked back, so in a way I’m thankful for the comment!