In order to get the best performance, swimmers sometimes carry out some very drastic actions. Knowing that few tenths of a second could be what makes the difference between winning the prize and going home empty-handed could be reason enough for this anyway.
Swimmers typically experience resistance in the water, however, getting rid of anything that causes excessive resistance and drag is one major step towards excelling in competitive swimming.
These days, swimmers have come up with different ways to reduce drag apart from a special NASA-designed swimsuit of course. One of these ways is shaving. Swimmers shave off most if not all of their body hair right before they take part in a competition and there’s a story to it.
Where Did This Shaving Originate from?
In 1953, Jon Henricks, an Australian won a number of Australian national titles after he was advised by his father, Clyde Henricks to shave down. Some years later at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Henricks and his countryman Murray Rose won five Olympic gold medals after shaving down.
They later moved to the United States in 1960 to train at USC and the practice of shaving down became commonplace among other competitive swimmers.
This was because Rose was known to have said that shaving down improved his sensory awareness in water and this was what he attributed his success too. In no time, the pre-competition shave-down became some kind of ritual with competitive swimmers.
Is There Any Confirmatory Evidence?
This phenomenon doesn’t have much scientific backing, however, some research has been done to confirm whether or not it does have an effect on swimmers’ performance.
Nine male collegiate swimmers were tested prior and after shaving down and their performance was compared to another group of teammates who didn’t shave down. The swimmers all did a 400-yard breaststroke swim at 90% in addition to a tethered effort.
The research showed that the group of swimmers who shaved down experienced decreased VO2, a reduced level of blood lactate and an increase in stroke length.
Furthermore, in a separate group of another 9 swimmers who shaved down vs 9 who didn’t, it was discovered that there was a reduction in velocity decay in the shaved group when they did a streamlined push-off as hard as they could compared to the group that didn’t shave down.
The shaved swimmers went further in a shorter time period and this showed that shaving down does decrease the physiological cost of swimming.
Another study that concentrated on studying the taper aspect of a swimmer’s meet preparation discovered that the efficiency saw a definite increase with distance per stroke going up by as much as 5% after the swimmers shaved down.
Another survey had a group of six swimmers swim 4×200 at descending effort and they got plenty of rest between reps. The following day, they shaved down and repeated the set.
Results showed that the blood lactate level reduced by 23% at maximal speed and 28% at submaximal speed. The researchers then stated that the level of improvement experienced “is nearly as great as that resulting from a season of collegiate swimming training.”
This clearly implies that shaving down does indeed improve swimming efficiency.
How Does Shaving Down Improve Swimming Efficiency?
Although it is proven that shaving does improve swimming performance, however, the exact improvement that it brings about is hard to pinpoint and as a result, it would boil down to how the individual swimmer feels.
One thing that shaving does indeed affect is how the warranty feels on swimmer’s bodies and this is commonly referred to as ‘the feel.’ Shaving typically gets rid of dead skin that is present on the surface of the body, thereby bringing the nerve endings closer to the skin. This inherently makes the skin a lot more sensitive.
Furthermore, a study done at Indiana University proved that compared to unshaved skin, shaved skin was a lot more sensitive. The effect of this finding was hypothesized to improve movement efficiency in water and improve motor control.
When the sensitivity of the skin increases, this leads to an increase in the amount of feedback that occurs with relation to body actions and this results in an enhancement of motor skills that in turn leads to reduced warranty resistance and higher propulsive forces.
In other words, this means that swimming becomes a lot more efficient. Most swimmers claim that they feel the water better and maneuvering in the water just comes a lot easier. Similarly, gliding feels like actual gliding and it comes across as more natural and of course, efficient.
When shaving, a number of swimmers claim to prefer safety razors for women because these seem to make short work of the hair and leaves a smoother result. In addition, the reduction in drag may vary from swimmer to swimmer especially since the degree of hairiness varies. So the hairier swimmer experiences a bigger reduction in drag and would tend to swim more efficiently.
In conclusion, the individual factors a whole lot into how much of a reduction in drag he would experience. This is, in fact, the major factor here.
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