Is Shaving Worth It?

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Photo Courtesy: pxhere

By Mark McCluskey, Swimming World College Intern.

You are sitting in your bathroom with shaving cream and a razor – maybe multiple razors, depending on how much hair you have on your body. You have your biggest race of the season tomorrow and need to make sure you are prepared in every way possible, but shaving your body just seems weird. This may be your first time shaving for a meet or it is your tenth time shaving, but no matter what, the question is there in the back of your head:

Is shaving even worth it?

With championship season upon us, there are many different strategies that are supposed to help a swimmer go their fastest when it counts. Wearing an expensive tech suit, getting the taper just right, getting a lot of sleep, and more. Out of all of these, one of the most debated strategies for championship season is shaving.

Within the swimming community, it is pretty obvious that we believe that shaving makes a large difference. There are even rules about shaving in some swim leagues to the point that swimmers have been disqualified for shaving too close to the meet. Every time the Olympics rolls around, we hear talks about how all the swimmers are shaving before their races. NBC Sports even went so far as to interview swimmers about the necessity of shaving. Check out the video below to listen to Olympians’ opinions on shaving, including Nathan Adrian and Matt Grevers’ trade-off for getting their backs shaved.

There are a lot of people who think that shaving is purely a psychological approach to swimming faster, and in the end swimmers are gaining confidence from shaving because it feels faster: that is the only actual reason they end up swimming a better time.

Very few studies exist regarding the effect of hair on drag in the pool, but plenty have been done on the effect that drag has on bikers. In a study done in 2014 using a wind tunnel, it was discovered that shaving your legs prior to a long-distance bike race would actually reduce drag by 7 percent. To translate, in a 40 kilometer trial, shaving would save a biker 79 seconds – well over a minute in their total race. For just the drag against air, we can conclude that our leg hair causes a good amount of drag.

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Photo Courtesy: pexels.com

However, this may not convince people on whether this translates over to swimming. In a study done in 1989, nine male swimmers were brought in to swim breaststroke, once shaved and once without. Measurements were taken each time on distance per stroke, heart rate, and post-swim blood lactate. In the end, it was concluded that shaving had little to no effect on any of these measured areas; however, it did reduce active drag on swimmers, making it easier for them to move through the water as they were able to maintain velocity for a longer time.

In the end, it is obvious that getting rid of your body hair makes a difference. While it may not have as significant an effect as to reduce your heart rate or distance per stroke, in a sport that is measured to the hundredth of a second, it is pretty important to be able to reduce your drag as much as possible. Being able to reduce fatigue and perform at your peak is what taper is for, so being able to combine a nice taper with a full-body shave means that you will be able to swim at your peak ability come championships.

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

18 comments

  1. Neil Morgan

    I trimmed and shaved for a meet recently, and I was shocked at how much difference I felt in the water. I have quite a lot of body hair though. For some men, they appear to be smooth already, so it wouldn’t make much difference in terms of resistance. Only issues for me were that I couldn’t shave my back, so that probably looked a bit odd, and the itching as the hair grows back sucks.

  2. Tony MacGuinness

    Shaving removes dead skin from the surface of the swimmers body, bringing nerve endings closer to their skin, making it effectively more sensitive. A study carried out at Indiana University showed that shaved skin was significantly more sensitive than unshaved skin.

    • Bob McKeon

      Tony MacGuinness that’s the real answer the removal of that layer of skin – I found it made the swim special

    • Andrew Seaton

      Tony MacGuinness This. It’s a lot more about nerve endings than drag. I remember reading one study that looked at grip strength with a non-shaved hand and then a shaved hand. The shave made the grip strength stronger.

    • Tony MacGuinness

      Andrew Seaton
      Sensory application is sadly not taught by the many these days.

    • Troy Murray

      Andrew Seaton, so swimmers should be shaving the palms of their hands, too? Do you remember where you read that research?

  3. Mike McHenry

    From a Triathlon standpoint, it’s more of a mental thing, but if that works for you, go right ahead

  4. Ja Bounce

    Only if you follow this up with a Straight Liquid Wintergreen/Heat on the legs right before the swim… #Guarantee2-3secDropInTime

  5. Annette Morejon Gobel

    Depends on the person. My son’s best times were done unshaved, untapered, uncapped. I think it’s bc he felt more relaxed. But it works for others 🤷🏻‍♀️

  6. Anne GB

    Brazilian – those short & curly’s – lol.

  7. Tammy Arbogast

    Yup! My barely pubescent 15yo shaved for the first time, just the legs and pits (nothing to shave anywhere else). He got his second sectional cut. It could be more mental than actual, but who cares?

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