Do Swimmers Shave Everything? Why Clean-Shaven is Best

If you look closely at most swimmers’ bodies (for… research purposes), you’ll notice that most of them are as hairless as the day they were born. Are they really shaving everything off for their sport?

Do Swimmers Shave Everything

Yes, many swimmers shave their bodies, primarily to reduce drag and enhance their feel for the water. By removing body hair, swimmers aim to decrease water resistance, thereby moving more smoothly and swiftly through the water. This practice can also serve as a pre-race ritual, providing a psychological boost. A minority of swimmers don’t shave their bodies.

Keep reading on to learn how swimmers shaving everything got started, what are the benefits and downsides, as well as whether you should do it or not.

When Did Swimmers Start Shaving Everything?

Body shaving in swimming traces its roots back to the 1950s when athletes began looking for ways to improve their performance and gain an edge over their competitors.

Pioneers of the practice were convinced that a sleek, hair-free body could enhance their speed in the water.

Over time, the tradition was picked up by swimmers worldwide, and now the vast majority of professional swimmers shave their bodies, including famous athletes like Michael Phelps and Dara Torres.

As swimming has become more competitive, so has the art of body shaving. What began as a pre-competition ritual has transformed into a meticulous process, often involving a team effort and multiple stages for optimal results.

Today, body shaving is a common practice among both professional and collegiate swimmers, further emphasized by modern advancements in swimwear technology.

Why Do Swimmers Shave Their Bodies?

Physiological Benefits

Science has revealed some compelling reasons why body shaving can be advantageous for swimmers:

  • Reduction in drag: Body hair can create a slight friction or ‘drag’ in the water, slowing down a swimmer’s speed. By shaving off this hair, swimmers aim to decrease resistance and move more smoothly through the water.
  • Improved sensitivity: Shaving can heighten the sense of feel in the water. Without a layer of body hair, swimmers often report an enhanced awareness of their movement and position in the water, leading to more effective strokes.
  • Enhanced speed: While the speed increase might be fractional, in a sport where milliseconds matter, every bit helps!

Psychological Benefits

Beyond the physical, body shaving also serves a psychological purpose:

  • Pre-race ritual: The act of shaving before a big meet can serve as a mental preparation, getting swimmers in the right mindset for competition.
  • Confidence boost: A sleek, smooth body can boost a swimmer’s self-esteem, making them feel more streamlined and prepared.
  • Perception of speed and smoothness: Many swimmers report feeling faster and more efficient in the water post-shave, further fueling their performance.

The Shaving Process for Swimmers

When Do Swimmers Shave?

Timing is crucial in the shaving process. Many swimmers prefer to shave just before important competitions – often during the ‘taper’ period when hard training winds down, and rest increases to prime the body for peak performance.

Shaving too often has its share of risks. First, you’re shedding off dead skin cells more often, putting you at risk of skin dryness, irritation, and redness. Second, it also increases the risk of ingrown hairs and an infection if you accidentally nick yourself. Third, for swimmers who have a lot of hair, it’s a time-consuming process to shave their entire body so often.

As a result, it would be prudent to shave just before a swim meet and to not worry about hair growth when training.

How Do Swimmers Shave?

Shaving is more than just grabbing a razor and getting to work. It often involves a careful process:

  • Preparation: Skin and hair softening techniques, like soaking in a warm bath, are used to prepare for shaving.
  • Shaving: High-quality razors are used to minimize skin irritation, and shaving is done carefully to avoid cuts. Both electric and manual razors find favor among swimmers.
  • Post-shave care: Post-shaving, it’s important to hydrate and soothe the skin with products like moisturizers or aloe vera gel to prevent irritation or dryness.

Debunking Myths Around Swimmers Shaving

Does shaving actually increase speed?

Yes, but only slightly. The real benefits come from the increased feel for the water and the psychological boost.

Do swimmers shave their entire bodies?

It depends on personal preference and comfort. Most swimmers shave their entire bodies including their head and private parts, while others only focus on the arms and legs.

Does hair grow back thicker after shaving?

No, this is a common misconception. Shaving cuts hair at its thickest point, which can make it seem coarser when it grows back, but it doesn’t affect the thickness or growth rate.

Alternatives to Body Shaving in Swimming

While body shaving is a popular practice, it’s not the only way swimmers try to reduce drag.

Modern swimwear technology has led to the creation of ultra-sleek, drag-minimizing suits. Full-body suits, for instance, can cover most of the swimmer’s body, reducing the need for shaving.

Additionally, some swimmers opt for more permanent solutions, such as laser hair removal, to bypass the need for regular shaving.

Some swimmers also opt for waxing instead of shaving. Unfortunately, there are some downsides to these alternatives as well: laser hair removal is expensive, and waxing is painful.

Shaving strikes a good balance between being relatively pain free and not so costly if you only shave before a competition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do all swimmers shave their bodies, or is it optional?

Shaving in swimming is largely optional and tends to be more common among competitive swimmers. While many athletes in the sport choose to shave their bodies to reduce drag and enhance their feel for the water, others may opt out due to personal preferences or skin sensitivities.

Is there a specific method swimmers use to shave their bodies?

Yes, swimmers often follow a specific method when shaving their bodies. This typically involves soaking in a warm bath or shower to soften the hair and skin, then using a high-quality razor (either electric or manual) to carefully shave the body, avoiding any nicks or cuts. Post-shave, moisturizing is important to keep the skin hydrated and prevent irritation.

Do high school swimmers shave?

High school swimmers often begin to adopt shaving practices, particularly those who are looking to turn pro. It’s usually seen during major meets or championships. However, shaving at this age is completely a personal choice and not a requirement.

Does body shaving also apply to open water swimmers?

Open water swimmers also sometimes shave their bodies, but it’s less common than in pool swimming. This is because the benefits of shaving, like reduced drag, are less noticeable when they are wearing a full body wetsuit. However, the ritual and psychological benefits might still apply.

What tools do swimmers use for body shaving?

Swimmers use a variety of tools for body shaving, including both manual and electric razors. The choice often comes down to personal preference. Manual razors can offer a closer shave, while electric razors may be faster and easier to use. Swimmers also use products like shaving cream to reduce friction and post-shave lotions to soothe the skin.

Do both male and female swimmers shave their bodies?

Yes, both male and female swimmers often shave their bodies for performance benefits, not aesthetic ones. The practice is not gender-specific, as the potential benefits – like reduced drag and improved water sensitivity – apply to all swimmers. However, the extent of shaving may vary based on personal preferences. For example, male swimmers are more likely to shave their head bald, but some female swimmers have also done the same.

Does shaving apply to all types of swimming competitions or specific ones only?

Shaving is common in most types of swimming competitions, especially at the elite level. The practice is most prevalent during major competitions like national championships or international meets where swimmers are looking for every possible edge. However, not all swimmers choose to shave for every meet – some reserve it for the most important competitions of the year.