Body hair removal is considered a burden by most people. It can be a time consuming task that requires regular weekly maintenance. Problems may occur, such as razor cuts or the development of painful ingrown hairs. Yet many athletes, female and male alike, remove their hair on a regular basis. There must be good reason behind it. Why do athletes take the time and effort to remove body hair?
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There are different motives for removing body hair, depending on the sport. Athletic performance benefits may result. Ease of treating injury is another possibility. Aesthetic motive can also play a role. Every sport has a different reason. Swimmers, cyclists, and runners provide good examples.
Competitive swimmers are known to shave their entire body. There actually is good reason for it. Studies show that removal of body hair has a direct impact on performance, a substantial one at that. A study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine compared freshly shaven swimmers with a control group in the pool. While performing the breast stroke over 400 yards at 90 percent effort, the athletes with no hair experienced a reduction in blood lactate, a decreased VO2, and an increase in stroke length.
Road cyclists are well known for having no hair on their legs. Yet, there are no studies that prove shaving hairy legs to provide a performance benefit. This is due to the fact that the aerodynamic advantage is miniscule. Cyclists claim to have other relevant reasons for keeping their legs smooth. First, shaving is a preventive measure taken to lessen the difficulty of treating road rash. Wrecks happen often and hairless wounds are easier to clean and treat. Another reason is for better enjoyment of massage. Many cyclists have them often. Hair gets in the way and can make massage uncomfortable. Removing hair also makes it easier for the masseuse to work. Finally, cyclists wear spandex, a lot. Hair and tight-fitting clothing don’t make for a good combination.
Often you see sprinters with hairless bodies. Not surprisingly, there is a performance advantage involved. Research backs this up. An article in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise demonstrated that a time savings ranging from 0.01 seconds in the 100 m to 5.7 seconds over the course of a marathon can be achieved by removal of hair. Seconds count in this sport, even fractions of a second.
Wrestlers are associated with smooth, hairless skin. They remove hair to prevent chaffing and rashes caused by rubbing. Triathletes of all levels often remove hair prior to events for the reasons mentioned above. Lastly, bodybuilders' motive is pretty straightforward: it is purely aesthetic.