Groom Your Way Into the Winners’ Circle

Lance Armstrong and Michael Phelps have reason to look as clean-cut as their bankers and accountants who take care of their mountains of money: Being well-shaven -- sometimes from head to toe -- actually boosts training and performance in some speed-related sports. Cyclists and some runners shave their legs, while swimmers and triathletes often shave their whole bodies before big races. Here’s why they do it and why you, Mr. Weekend Warrior, should think about following suit.

Why Bikers Shave
Shaved legs serve several purposes for cyclists:

  1. Prevent “road rash.”

    These are the scrapes you get from falling on the pavement. (Without hair on your legs, there’s less friction and fewer abrasions.)
  2. Decrease aerodynamic drag.

    According to Bryan Roberts, an instructor at the Sports Technology Institute at Loughborough University in the UK, about two-thirds of the aerodynamic drag caused by cyclists comes from their bodies -- and it can easily be reduced by “wearing a smooth suit or by shaving the skin.”
  3. Enhance street cred.

    “Fellow bikers don’t take you as seriously if you don’t shave your legs,” says amateur Ironman triathlete Ned Tobey. “For whatever reason, it’s a credibility thing.” 

Why Runners Shave
Yes, smooth skin can improve aerodynamics enough to boost results not only in short sprinting events -- when thousandths of a second matter -- but even long-distance races. That’s what a respected study from the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise tells us. It found that being well-groomed, along with wearing clothes that fit more snugly and produce less drag, can “result in a significant performance increase” that can trim seconds off your time in a 10K race.

Why Swimmers Shave
There’s no conclusive evidence correlating body shaving with improved performance in the sport, but all competitive swimmers swear it makes a difference. Most let the hair grow when training -- to create resistance -- and wait to shave until immediately before a big competition.

“I think the benefit to a swimmer is in the ability to ‘feel’ the water. That’s definitely hard to measure, but most, if not all swimmers will tell you that shaving is important to them,” says Russell Mark, an aerospace engineer and the biomechanics expert for USA Swimming.

Why Triathletes Shave
Shaving’s performance benefits in biking, swimming and running have been mentioned above, but there’s also one side reason to do it -- especially if you’re subjecting your body to the wear and tear of triathlon training. “Massage treatments for tendonitis or sore muscles work better with no leg hair. The massage therapist can get to the skin easier,” says Tobey. “And a better massage is always a good thing.”

by Greg Melville