To bra or not to bra, that is the question

Three bra types with relevant text under each, encapsulation, compression and, encapsulation and compression

Contributed by Katie Elgie.

Tatas. Breasts. Tits. Baps. Nunga Nungas. Honkers. Boobs. Melons. Ham Hockers. Fun bags. Bosoms. Mammaries. Jugs. Rack. Coconuts. Pillows. Girls. Bazookas. Knockers.

Whatever you call them, women naturally have two things that men do not – breasts. Once a woman hits puberty and oestrogen begins to circle around her body, two fatty deposits appear on her chest. There is no standard shape, symmetry, or size, but we all have them.

Fact of the day: human females are the only known mammal to retain plump breasts after breastfeeding. For the others, they fill with milk as required and then shrink back down. Why? Theories vary around this, with the most prominent being that evolution has caused women’s breasts to grow on average, in order to signal to a potential partner that they’re capable of childbearing and feeding!

Well duh, what does this have to do with sports and nutrition week?

Well, studies show that 50-60% of girls aged 11-18 state that their breasts had some negative effect on their participation in mandatory sports and exercise in school; 50% reporting never wearing a sports bra during sports, and a whopping 73% reporting breast specific concerns in sport.

In an ever more sedentary world, where we’re all struggling to motivate ourselves to turn off episode 35 of our Netflix binge to go to the gym, the fact that so many of our younger generation are being prevented from exercising from such a young age, due to the most natural of reasons, shows that as a nation we need a better education around breasts, or ‘breastucation’ if you will; (and you probably won’t).

So you might be like me and think: ‘this doesn’t concern me, I always wear sports bras and am fairly active’, but actually you may be wrong. As the science tells us that poor or ill-fitting sports bras, which still allow our tatas to bounce, could contribute to breast pain and premature sagging. Moreover, an ill-fitting sports bra can reduce overall performance – adding up to 8 minutes to your race time if you’re a runner!

MYTHBUSTER: ‘I only wear an AA cup, I don’t need a sports bra’ - evidence indicates that it’s key to wear a well fitted sports bra, whatever the breast size. Unsupported movement with increased motion, eg while exercising, can cause injury to the connective tissue in breasts and cause pain, or stretch the fatty tissue (which then cannot go back).

MYTHBUSTER: ‘I’m only doing a bit of yoga, I don’t need a sports bra’ – While this is a reasonable assumption, it’s always seen as better to wear a sports bra where possible. For one, the breast tissue rubbing against your exercise clothing can and does cause chafing and potential pain. Moreover, you never know when a certain move will cause that ‘breast bounce’, which we are all trying to avoid.

So how do I know what sports bra is right for me?

First of all, you should make yourself aware of the different types of sports bra. This isn’t to say that busty women should NEVER wear a compression bra, but staying educated about the types can help you to make informed choices.

There are two primary types of sports bra:

Compression Bras

These are probably the most common form of sports bras. They are the sort of fitted, ‘vest style’ sports bras which have one solid piece of fabric over the chest.

These bras tend to work best with smaller breasts (below C cup), but are deemed the most effective for minimising ‘projection movement’ (in and out). For increased comfort, adjustable straps are recommended, as not all chest and shoulders are the same size, regardless of the bra size.

Encapsulation Bras

These bras have separated cups, offering protection to each breast individually. They’re deemed better for women with a C cup and above, as they’re more effective at minimising the individual breast movement in every direction, protecting ‘Coopers ligaments’ in the breasts (the part that keeps them perky.

These bras are deemed particularly useful for high impact workout such as dancing, running and hit.

Combination Bras

For anyone unsure of which bra is right for them, you can purchase ‘combination bras’ – which, as the title suggests, combines the best of both worlds and merges the two types.

So how do I find the perfect sports bra?

There are a number of recommended steps to finding the perfect sports bra. The first, is deciding the impact of your sport; and matching it to your sports bra. A low impact sport like yoga may only need a low support bra, whereas a marathon or a hit class would likely cause a lot of breast bounce and consequently would need a higher support bra. This could also influence whether to have a compression or an encapsulation bra.

Look out for key factors – cup size based bras and adjustable straps will always offer more support than the S/M/L, standard bras, as they will be more tailored to your size.

When trying on, it’s recommended that you jump around in the sports bra. 10 star jumps or similar should give you an idea of how bouncy your breasts are in the bra and give you an idea whether it will support you in your workout.

The back should be the same level all the way round – if it rides up, it’s too big. You should not be able to fit more than a finger under the band or cup – it should be snug, but not smothering.

If some time passes and the bra begins to chafe, this indicates that the elastic has worn down and you may need a new bra.

Overall, the key thing is that you’re comfortable. Breasts are a natural and beautiful thing; and should not be preventing your health and fitness.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Louisa Fisk posted on

    Hope you don't mind me sharing this.

    I am a woman of DD+ breasts and always have been. I was never told at school of the importance of even wearing sports bras let alone the right type. So I didn't until........I was at college and went to a high impact aerobics class. A couple of days later I suffered with severe chest pains which didn't pass so I went to the doctors and, of course, after getting my recent activity details, then asked if I wore a sports bra. I said "No" with a very confused face. I was only 17 but should have known by then. The doctor explained how the tissue was being pulled and how wearing a fitted sports bra while exercising (any exercise) would prevent this. More awareness needs to be available at school too - it may have changed (it is 25yrs+ since I left) but I will definitely be telling my daughter my story.


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