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A guide to sports bras for runners

Written by Fiona

August 11 2022

Whatever your chest size, a good quality sports bra for running is a vital item of kit. A sports bra needs to be supportive and well-constructed. Let’s take a look at why women need a good sports bra and what to look for when buying a bra for running.

Credit: Rajendra prabhune

Why runners need a sports bra

When we run, there is chest bounce, as well as sideways movement. Even smaller chests bounce and this can lead to irreparably stretched Cooper’s ligaments (the ligaments support breast uplift), as well as breast skin strains and longer-term sagging.

A study also found that breast movement can affect athletic performance.
Researchers from the University of Portsmouth discovered:

  • Increased perceived exertion – suggesting exercise feels harder when breasts are not properly supported.
  • Increased upper body muscle activity – suggesting fatigue may be reached sooner.
  • Increased ground reaction forces – which may increase the risk of injury to the lower extremities.
  • Decreased stride length (by up to 4cm) – suggesting the wearer is hesitant to stride out. This could mean running an extra mile over the length of a marathon.

In addition, a chest that bounces while you run is annoying for many women, as well as being uncomfortable.

Read more about breast biomechanics: What do we really know?

The aim of a sports bra, therefore, is to minimise the bounce and movement as much as possible. It does get more complicated than this with various explanations of how the bounce affects the breasts but, the bottom line, is a good quality and supportive sports bra will be of benefit to runners.

The best sports bra for runners

Sports bras can loosely be categorised as being suitable for high-impact and low-impact sports. They each offer different support and construction and therefore suit women taking part in different sports.

For example, when running, the bra needs to hold the breasts in place to avoid both up-and-down bounce as well as sideways swaying.

So, while a sports bra that is meant for high-impact sports, such as running, can be utilised for other lower-impact activities, such as yoga, a sports bra that is meant for lower-impact sports is best reserved exactly for this. When running you need a high-impact sports bra to minimise both bounce and side-ways movement.

Sports bras should be replaced fairly regularly. A sports bra is a technical garment and the elasticity is damaged by repeated wash and wear – the recommended replacement cycle is every 30 to 40 washes.

You can down-grade a high impact sports bra to be used in lower impact activities, but make sure you keep an eye on how supportive your running bra is.

What to buy: Sports bras

Fit is important so it’s a good idea to try on a number of bras to make sure you have the right one. If you are ordering from an on-line retailer make sure you can return the sports bra after trying it on, just in case the fit is not right. You can also check out a useful bra finder.

Comfort is another consideration. If you do a lot of running, a bra that feels too tight, or rubs under the arms or below the chest will be one that you push to the back of your underwear drawer.

There are different styles of sports bras in the high-impact range and suitable for runners. Some of the features will be a matter of preference, such as racer back, back clips and underwire.

If you are smaller chested, you might like a padded bra, while women who are larger chested are recommended to look for wider shoulder straps to spread the weight and improve comfort levels.

Other details to look for include “v” neck shaped bras, convertible straps and pockets for items such as a key or even your phone.

A bra that is in your favourite colour, or a trendy design, will also give you the flexibility to wear it as a crop top if the weather is warmer.

Following the tips above should help you to buy the right sports bra for running.

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