|Shaving down is one of those swimming oddities that puzzle many outsiders. They cannot understand how shaving a bunch of little itty-bitty hair off one's body can really help someone swim faster. They are often shocked by the fact that swimmers shave off all of their body hair that is exposed to the water. They feel that the cost of shaving your body must outweigh the minimal benefits gained by doing so. But talk to any swimmer that competes seriously, and they will tell you that the benefits are huge. Below we discuss, in not too technical terms, why shaving down is essential to fast swimming.|
Surface Area = Drag. The most basic and most influential factor that makes shaving worthwhile is that surface area creates drag in the water. An easy analogy could be made with two boats. They are exactly identical except that one boat has been sitting around for a while and has barnacles and moss and weeds stuck all over the hull. If they were to race, the boat with the clean hull would win, because the other boat is dragging all the other stuff along with it through the water. The reason behind this is that each one of the weeds and barnacles contain added surfaces that are attached to the boat. These added surfaces each create added friction or drag with the water. The more surface area in contact with the water, the more friction and drag that is created. That is why cars and planes made to be fast are relatively sleek.
To relate it to shaving one's body, you first have to come to the realization that the human body contains hair all over it--much of which cannot be seen easily. The hair on your head is easy to see, but the hairs all over your back are harder to see (unless you are one of those hairy beasts!). Those clear, small hairs may not seem like much, but when multiplied by thousands upon thousands, they add up.
That concept explains why a cap is better than no cap. Without a sleek bathing cap, every hair on your head (hundreds of thousands) creates additional, multi-dimensional friction with the water. But with a cap, the amount of surface area increases only slightly due to the increased surface area from the bulge created by your hair tucked under the cap. But, this is a one-dimensional increase in the area and equates to being significantly less than the multidimensional area created by all of your hair.
It must also be understood that the friction or drag created by water is many times that of air. So the result of eliminating an amount of surface area has a much greater effect for swimming than it would for running or cycling. Once it becomes clear that there is a lot of surface area on the human body in terms of hair, and that water has a lot of drag to it, it makes more sense as to why shaving is good.
So, in theory, the more hair that is exposed to the water that you can eliminate the better. That is why heads and eyebrows and toe hair, etc. all come off. Caps and high-tech suits can reduce the need to shave everything, especially when these materials are more hydrodynamic than human skin. But, many still believe that shaving it all is the best method for drag reduction.
Dead Skin. It is also believed that shaving no only takes off the hair that causes friction, but also takes off the dead skin on your body, which can also cause additional drag. The reasons this works are for the same ones listed above.
Feel. It is also believed that shaving increases sensitivity to the water. This may or may not be true, but it is certain that it does feel different after shaving down. And, if those feelings become associated with swimming fast, then at least mentally, it is a good thing. If it is as theorized, the body becomes extra sensitive to the currents and pressures of the water allowing some swimmers to actually swim more efficiently and 'feel' the water better. Our staff is mixed on this issue, with the majority believing that 'feel' is improved.
It is, however, recommended that shaving be done in conjunction with a good cycle of training and tapering (resting). It is also recommended that it not be done very often. Swimmers should associate the feelings of being shaved with the big races. If shaving is done too often, it is believed that the results from doing so will diminish--a.k.a., the law of diminishing returns. Gugly believes that three to four times a year should be the maximum for shaving unless there are extenuating circumstances.
Intimidation. Since it is known that shaved swimmers swim faster, it can be used to intimidate opponents. This is rarely a good reason to shave, since it is recommended that shaving only be done a couple times a year.
Why some swimmers benefit more than others from shaving is still a mystery. Regardless, it is a known fact that, in general, shaving results in faster swimming. And, if you have never felt what its like to be shaved in the water, hurry up and do it!