Waxing or Shaving. Which is Better for Swimmers?

Courtesy of James Fike, Founder and CEO of Fike Swim.

Swimmers shave before big meets not just to remove hair but also to remove the top layer of skin. This makes us “feel” the water better and it’s an amazing feeling, almost superhuman. But what if an even better feeling exists? Earlier this year my wife finally convinced me to try waxing. She would always tell me it’s better than shaving, but I think that’s because she was tired of shaving my back for big meets. After trying it once on just my calves and back and once on my (almost) whole body, here are my thoughts on the pros and cons of both.


Waxing comes with some very big pros:

  1. It gets EVERYTHING! There is no hiding from wax. Everything underneath the warm, gooey, purple lava that gets spread with a popsicle stick will be ripped out and off ruthlessly.
  2. The “feel” is next level. We all know that amazing feeling that comes with shaving, but waxing takes it a step further. You know how a fish pops out of your hands when you try to grab it, and you think “man, I wish I could be that smooth in the water”? (And as I typed that I realized I might be alone in that thought.) Well, this is it! Waxing is about as close to fish-slippery as a human can get.
  3. It lasts WAY longer, because it pulls the root out. Waxing might be perfect for someone with a long Olympic schedule. The little nubs of hair that grow back seemingly within hours of shaving take over a week with waxing. And even a couple of weeks later you still feel some slip in the water.
  4. Someone else does it. Yes, it’s torturous, but all you have to do is lay there and take it. I’m not proud of the way I took it and the sounds I made, but when the waxer said, “Are you ok?”, I proudly, but sheepishly, said “Yes.” And every time she said, “Do you want me to stop for a minute?”, I said “No?”. Also sheepishly.

The cons of waxing are pretty big too:

  1. It HURTS. A LOT. My waxing was two and a half hours of ripping each and every hair from its root along with every bit of skin. And even though the lady waxing me would offer encouraging updates as if commentating the event, saying things like “Those hairs came out great!”, she would then proceed to go over the same area again, and even a third time. The hot wax, which felt very nice the first time it was spread, was like salt on a wound the second and third times. And the few stubborn hairs that couldn’t be uprooted were plucked with tweezers. When it came time to do the chest and stomach, it was exactly like Steve Carrell in 40 Year Old Virgin. I sweat so much the paper table cover had to be replaced, twice. I consumed two 24oz bottles of water. I shivered, twitched, and convulsed for most of it. It was torturous.
  2. Waxing is expensive. The cost can be north of $300, depending on what you have done.
  3. Waxing is time-consuming. Like I said, mine took two and half hours and I didn’t even do my arms. In contrast, trimming and shaving is about an hour and a half, depending on how much hair you have and how thorough you are.


I have a whole new appreciation for the pros of shaving:

  1. Shaving is painless, unless you nick yourself. But that nick is nothing compared to waxing. It would take hundreds of nicks to even come close. I just put a My Little Pony band-aid on that wound and move on.
  2. The place where you shave is comfortable. You’re probably in a bathtub with hot water running and a tv show or movie playing on your phone. You might have snacks and drinks for the journey ahead. You’re definitely not shaking uncontrollably on a massage table that’s soft and comfortable at first but quickly feels like it’s actually an operating table that should come equipped with anesthesia.
  3. Shaving is cheap. Dirt cheap. Can of shaving cream and a razor sets you back, what, $10?

The cons of shaving are largely annoyances:

  1. You might miss a spot. We’ve all been there- you’re in the locker room for day one prelims and as you slide the suit on you see a few follicles on your foot or ankle or wrist, mocking you. And as you warm up you swear you can feel the water getting stuck on those spots.
  2. It grows back fast. If you’ve got a long meet like Trials with events five days apart, you’re faced with a tough choice on day four- shave again and risk those painful red dots or just roll with it and tell your possibly paranoid self that the nubs of hair are inconsequential.
  3. You have to shave yourself. I hate shaving. First you trim, then you shave, and you’re doubled over for much of it, so when you finally finish, you’re stiff. But hey, at least you’re not going into shock.
  4. You really need an assistant. You have to shave your back, it is the largest surface area, but it’s only possible with the kindness of that one voluntold person in your life. You might corner them with puppy eyes while holding a razor and a list of your swim goals. You might guilt trip them with stories of shaves gone horribly wrong and the positive impact their hard work will have on the future of swimming itself. Either way, two people are entering a bathroom together and one is leaving with back skin like a baby’s bottom.
  5. It’s horribly tedious. Great shaves require hundreds of short strokes, because the blades quickly clog with skin and hair. And that voluntold assistant, who just wants to get through this low point in their life, is not thinking quality control. Your polite suggestions to press harder and stroke shorter turn into guilt trips and desperate pleas, all of which are being met with louder and louder retorts like “I am!” A once harmonious relationship is now fractured.

