The vital importance of a good sports bra

You don’t have to be an Olympian to know that bosoms bounce during exercise. ‘The reason is that the breast is made of fatty and glandular tissue, with no muscle. This weak supporting structure is not enough to hold it in place and stop it moving,’ explains Professor Joanna Scurr. ‘That can cause several health problems when doing sport – even yoga.' ‘The key downside is pain or discomfort during or after exercise, which is reported by up to 72 per cent of women – all sizes and shapes. Our latest study shows 17 per cent are put off exercise because of their breasts. That’s why the development of effective sports bras is so important,’ adds Professor Scurr, who heads the Research Group in Breast Health at the University of Portsmouth.

Other risks are sagging, poorer performance due to impaired breathing and movement, and embarrassment. Large busts can also affect your posture both when you are still and moving, causing neck, shoulder and/or back pain. The correct support can counterbalance the weight and mass in front, preventing back pain.

Small-breasted women often think they do not need a special bra but that is not correct. ‘Breast pain can be linked to hormonal changes through the monthly cycle, so good support helps every size and shape,’ says Professor Scurr. Until recently, manufacturers only designed sports and other bras based on the position of the nipple, rather than looking at the degree of support needed top, bottom and across the breast for different sizes. Professor Scurr’s large-scale study, funded by bra manufacturer Freya (, showed that, for instance, large-breasted women had a lot of movement at the top of the breast. Freya then designed a range specifically for this need.

There are three types of sports bra: encapsulation, which separates and encapsulates each breast, providing more structure; elasticated compression, which pushes the breasts together, holding them close to the body; and combination, which brings the two elements together.

For sports that involve running, Professor Scurr recommends trying an encapsulated or combination bra, while yoga or pilates bunnies may be better with an elasticated bra which allows greater flexibility.


The right fit is crucial, says Professor Scurr. 'Use the size as a starting point only and consider these six criteria, which apply to fitting all bras.'

The under band should be level all round and firm to provide stable fixing with no more than two inches of space when you pull it out at the back. Otherwise, breasts will be supported by the straps, which risks shoulder ache.

Cups should fit smoothly: if breast tissue spills over, they are too small, while gaping or wrinkling means they are too big.

The shoulder strap should not stretch more than two inches when pulled up.

Check under armpits to see that underwired bras sit on the ribs rather than disappearing into breast tissue.

The front middle section of an encapsulated bra should sit flat on your ribcage.

It may take a few days to wear in a new bra so don’t despair if it feels tight, but don’t choose one so tight you feel you can’t breathe – it may lead to backache, says chiropractor Dominic Cheetham.



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