The most obvious reason for any swimmer to shave their body is the same reason most people do: to remove unnecessary hair. While there are many other factors, hair is a large one. Nearly any girl can tell you how great it feels when your legs are freshly shaven. The sheets are softer and pajamas comfier. When you get in the pool after a shave, it’s a similar feeling. It’s like you’ve suddenly transformed into a torpedo, able to speed through the water with little to no resistance. Paired with the fastskin (a super tight suit that can take hours to get on) most swimmers wear after a shave, you feel unstoppable.
Have you ever played that game where you grease up a watermelon, drop it in the pool, and see who can get it to the edge first? The watermelon is so slippery it’s near impossible to keep ahold of it. Imagine that, but you’re the watermelon (just slightly larger). If that doesn’t make sense, you feel like a dolphin. But faster.
Most swimmers simply shave their legs before a big meet (yes, men too), while some go even further. Swimmers who are VERY serious about the sport will shave their legs, arms, back, head, hands, and feet. The only place left untouched is the eyebrows. Some might say this is a waste of time, but it’s been shown to improve your race by 3-4%. In both short and long races, this is HUGE.
The first known swimmers to shave their bodies was Jon Henricks in 1955, followed by Murray Rose in the 1956 Olympics. The practice of shaving for a race didn’t become popular in the United States until the next year.
Shaving, believe it or not, is an art. You have to be very careful, or else you grew out all that hair for nothing. For a proper shave, there are several steps you need to follow. First, the most obvious step, turn on your bath/shower. The water must be warm to achieve the best shave possible. This can be hard since it takes FOREVER to finish shaving. Next, use your preferred shaving cream and lather up the spot you’re shaving. Do not use conditioner for this shave, it can ruin your race. Then, using your brand new razor, shave against the grain of the hair (so if your hair is pointing down, shave up). This allows a closer shave, though you will need to go over it a couple times to get all the stray hairs.
When cleaning the hair out of your razor, it is best to rinse it in cool water to avoid dulling the blade. Once you’ve finished shaving, dry off and do some light stretching to undo the damage all that contorting did to you. Do not use lotion afterwards for the same reason you can’t use conditioner to shave. These products can clog up your pores and minimize your feel of the water, threatening your race.
Hopefully, you now understand (at least a bit), exactly why swimmers go through all the trouble of growing their hair out, only to shave it off. It’s not that we love the feeling of being hairy, we love the feeling when it’s all gone.