If you’re a female runner, you know that the sports bra section at an athletics store is like the cereal aisle at the grocery store — head there for something seemingly straightforward and stand there perplexed by the choices in front of you. However, it’s worth taking the time, because finding the right sports bra is as crucial to your running as finding the right running shoe.
Running is a high-impact sport, and any cleavage we might possess has a tendency to bounce when we run. A report done on breast pain during the 2012 London Marathon found that, of nearly 1,400 women surveyed, 32% experienced breast pain during the run, and 17% admitted that the pain actually impacted their training regimens. So if you have any similar discomfort while running, you’re not alone. Another survey actually found that 72% of the women who participated experienced some chest issues during running.
That same survey done in London not surprisingly demonstrated that breast pain during running was directly related to breast size, and it got worse as activity became more vigorous. Another study done on female Chinese runners found that compression bras — while not as comfortable as less tight-fitting bras — were best for alleviating discomfort and keeping movement to a minimum while running.
So, if you’re well-endowed, consider a bra designed for high-impact activity, preferably with some compression, rather than a single piece of stretchy fabric. In 2015, a UK-based study of runners with D and E cups also found that a bra with more support — with separate cups and slight compression — alleviated pain for runners.
Those with A and smaller B cups can get away with any type of sports bra, even those designed for low-impact activity, if running doesn’t cause any pain. And if you’ve ever lamented having smaller breasts, take a minute to appreciate them: a recent study showed that smaller-breasted women had faster marathon times.
Regardless of size, some type of support is a good idea. Bouncing can, unfortunately, eventually lead to faster sagging with age, but keeping your breasts happy and less mobile during exercise can alleviate that issue. “Lots of people wear the wrong impact sports bra for their activity, which can lead to tissue damage and eventually premature sagging,” says Cate Goytisolo, Under Armour associate brand manager, women’s apparel and footwear. “For running, a high-support bra is the answer.”
BETTER SUPPORT CAN MEAN BETTER PERFORMANCE
In case you needed a reason other than discomfort to keep the girls in place during your run, consider this: A small study of 10 female runners during 5K runs found that a bra helped reduce the overall energy cost of the run, making it possible to run harder. That’s because the pectoral muscles (the muscles right behind your breasts) didn’t need to expend energy to keep things in place. It also helps make our running form more efficient. Crazy, right? A good sports bra could shave time off of your next race!
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It’s important to replace your bras more often than you think. “Lots of people wear the same sports bras for years, even decades,” says Goytisolo. “But a good benchmark if you’re running consistently is to replace your sports bras as often as you replace your running shoes.”
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
Before you purchase your sports bras, try them on. Or, if you’re ordering online, don’t be afraid to exchange or return a bra if it’s not comfortable and supportive. That same group of runners in London found that over 70% of the women complained of uncomfortable or ill-fitting sports bras — and in such an intimate area, we deserve the best fit possible.
Look for a bra that feels comfortable in motion: Bounce or jog around in it, even if it’s just up and down the dressing room hallway. Assess how the straps feel and how they look: They shouldn’t dig into your skin, but they shouldn’t feel loose, either. Consider bras with adjustable straps so you can control the level of support.
A snug fit is what you’re looking for, where the straps aren’t slipping off or digging into your shoulders, and you feel like the coverage in the front is comfortable and won’t shift during your run. “Most people don’t realize exactly how snug your sports bra needs to be,” says Goytisolo.
Lastly, take note of the fabric. That extra layer of clothing can affect our thermoregulation. A bra that has a breathable material will keep you cooler on your runs.
After all, your gear should keep your body comfortable so you can push your intensity out of your comfort zone.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN