Australian National Champion Power lifter
Female athletes have been around a long time now and breasts have been around even longer, yet sports bras only came about in the 1970s. The “jockbra” was an early prototype developed by Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith – it was two jockstraps stitched together. The two teamed up with Hinda Miller to create the Jogbra, the first sports bra that resembles something today’s woman would wear to a gym. We’ve come a long way since then, but it seems a lot of women don’t realise just how far.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Physiotherapy found that 88% OF FEMALE ADOLESCENTS WORE A BRA DURING SPORT THAT DID NOT FIT CORRECTLY, WHILE 85% FAILED A SIMPLE KNOWLEDGE TEST ON BRAS AND BRA FIT. The problem is such that in 2012 the University of Wollongong’s Breast Research Australia (BRA) and Sports Medicine Australia undertook research into the role of sports bras and deterrents to women using them. As with many studies in this area, they found that the problem wasn’t that women weren’t getting any support via bras and sports bras, they just weren’t wearing bras that provided the support that was right for them. “Many females just assume bras are meant to be uncomfortable, they don’t realise that this is not right,” said Professor Julie Steele, co-author of the study.
WHO NEEDS WHAT
Age is a factor. Elasticity of the skin decreases with age, which in turn reduces the support the skin can provide, so older women need greater support, especially after pregnancy.
Of course, different types of exercises cause different breast movement. Exercises with more vertical movement of the body (e.g. horse riding compared to bike riding; jumping compared to walking) or movements involving rapid lower limb movement (e.g. running compared to a boxing workout) cause more breast movement and, therefore, require greater breast support. In fact, breast pain is a problem for almost one in three (32%) of female marathon runner saccording to a study that surveyed 1285 female runners at the 2012 London Marathon (published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine). Little wonder – Sports Medicine Australia quotes research that shows unsupported breasts move up and down by as much as 12cm, but they also move side-to-side. Combined, this makes the dreaded ‘figure 8’ or ‘cross over motion. The 2XU Ultimate Endurance Bra has a support band that is positioned across the middle-top area of the breasts to reduce this crossover movement, while the Tri Bra includes two wireless cradle constructions to encapsulate each breast and reduce the crossover motion.
Vertical displacement of the nipple and the suprasternal notch (the top of the sternum) for a woman running at 13 km/h.
For runners, it isn’t all about the pain, either. A recent study at University of Portsmouth led by Jenny White found that breast movement impacted women’s running considerably – the better the support, the less stressful the stride.
“In a no-bra condition, we found that there was more force being exerted on … the inside of the foot,” White said. “Different bra support can affect the way we run.”
A 16D breast weighs about 600 grams, so you can see why women with bra cup sizes D+ might require two bras (sports bra plus a crop top, such as the new 2XU Y Back Crop and Cross Back Crop, which both come with removable cups and internal Power Mesh) to have enough support. However, according to Dr Joanna Scurr, who leads research into breast biomechanics at the University of Portsmouth’s Breast Health Research group, EVEN A CUP-SIZED WOMEN NEED THE APPROPRIATE BREAST SUPPORT AS IT IS EQUALLY AS EFFECTIVE AT REDUCING BREAST MOVEMENT (53% REDUCTION COMPARED TO NO BRA) AS IT IS WITH G CUP-SIZED WOMEN (55% REDUCTION). Contrary to previous research, Scurr found that compression sports bras did not prove more effective at reducing breast movement for smaller cup-size women. Instead, the encapsulation bra (one which separates the breasts was significantly more successful. Across all women studied, Scurr found that encapsulated sports bras reduce movement by up to 73% when compared with going braless. 2XU’s High Impact Support Bra, Ultimate Endurance Bra, Contour Support Bra and Tri Bra all use a varied degree of encapsulation – they combine compression (pressing the breast firmly to the chest) and encapsulation to reduce both up-and-down and side-to-side motion, while giving superior comfort, shape and look.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A SPORTS BRA
Sports Medicine Australia recommends you pay attention to these six points when it comes to choosing a sports bra.
