By Dr. G. John Mullen, PT, DPT, CSCS of Swimming Science, Owner of COR , Creator of Swimmer's Shoulder System, Swimming Science Research Review, and >, Swimming Troubleshooting System Swimming World correspondent
Courtesy of: Brendan Maloney - USA Today Sports
Courtesy of: Brendan Maloney - USA Today Sports
SANTA CLARA, California, November 20. SHAVING is one of the oldest traditions in the sport of swimming. It may seem obvious that shaving improves swimming times, but the exact mechanism and amount of improvement is not well understood.
Many hypothesize that removing hair will decrease drag, allowing for faster velocities in the water. This mindset results in many coaches prescribing shaving at the last taper meet of the year for the greatest amount of improvement. Yet, as more coaches understand specificity and motor learning, it is becoming clearer that swimming biomechanics are specific to swimming speed. Precisely, if you swim slower, your stroke is likely different than if you swim fast. This obvious statement must be made, as many coaches prescribed long events with the goal of translation into faster speeds, even though swimming speeds are quite specific. In fact, swimming speed is so specific, one may wonder if shaving year-round to reduce drag and improve velocity is more beneficial for motor learning and specificity than shaving at the end of the year.
This question may sound nuts (especially to the men having to shave regularly), but truly think about it. Swimming is becoming more and more dependent on repeated performance and speed. Look at the World Cup. These swimmers are performing at elite levels throughout the year, practicing at their goal speeds, likely having greater motor skill development than swimming slowly. However, many coaches still prescribe archaic rituals based on high-volume, single-peaking seasons, when multi-peaks and shorter mesocycles are possible for repeated top times and a greater frequency of "practicing" specific velocities and biomechanics. If one is truly trying to replicate race conditions on a continual basis and adhere to motor learning principles, then why shouldn't we shave on a regular basis? I mean, sure, it is a slight hassle and inconvenience, but for elite performance, is it too much to ask for?
Top 3 Reasons to Shave Year-round:
1. Improved Confidence: Confidence is lacking in many swimmers and being eons away from your best time year-round is likely not aiding confidence. If a swimmer shaves regularly, they will likely be closer to their top time on a regular basis, building confidence in themselves. Confidence and psychology are difficult to gauge, but many swimmers (and athletes) have poor self-confidence, a hinder of elite performance. Shaving year-round likely improve swimming performance and confidence.
2. Motor Learning: As discussed, motor learning requires repetition. This repetition encodes the brain, making specificity essential as different speeds code different things. If you do believe biomechanics are the largest factor of swimming success, motor learning should drive your training and competition. Therefore, shaving regularly will allow closer-to-competition performances throughout the year and at practice, allowing greater motor learning.
3. Removing Variables at Taper: Taper is a complex, individual period where many variables are altered, making it highly difficult to track effectiveness. Personally, taper is likely overcomplicated in most sports, but in swimming it is further complicated with the addition of high-tech suits and shaving, adding more variables and confusion into the results of the preparatory training. For example, if you are a 25-year-old male swimmer and improve 0.10 seconds in the 100m free during taper, what was the cause of this improvement? Was it the taper? The pool? Your dry-land? Your nutrition? Think of all the possible reasons for your improvement. This complexity makes it hard for coaches to evaluate the effectiveness of a season. If someone shaves year-round one variable is removed, making it a slightly clearer picture. This clearer picture will allow a coach to fine-tune taper next time, instead of shooting in the dark!
Some will ignore this notion of shaving year-round, but it should at least be considered. If you follow motor learning, need to build confidence and are looking to improve your tapering/peaking, why not consider year-round shaving? What do you have to lose other than some hair?
Main Take Home Points:
Shaving improves swimming velocity.
Swimming biomechanics are velocity dependent.
Shaving year-round encourages end-of-season biomechanics, likely aiding motor learning.
Does Shaving Improve Swimming Performance?
Swimming and Shaving Part II: Should you Shave Year-Round?
By Dr. G. John Mullen received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science of Health from Purdue University. He is the owner of COR PT, strength and conditioning consultant, creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.