High Impact Sports Bras for Running
You’ve just started a new running program, or you’re in the shop replacing that worn out sports bra (yes ladies, like all other bras they do succumb to the 6-month rule replacement rule too – or, depending on use 30 – 40 washes, or even 3 for every pair of new running shoes), but what should I look for in a high impact sports bra for running? Whether you’re training for a marathon or heading out on a couch to 5k program your sports bra is a key piece of training equipment, and failing to give it proper consideration can cause just as much damage as running in the wrong shoes!
Firstly, sports bras come in three different levels of support which correlate to the different levels of impact associated with various sports. So when you ask what is a high impact sports bra, what you are really asking which level of support to I need from my sports bra for a high impact activity like running?
For questions like these we really need to start with a basic understanding of breast anatomy (the structure of the breast) and physiology (the way it functions).
Basic Breast Anatomy
Your breasts are located between your pectoral muscles and your skin. They are mainly composed of adipose tissue (a type of fat) with glands that produce milk in lactating women which are connected to the nipple by a series of ducts. They are supported by fibrous connective tissue called Cooper’s Ligaments. Cooper’s ligaments provide the shape and support for your breasts and over time they naturally stretch causing your breasts to lose some of the perkiness for which teenagers are so renowned.
There are multiple factors contributing to breast droop. A lot of these factors are outside of our control, things like:
- breast size
- weight fluctations
There are some factors that can increase the stretch in the Cooper’s Ligaments and lead to breast sag that we can influence: cigarette smoking and inappropriately supported exercise are two other such factors. Being proactive can also help, some exercises and tips to help maintain the shape of your breasts can be found here.
Basic Breast Physiology When Running
Research conducted at the University of Portsmouth in the UK on hundreds of women of varying breast size has shown that while running the breasts move in a butterfly formation with 50% of the movement in a vertical direction, 25% side to side and 25% forward and backwards. They have determined that there is a delay between the body movement and the subsequent breast movement that increases the stretch on the Cooper ligaments and that using an appropriately supportive sports bra to reduce the discrepancy between the body movement and the breast movement and can even help reduce fatigue and prevent injuries. More details of their research can be found here.
How to chose a sports bra
Debbie Risius (Senior Research Associate at the University of Portsmouth) recommends these steps for the best fitting bra:
- The band should be horizontal all the way around
- The cups should not bulge or gap
- The underwire should follow the natural curve of the breast tissue
- The front of the bra should sit flat against the chest wall
- The shoulder straps should be adjusted correctly
In addition, make sure that the fit is snug, but not so tight that it restricts your shoulder movement or breathing. In addition to bulges (too small) and gaps (too big) look out for wrinkles, as they can also indicate that the bra is too big. If when you move around in your sports bra you find it riding up, pinching or digging in try adjusting the straps or back catch if it has one, otherwise try a different one!
Attributes and adjustments of a high impact sports bra
High impact sports bras are constructed using multiple methods of supporting the breasts. They often have defined cups to enclose and support the breasts. Supportive yet stretchy fabric with multiple layers of fabric can be used to compress the breasts firmly against the chest and minimise the movement delay between the breasts and the torso. Extra support to the bra can be provided using seaming to reinforce areas requiring extra ridgity and stiffness.
Try to adjust your bra so that you can fit one finger under the band. You may find that when you head off on a long run or as the elastic starts to wear that you need to tighten it by one notch to reduce the risk of chafing. This is also why when you buy a bra, it should have adjustment available both tighter and looser. It has the added advantage that as your body shape changes reflecting your athletic and lifestyle changes you don’t need to replace you bra until its wear warrants it!
Research supports the use of high impact sports bras particularly for applications with lots of breast movement, like running. What do you think? Do you have a favouite bra you’d recommend?