Shaving legs

The “Science” of Shaven Legs

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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.)
  1. Been cycling for 28 yrs and I’m still being asked, “how often do you shave your legs” ?
    I still revel at the looks I get when I answer, “I’ve never shaved a day in my life” !!
    Guess some of us are just lucky that way.

  2. I always tell the truth. That is, it look a hell of a lot better. I mean, have you looked at hairy legs? Those long nasty hairs. You cut the hair on your head, you shave your face, keep on going and take care of the rest.

  3. Americanguywithitalianname

    When I showed up to my first cat 5 race I was quite impressed by how good everyone looked in the new kits and shaved legs. I finished 9th due to the fact that I didn’t position myself near enough to the front on the final laps. I was certainly intimidated from the start and allowed the other riders to dictate my race. Upon review I determined I would have finished top 5 if I rode my own race and that most every guy with shaved legs was behind me.
    Conclusion: Shaving your legs does NOT make you faster. If you shave to feel like you belong you’ll never win a race. You should buy yourself a trek madonna and some oakleys and enjoy looking good in 15th place. I’ll enjoy seeing you after the race I just won on my 10 yr old steel with chipping paint and of course my hairy back.

    • First off, congrats on the opportunity to enjoy some success in your first race. But, be careful about letting it get to your head. Many of us have been there…do well in a beginner level right away, only to find ourselves being severely humbled once we see how good many of these shaven legged guys are.

      I do think you may have missed the underlying tone of this article, as it seems like more of a comical take on the topic. Likely not meant to be taken entirely literally.

      Secondly, if you retired your old steel bike for a new Fezzari, I bet you could move up to CAT 4, and maybe even CAT 3 one day. Sounds like you’re a competitive person, why settle for a small taste of success at the beginner level?

      Lastly, I would be careful with statements like those in your last paragraph. The paragraph reads as a challenge, and many readers of this blog are very accomplished cyclists at the higher levels. The difference between CAT 5 and even 3 is enormous. Until you are dominating the higher ranks, such a comment should probably be left unsaid. That being said, what race are you doing next? 🙂

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