It is well known that athletes in a variety of sports shave their body hair before competing. But why do men shave their legs and what benefit do sportsmen get from shaving?
The topic was thrusted into the public eye in September 2017, when Real Madrid footballer Marco Asensio missed a Champions League game due to an injury acquired while shaving his legs.
Asensio’s injury was widely teased across social media. However, it does highlight the very real need to shave properly if you want to avoid a mishap. Nobody wants to let their team down or miss a big race due to a self-inflicted injury.
Why do athletes shave their bodies?
A lot of research has been carried out into the effects of shaving on sport performance, and some of the findings are very impressive.
Shaving for swimmers
It’s a popular misconception that swimmers mainly shave their bodies to be more aerodynamic in the water, which has been described as only partially true by Alex Kostich from ACTIVE.
Shaving also removes dead skin, increasing a swimmer’s sensitivity to the water, and making them feel they are moving faster.
This was proven by the American College of Sports Medicine, which studied two groups of shaved and non-shaved swimmers during a 400-yard swim. The shaved group showed more efficient performance, with significantly reduced blood lactate and VO2 max (the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during exercise). Their stroke length was also increased.
Shaving for cyclists
The aerodynamic benefits of shaving for cyclists are more concrete. In wind-tunnel testing conducted in 2015 that has since been endorsed by British Cycling, cyclists who shaved their legs also shaved an average of 70 seconds from their time over 40km.
Cyclists also shave as a preventive measure. In the event of a crash, the resulting ‘road rash’ is much easier to treat and clean when the body is hairless.
Shaving for runners
The benefits for runners are slightly less obvious, but they do exist. For example, Canadian Running Magazine says these benefits include the easier application of sunscreen, which is particularly useful for long-distance running in a hot climate.
Additionally, a study in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (MSSE) journal has concluded that removal of hair can contribute to time savings, ranging from 0.01 seconds in the 100m to 5.7 seconds over the course of a marathon.
In a sport of photo-finishes, 0.01 seconds could make all the difference.
Shaving for football
Finally, for footballers like poor Marco Asensio, there are performance reasons to shave your legs.
According to St Louis FC player Matt Sheldon, one reason is to aid therapeutic massages. He said: “When you’re getting massages constantly on your legs… it really pulls on your hair.” This is also an established practice for cyclists and runners.
Many soccer players also shave their legs to make the removal of bandages or support tape less painful. These are often worn by many players at all levels of the game.
Tips when shaving for sport
If you do want to shave a few seconds from your personal best, perhaps starting with your legs, here are some quick tips to do it safely:
1) Trim the hair down first with a beard trimmer or scissors.
2) Run a hot bath and soak in it for a while. This will soften the hairs and make them much easier to shave.
3) Use a top-quality razor, paying particular attention to the razor’s ability to ‘clean’ i.e. removing the cut hairs efficiently from between the blades.
4) Once you are done, pat your legs dry and apply plenty of moisturiser. Your legs will feel strange the next time you put trousers on, but that’s totally normal.
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