Shaving off Time

Story Highlights
  • Most swimmers shave their skin before a big meet
  • Shaving is done to reduce drag
  • Shaving can be the difference between a successful meet and a disappointing one

The instruments needed for a good pre-meet shave.

If you ever see a man with no hair on his legs, consider this before you rush to judge him: he is probably a swimmer, and there is a good reason for his hairless state.

Shaving is one of the many seemingly quirky things swimmers do to shave a few tenths or hundredths of a second off their times after a long season of training.

Shaving is usually only done before the final meet of a given season. The purpose is to reduce as much drag from your body as possible, so you can move through the water faster. Combined with a well executed taper, shaving can be the difference between a season ending with tears of joy or tears of disappointment.

And yes, males are no exception to this practice.

Although the shaving of legs is common for women, few men ever have to experience the strange sensation of having hairless skin. But for male swimmers, shaving is something that must be done, and must be done well.

“It’s advantageous because it lowers your skin’s natural drag coefficient by up to 30 percent, which means water flows over you in a more steady flow,” former swimmer  and Cal Poly biomedical engineering alumnus Nickolas Butler said.

As early as the age of around 13, boys are expected to shave at least their legs for their championship meet. As they get older, they have to graduate to also shaving their arms, chest, back, and if they dare, their armpits (not advisable).

One key component about shaving that is often misunderstood is that the real point is not just to shave off hair, but also the outer layer of dead skin. By doing this, the swimmer’s feel for the water is greatly increased.

“It helps me get a feel for the water,” Puma Aquatics swimmer Graham Johnson said. “It makes me feel like I’m cutting through the water like a knife through warm butter.”

As a longtime swimmer of the male persuasion, I have had to shave many times. From personal experience, I can say that although having shaved legs makes me feel really strange on land, the sensation in the water is sublime. When I jump in the water with freshly shaven skin, I immediately feel and think faster.

I always use a hair clipper before I use a razor. It makes for a more efficient and streamlined shaving experience.

The benefits of shaving are not limited to the reducing of drag. It also helps give swimmers a much needed mental edge in a championship meet.

“I think shaving has a larger impact on the mental side, because it help the swimmer feel more confident and feel like its time to swim fast,” former San Luis Obispo High School swimmer Kyle Peterson said.

Although shaving may seem somewhat embarrassing, and it’s definitely not the most comfortable feeling, most male swimmers realize that it’s something that simply must be done.

“I don’t really think that shaving is weird or girly or anything,” Butler said. “It’s something you do if you are an athlete to achieve your maximum potential.”

If football is a game of inches, then swimming is a game of tenths and hundredths, and oftentimes shaving is the difference between success and failure.

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