Hearing jokes about having to shave your legs is common for anyone taking up triathlons. It’s a tradition that comes across from cycling, where it’s been in fashion for over a century.
With all the jokes about shaving, you may be wondering if triathletes shave their legs? The truth is many do. Watch triathlons on TV and you’ll see that there aren’t many triathletes with hairy legs – of either sex!
Should triathletes shave their legs? The choice is totally personal. The advantages are relatively small, but it’s probably worthwhile. At the top end, triathlons are all about tiny marginal gains. Any small little advantage or method can be the difference between winning and losing. If you don’t take it, you’ll be on the wrong side of that divide. If you’re already a pretty high-level triathlete then yes, you probably should shave your legs.
For total beginners, shaving your legs probably isn’t going to bring you huge benefits. In terms of pure performance, it’s probably not worth it, as there are more significant gains to be found elsewhere. However, there are potential psychological benefits – often, simply feeling faster means you are faster. If you can look down and see a huge vein that’s suddenly appeared on your leg, that’s sure to give you a huge boost as you start on another training ride.
Can Shaved Legs Make You Faster?
Shaving your legs can result in some aerodynamic benefits, but it isn’t huge. On the bike, over the course of a 40-kilometer time trial, the rider may save above a minute – but not much more.
A 1987 study for Bicycling magazine found that leg shaving would reduce drag by 6% – that results in a saving of around 5 seconds over the course of an hour if you could sustain speeds of 37 kilometers per hour. (Source)
However, a more recent study, hosted in Specialized’s state-of-the-art wind tunnel, showed that drag was actually reduced by 7%. That’s a more significant saving; athletes could grab 79 seconds over the course of a 40KM time trial. It’s not earth-shattering, but in the era of marginal gains, you’d have to be really attached to your leg hair not to consider it! (Source)
The reduction in drag also means that you require about 15 fewer watts to propel yourself. If you’re competing in shorter distances races that means you can go faster, but if you’re competing in longer distance races, like an Ironman, that energy saving could really help, allowing you to travel at the same speed but costing far less energy.
Do Triathletes Shave Everywhere?
Most triathletes tend to only shave their legs, but there is some reasoning to shaving everywhere. Hair does increase drag, and drag can slow the athlete down in both swimming and cycling.
The truth is it’s probably not going to slow the athlete down by a huge amount, but hairy arms will cause more drag than hairless arms.
Temperature also comes into play here. Many triathletes say they feel far more comfortable racing with no hair as they feel much cooler. If you’re looking to race in hotter temperatures, then shaving may be a great way to keep your temperature low. Conversely, however, leg hair has been shown to help trap warm air up against the leg, so shaving your legs could actually prevent one of your body’s natural healing systems in colder climates.
Why Do Triathletes Shave Their Legs?
Shaving your legs can result in some aero gains – but it’s also about coming off the bike too!
Triathletes don’t necessarily shave just for speed – it can also be for safety too. Many triathletes don’t practice their bike handling skills as often as they should, in fact, jokes about triathletes and their propensity to crash are common in the cycling world! Shaving your legs is a big tradition in road cycling.
It’s not just about aerodynamics though. If you have an accident, shaved legs are less likely to develop infections and easier to clean because the hair won’t get into the wound. And once the injury is sustained, it’s a lot more comfortable to rip off and reapply bangs and band-aids without having to rip off leg hair along with it!
If you’re doing a lot of training in your wetsuit, the constant rubbing against your skin that occurs during swimming – as well as when taking the suit off – can do real damage to your leg hair.
Also, check out “Do Mountain Bikers Shave Their Legs? Does It Really Matter!“
Why Do Triathletes Shave Everywhere?
Many triathletes shave not just their legs but everywhere else too. This can be for the same reasons as they shave their legs – namely, speed and safety. Removing hair from areas like under the arms can help reduce friction, both on the bike and in the water. However, most triathletes wear a wetsuit when swimming and a triathlon suit underneath that – both of which, of course, cover your armpits. This means it may only really benefit triathletes competing in a warm-weather climate who may be looking to compete in only a sleeveless triathlon top.
But many triathletes also shave for convenience. Taking off a wetsuit can be a tricky business, and if you’ve got a lot of hair on your back then pulling your wetsuits off could become trickier. The potential pain of getting some hair trapped in the zip at the back of the wetsuit would make anyone take more care in the transition – potentially slowing you down.
Also, check out Do Swimmers Shave Their Eyebrows? Do They Shave At All!
How Do You Shave for A Triathlon?
There isn’t a special way to shave for sport. It’s just shaving, so you can shave for a triathlon in any way you normally shave.
A razor would work fine. However, your blade will go blunt much, much faster than it would on your face. That’s because your body hair is so much tougher, but also because there’s so much more of it, so it is thicker as well. If you’ve used a regular razor blade it’s probably best to throw it away once you’ve used it. Aside from it probably being blunt, using the same blade on your face should raise some serious hygiene problems!
You can also use hair removal cream. This is designed to remove body hair, so it is perfect for the job. But again, be careful. The aggressive formula can disagree with some people’s skin, particularly if it is more sensitive. Try it out on a little patch of skin first, then wait and see if it reacts badly. If it does, it’s probably best to stay away. It’s also recommended to use only on your body, so don’t be tempted to use it on your face – and be careful around the more sensitive parts of your body too!
On a side note, we do highly recommend that you check out our post ” Swimming After Laser Hair Removal: What You Need to Know“
If this is the first time you’ve shaven your body, then be warned – this isn’t like shaving your face. You’ll need to trim your hair before you shave it fully, and try and keep some post-shave lotion handy – it’ll be a new experience and your legs may feel like they’re getting dried out!