So, wax or shave?

Your takeaway from this is probably “I’ll stick with shaving.” But if you can handle a little bit of pain, there’s a good middle ground- wax your back and calves, which don’t hurt nearly as much as chest and stomach, and shave the rest. I truly felt a difference by doing the calves and back. Even though the thighs are covered by a tech suit, I did those to try to get a psychological boost in warm up, but honestly, it didn’t make me feel faster. And, for some reason, I didn’t feel any additional benefit on my chest and stomach, just my back. As always, I hope these articles help you swim faster. Good luck, SWIM DIFFERENT!

Keep up with the latest from Fike Swim:


About Fike Swim

“We design products exclusively for the toughest sport in the world.  We unapologetically place swimmers on a pedestal.  The rigors they embrace on a daily basis can only be understood by another swimmer and they deserve a company focused 100% on helping them succeed.  Whether you’re just starting out or training for Paris, we stand behind you.”
James Fike, Founder

Fike Swim Products was born when founder James Fike put a brick on top of a kickboard and transformed just another legs-only kick set into a total body workout felt into the next day. Since then it’s been our mission to create unique swim equipment with the single-minded goal of making you faster. We don’t sell toys. We create tools to help you reach your potential.

Fike Swim is a SwimSwam partner.

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1 month ago


Eric Angle
1 month ago

This gives me an opening to ask something I’ve been wondering about for a while now: why is it that male swimmers nowadays seem to always be shaved, even months before a taper meet? In fact, at last weekend’s TYR Pro Swim, it stood out that Drew Kibler actually had chest hair, whereas back in the 90s, that was the norm (until you shaved for your taper meet). I realize that last weekend was just after NCAAs, but I’ve noticed this year round, and there were plenty of guys there who don’t swim in college anymore. Is this just true of men in general these days, or are male swimmers shaving year round? If so, why?

1 month ago

Neither. Nobody shaves or tapers anymore. That is so 2000 and late.

1 month ago

Let’s discuss shaving. What’s the time difference you got in your event(s) after you shave? Is it proportional in all events (like: -0.3 sec per 25, -0.6 per 50, -1.2 per 100 etc)? Is the benefit equal for all strokes? Do you feel the effects more in the underwater parts or swimming parts of the race? What actually makes you faster (not just feels better): trimming the hair or removing top layer of the skin? Will shaving couple hours before the first race produce different results compared to shaving couple days before competition? Do you get something from shaving the face (unless you have a very large beard)?

Flippin Birds
Reply to  Eugene
1 month ago

I don’t think you’ll get very far with this sort of reductionist approach. The sum is greater than the parts.

Shaving is just a small piece of a much bigger puzzle. It’s that last little bit that helps you feel as prepared as you can be.

There are too many variables to be able to come to any generalizable conclusion, and it would be impossible to control for all of them.

As a tiny piece of that much bigger puzzle, it’s not the perfect shave that’s going to make the difference. Just shave as close to the big race/meet as is reasonably possible, and focus on the other 99.99%.

Reply to  Flippin Birds
1 month ago

Hey, you are right, but those are pretty obvious things. And the topic is about removing hair, not about tapering in general. I still find my questions pretty legit. How much slower would be your 100 (50, 200, 400, you name it) in competition if you hit the perfect taper but just “forget” to shave? Or how much faster you would go a 25 at meet warmup, shaved, compared to a 25 one day before, with hairy body? I know how it works for me. I just want to hear what others say.

1 month ago

Hilarious Article!

1 month ago

I have always heard that shaving causes the hair to grow back thicker and darker. Some say this is a myth though. Is the same for waxing?

Reply to  RealSlimThomas
1 month ago

Waxing (and epilating) pulls hairs out of the hair follicles, roots and all. Some follicles will be damaged in the process, making that hair grown back wispier or not at all. Will you be able to see that after one session? Doubtful. But after many years of waxing (or epilating) frequently instead of shaving, you can absolutely see a big difference in the regrowth.

Except eye brows. Yank one of those and it’s gone forever.