The “Science” of Shaven Legs
The “Science” of Shaven Legs
What semi-honest story do you tell when you are asked why you shave your legs for triathlons or cycling? Do you really believe what you are saying, or deep inside do you feel it is a lie?
I set out to review the literature on why you should shave your legs so you can now give a whole-heartedly honest answer to your non-triathlete/cyclist friends.
Most of us have heard of at least one theory about why you should shave your legs. This tends to be the ever-important theory we stick to when rationalizing to our friends. Here are four of the most widely heard:
1. It makes wound care easier when you fall. What more manly reason could you possibly think of? This was my story for a while. I would tell my friends, “I ride very aggressive so I’m bound to end up taking a flight over the handlebars occasionally. Having shaven legs makes it easier to clean the would and less likely to get infected”. The truth…not really.
2. It makes recovery massages easier. This rationale is said by some to be the reason European cyclists originally started shaving their legs. Yes, it may make recovery massages ever-so-slightly easier, but how many non-pro athletes are getting regular recovery massages? Lame excuse.
3. It helps keep me cool on hot days. Yes, there is some merit here. A smooth surface allows for faster convective cooling. For those living in hot, humid climates. This excuse is legitimate. The effect is not big, but there is truth in this statement.
4. Shaven legs are more aerodynamic. Ummmmm, yes, but really? Although I could not find any wind tunnel data on shaven legs. Having reviewed wind tunnel data in the past, I would guess shaving your legs would maybe buy you a second in a 100 mile race, max. Poor excuse.
The Real Reason You SHOULD Shave Your Legs
Yep, you read that correctly. Although the science is not directly linked to shaving legs, there is plenty of sports psychology science that shows benefits in performance when you believe you belong. If you show up to a race hairy and see a bunch of shaven legs, your mind immediately begins to doubt. You feel like you don’t belong, or that everyone else is the “real deal” and you are not. Your confidence wavers.
There is a link between confidence, or believing in yourself, and athletic performance. For those that have played sports like baseball, basketball, and golf, you likely know this all too well. A slump is rarely a mechanical problem, it is most often a mental problem. You spend countless hours training your body to perform an act instinctively, such as identify ball coming into the strike zone. A single failure can lead to doubt. Too much doubt and your mind begins to take over, literally. The frontal cortex of the brain now takes over the role of identifying the strike zone, rather than leaving it to your highly trained instinctive responses. The frontal cortex is not trained. The result…a slump.
This same concept holds true with all sports. Your running stride can change. You can overthink your swimming stroke. You may hold back too much on the bike.
So, a simple doubtful thought about your abilities prior to a race can slow you down. And…it could all start with hairy legs.
Next time someone asks why you shave your legs, just tell them it makes you faster, because it does (unless you are a stubbornly strong minded person. In this case, you can keep the hair on your legs…and your back too.)