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Does Shaving Your Body Actually Help You Swim Faster?

Does Shaving Your Body Actually Help You Swim Faster?


This episode of DNews is brought to you by
Harry’s. Body shaving is a tradition in some sports…
Maybe I should try
it out… you know… for sports. Shaving in sports is a big deal, cyclists
do it to reduce road rash, and cut drag; swimmers do it to feel slicker in the water, and cut
drag, and body builders do it… well… to look like this[a][b]. Wowza. Whew… Anyway,
you can see that speedy sports shave their bodies to CUT DRAG. They’re saying, cleaning
off these follicles are going to help you win a race! How do you feel about leg shaving
for swimmers? Meh?! Yeah… That’s how I felt about it. Kind of just like, okay, go ahead!
As long as you feel better! But science says I might have been playing down a SIGNIFICANT
advantage without knowing it! Drag reduction in speed sports is a huge deal.
Cyclists have been doing it for over 100 years. But it wasn’t until 1987 that a study was
conducted for Bicycling Magazine by an engineer in a wind tunnel. This study determined the
speed savings were 0.6 percent. Which is just sad. That’s SO small. Maybe enough to save
five seconds over an hour at 23 mph (37kph). The results were so piddling, and wind tunnels
so expensive to use, no one ever repeated the experiment… until now. A special bicycle-specific wind tunnel was
built by the Specialized cycling company, and the researchers had free use of it for
testing! Coincidentally, one of their riders had shaved that day, so they figured, why
not? Don’t cost nothing, and they found the shaving had reduced the cyclists drag 7 percent!!
SEVEN. This meant, a cyclist in a 25 mile (40km), one hour race could save 79-seconds
by simply shaving their bod! These findings were revolutionary, so to double-check they
tested five more cyclists. They all saved 50-82 seconds over 40 km. WHAT?! They also
tested different helmets, different positions and long-sleeved racing gear finding significant
power savings here and there. They were shocked. Shaving works, at least in cycling. In swimming, the jury is still in over its
head. Common wisdom is shaving is mostly psychological. HowStuffWorks says, “Razors strip dead skin
cells off the body in addition to hair, exposing a fresh layer of sensitive skin cells.” Because
of that, the swimmer FEELS better in the water. Though a 1989 study, the only one I could
find, tested the physiology of shaved and unshaved swimmers while also testing their
drag reduction. Turns out, physiologically, there were no differences in heart rate, oxygen
use, or lactic acid buildup (which is what makes your muscles burn during exercise).
There WERE, however, noticeable drag reductions. Mentally, swimmers probably believe themselves
to be slicker and more powerful in the water, even without science, but we’re here to back
them up. Ladies and dudes, you’re totally slicker. Some runners will also get into the habit
of body shaving, expecting that over a long race they might reduce drag, but more often
the clothing worn will produce more drag than the lack of hair could ever make up for. So
instead, most Olympic runners today wear computer-designed, NASA influenced running suits, designed to
help them glide through the air. Or so they say!

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