This should be snug enough so it doesn’t slide around when you move but not so tight that it digs in or feels uncomfortable. It should be made of strong, wide elastic material so it can support your breasts without riding up and be snug enough so it doesn’t slide around when you move – but not so tight that it digs into you. Larger bra sizes require wider bands.
Your breasts MUST be completely covered or encased in the cups to effectively limit breast movement. Your breasts should not spill out in any direction. If the cups are puckering, you might need to go down a cup size.
The underband or underwire should follow the natural crease of the breast rather tha n resting on it or digging in. Soft breast tissue is not designed to tolerate underwire digging into it – as breasts move with exercise, a non-underwire (soft-cup) bra is usually a better option. 2XU uses panelling rather than wire to ensure a more comfortable fit.
The lower edge of your bra between the cups should sit on your breast bone, not on your breast tissue. It should not gape away from your chest – if it is, you may need to go up a cup size.
These should be wide and padded for comfort so they don’t dig into your shoulders. Your main support should come from a snug band, not super-tight straps.
Your bra’s material should wick sweat away from your body to keep you cool, but not irritate your skin. Crop tops should be made of strong elastic material that can compress your breasts firmly against your chest. If chafing is a problem, pay extra attention to the material of the bra instead of going for a tighter fit – it’s the wet fabric that creates friction on the skin. The 2XU Power X fabric boasts optimal moisture management properties that wicks water away from the skin to keep the wearer dry and chafe free.
YOUR FITTING CHECKLIST
- Choose a bra that has the correct level of support for your activity.
- There should be adequate variations in sizing (US) – sports bras are not ‘one-size fits all’.
- Fit the band correctly first, sitting flat against your breast bone. Make sure all your breast – especially under your armpit – is in the cups. When running, the underarm should touch fabric, not skin, to reduce chafing.
- No flesh should bulge over the top of the band (i.e. too small) and the band shouldn’t ride up when your arms are raised too big). Ideally, you should be able to fasten a new bra on its loosest adjustable settings so that so you can tighten it up as the bra stretches with age. For larger cup sizes, the 2XU Medium Impact Bra has a high scoop neck for extra coverage during low to medium impact activity.
- Check for any wrinkles/gaps in the cup (too big) or bulging over the top of the cup of the cups (too small).
- Your bra should rest lightly on the skin of your upper bust as this is a common area for chafing. If you can lean forward and everything stays in place then you’ve found a good upper breast fit.
- The underwire or under-band should sit on your ribs, not on your breast tissue at the front or under your armpits. You should only be able to fit two fingers underneath the under-band. If there’s more space than this or if you can see the back of the bra rising up, it’s too big.
- All areas should be securely supported, yet not constricted – you must be able to breathe easily during all levels of activity.
- If you are C/D cup or larger, look for a sports bra with plenty of adjustability. The 2XU High Impact Support Bra, Ultimate Endurance Bra and Contour Support Bra can all be tightened and loosened through the straps as well as through the centre back closure on the underband (3 options of hook and eye/butterfly clasp). The Tri Bra has a slip-free adjustable racer back strap as well as adjustable hook and loops on the underband at the side seam.
DO A PRE-PURCHASE TEST
While you’re in the shop fitting room, try this simple test from Joanne Scurr:
Place your feet together and squat down with your hands on the floor. Now jump up while spreading your arms and legs out – like a star jump or someone in a TV advert for Jetstar. This test causes the same breast movement that occurs during running. Finally, stretch your arms above your head and from side to side – the band of your bra should stay where it is.
LOOKING AFTER YOUR BRA (& YOUR BREASTS)
Sports bras are designed to last about 25-50 washes or be replaced every 6-12 months. After that, they may not be as supportive as they used to be. To ensure the best fit, you should recheck your bra size and fit every six months or every time you buy a new sports bra.
Consider having a variety of sports bras to cover different activities and when in doubt, choose a higher-impact bra for a lower-impact sport (never the other way around).
Treat your sports bra the same way you care for your regular bra. For best results, wash it in cold water in a bra bag on the delicate cycle. Use a mild detergent, skip the fabric softener and hang to dry. Your bra should be washed or rinsed after every wear as salt from sweat gets into the fabric, which can deteriorate its quality and colour.