How Much Does Hair Affect My Speed? The Facts on Smooth Swimming

Monday, August 15, 2016

World-class swimmers have been shaving their body hair for a long time now and they believe it makes them more streamlined.  In their opinion, the tiny reduction in drag helps them gain valuable fractions of a second which can make the difference between winning and losing.

But on the other hand, some folks reckon swimmers just think they swim faster when they're completely hair-free. So here's what the scientists have to say on the matter.

Research studies

Several research studies have proved that removing all body hair does reduce drag.   The swimmers advanced further per stroke after hair-shaving, than they did before removing the hair. So bring out the sheep shears, mate, because science now has evidence that sprinters – up to 1,500 metres – get significant speed benefits! 

And marathon swimmers gain an advantage too, as long the increased streamlining isn't cancelled out by increased heat loss.  This depends on the air and water temperatures on the day.

The real reason

However, getting rid of body hair to reduce drag is not the full reason why record-breaking swimmers shave!  Although being hair-free certainly helps to make the body more aerodynamic in water – the real reason for shaving is to remove the extra-fine layer of dead skin cells that covers the body!

This uncovers the new, sensitive skin cells and creates an enhanced feel for the water - that special sense all successful swimmers have.  Our bodies are constantly shedding dead skin cells naturally a few at a time, but using a razor scrapes them all off at the same time and greatly increases touch sensitivity.

Slide like a seal

If you've ever shaved for a special race, you'll know how great it feels to move smoothly through the water and get faster times.  This feeling lasts through your training sessions for about the next 7 days, when you'll need to do it again to get the same easy passage through the water.

If you thought shaving your beard every morning was a drag, now you've got to tackle the whole lot regularly if you want to slide through the water like a seal!

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