Can a Sports Bra Improve Your Sporting Performance?

09/06/2021

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The simple one-word answer is ‘yes’. There you go, question answered, article finished. Thanks for reading!

Hang on, hang on. Surely it is not as simple as that. Of course not!

For those that want more than a simple one-word answer. I have done extensive research and put this article together. It takes an in-depth look at the correlation between sports bras and sporting performance in women. Whoa, go me!

Doctors and exercise scientists now think that wearing the right sports bra can improve the performance of female athletes. Increasing research and evidence points to the fact that if you keep the girls under control, you will perform better.

For many of us this is not an ‘ah ha’ moment. We know firsthand the affects our bouncing breasts have on our athletic performance. Nothing slows you down like a slap to the face from your breasts!

This is not a scientific article (I know a thing or two about breasts and breast support, but I am far from a scientist!). But simply an amalgamation of recent research into the topic of the performance-enhancing benefits of wearing the right sports bra.

And just between you and me, it is well worth a read!

Breast Biomechanics & Movement

For many “breast biomechanics” may seem like an unnecessary field of scientific research. But as any women bigger than an A cup will tell you. “Research away!”

Our breasts have a simple structure. They are largely made up of fat, mammary glands, skin and connective tissue. With no muscle and only delicate ligaments to support them they can be a law unto themselves during exercise.

Have you ever tried running bare breasted? There is no specific rule to their movement. They move in all directions. Up / down, side to side and in / out. Research has found that during running our breasts develop a complicated 3D figure-of-eight pattern.

Furthermore, when unconstrained each breast can swing up to 21cm during activity. Wowsers! Even when wearing a standard sports bra considerable movement can still occur.

As you can imagine upping the intensity ups the bounce. Far more movement occurs when running as opposed to walking. I think we can all attest to that. And considering each breast weighs on average 200-300g the level of discomfort also increases.

Exercise and Breast Pain

So, we now know that our breasts follow few rules during exercise. And surprise, surprise this can lead to breast discomfort and pain.

With every stride our breasts move and as we have learned the less supported, they are the more they move. Over the course of a long run all that movement ads up.

Think about how many strides you take during a run. With every step your breasts are oscillating. It is no wonder many of us finish out workout feeling a bit sore.

This soreness is not just an internal thing. Chafing, irritation and other external factors can also cause us breast soreness. It appears breast comfort is just as important as breast support when it comes to alleviating breast pain during exercise.

Why is This Important?

Firstly, long term pressure on the delicate Coopers ligaments that support breasts can lead to ligament stretch and ultimately breast sag.

Secondly, long term chafing and irritation can lead to broken skin and even exercise sores. From which an extended exercise break is the only solution.

Finally, breast pain can reduce participation in or intensity of exercise. Many women admit to missing a training session due to breast soreness. And around 25% of women have admitted to reducing the intensity of their session or cutting it short because of breast pain.

An often-used quote in exercise circles is ‘no pain, no gain’. But not in this case. When it comes to you breasts, pain can equate to reduced gain.

Effects on Performance

A recent Australian study of 540 elite female athletes found that 63% of those surveyed reported increased breast pain during their menstrual cycle. Of these 33% reported the pain worsened during exercise and 20% said it negatively affected their performance

44% of respondents reported experiencing exercise-induced breast pain during training or competition. 30% of these athletes stated their performance was affected by their breast pain.

These surveys were completed by elite female athletes. What about us mere mortals? Are we affected similarly? We are, up to 72% of exercising females report breast pain during exercise!

A broad survey of 1,397 female entrants in the 2012 London marathon (good but not elite!) found that 1/3 of those surveyed had experienced breast pain. Not surprisingly pain increased with cup size. 24% of A cups experienced pain. Increasing to 51% for those F cup and up. 17% of those surveyed said breast pain affected their preparation and participation.

A study by Brooks found that running in a poor fitting sports bra can decrease stride length by up to 4cm. That equates to running an extra 1.5km over a marathon. Now that will affect your performance!

It is safe to say that breast pain can affect the performance of all female athletes no matter your level. All active women from weekend warriors to elite athletes may experience reduced performance due to breast pain.

What Can We do About It?

We have established that breast movement and pain increase with breast size.  So, if you are carrying some extra kilos, increasing your physical activity and losing some weight can reduce your breast size and subsequently reduce the level of breast movement during exercise.

Regardless of your size, the link to tying all this together is a comfortable and supportive sports bra.  The foundation of exercise breast pain reduction is a good fitting sports bra. Hey, I could have told you that from the start!

All jokes aside, it is an essential piece of exercise equipment. And one that should not be treated lightly.

Choose Carefully

Unfortunately, there is no single sports super bra. The perfect sports bra for you may not suit your running buddy.

The best sports bra is one that offers a combination of support and comfort. It is pointless running bounce free if you get painful chafe. And something super comfy is pointless if the girls bounce all over the place.

Your sports bra band should fit snugly around your chest with the cups full but not overflowing and the shoulder straps sitting comfortably on your shoulders. For more info on sports bra fit check out my 3 parts “Fitting Essentials” series.

And ultimately, they should pass the bounce test. Jump up and down on the spot and if you remain jiggle free you are onto a winner!

Research concludes that the perfect sports bra does not yet exist. Most models available are effective at limiting downward bounce but cannot completely control upward and lateral support.

Enter sports bra enhancements like the Breastband. Designed to work in conjunction with your sports bra they work to reduce upward and lateral bounce. Giving you the perfect support combination.

Even the British Army Understand

Recent research conducted by the British Army found that 85% of female recruits had problems with poorly fitting bras. The Army also discovered that this could affect performance and lead to health issues.

New recruits are expected to undertake strenuous physical activity. Often with little notice and for extended periods. Traditional bras are not up to the task.

The Ministry of Defence now consider sports bras as an essential piece of kit for new recruits. Initial findings indicate a significant improvement with an 18% decrease in upper body muscle pain and a 57% reduction in poor posture.

For women on the front line anything that improves their performance has got to be a good thing!

My Final Thoughts

I understand this was quite a heavy article to get through. Well done. Unfortunately, it does not end with the selection of a comfortable and supportive sports bra.

You may experience pain free exercise initially, but over time the breast pain returns. Why?

Research shows that as women exercise more, they also tend to eat better. This can lead to a decrease in breast size as you lose fat (remember our breasts are made up of fatty tissue). Consequently, your sports bra may not fit you as well as it once did.

Combine this with the fact that our sports bras stretch over time, and you can see why breast pain can return after a relatively short period.

The solution is easy. Wear 3 or 4 sports bras on rotation and whatever you do never let your sports bra have a birthday.

Yours in support

Amy x


Amy is the face behind Sports Bras Direct, Australia’s largest sports bra website. She's a mother of two, outdoors lover and sports bra expert. Her life mission is to help active women get the support they need as well as assisting women in need through her charitable donations.

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