Sports Bras, Science, and Design

Someone very close to me is a big-time designer of seamless sportswear for women.  Let’s call that person Q.

Q works for a major company and if you have ever worn a sports bra, it is very probable that you have worn one designed by Q.

So, when I saw this article, “Research Shows the Ideal Sports Bra Has Not Been Invented,” I quickly sent off an email to Q to see what Q would say.  The response did not disappoint.

This article is based on a NY Times article, “Phys Ed: The Right Kind of Sports Bra“, from which I now quote:

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth in England and other schools recently attached reflective markers to the breasts of a group of female runners and had the women jog along a track while wearing various types of bras or forgoing breast support. The researchers charted the trajectories of the women’s breasts, using infrared cameras. The track was also equipped with a force platform to measure the force of each runner’s foot strikes. […]

What the researchers found was that breast sway did, in fact, have a significant effect on the women’s running. When the runners were braless, their strides changed; they landed more heavily, with more of the impact force moving through the inside of their feet. This alteration in stride seemed to be related to “significantly higher amounts of breast movement in that direction,” said Jenny White, a doctoral candidate at the University of Portsmouth and the study’s lead author. As the breasts swung from side to side, so, in effect, the researchers hypothesized, did the women’s body weights. The implications of this finding are disquieting. […]

Researchers at the Portsmouth lab, for instance, recently completed a series of experiments that delineate just how breasts move during activity. Instead of merely bouncing up and down, it turns out that breasts arc through a complicated figure-8 pattern when a woman runs or walks. Few sports bras are designed to accommodate breasts’ side-to-side or lateral sway.

In fact, one of the most telling recent studies, from the University of Wollongong in Australia, published last month in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, concluded that the most effective style of sports bra, particularly for women who wear a D-cup bra or larger, does not yet exist, at least in stores. Typical sports bras fall into two varieties: they either cradle each breast in individual cups, a style known as encapsulation, or they smash the bosom against the chest, using compression. In most studies, encapsulation bras reduce up-and-down breast bounce best, particularly for large-breasted women, but are rated the least comfortable bra, which matters. Breast discomfort and embarrassment keep many women from exercising. […]

So barring creating your own with a tight crop top and some pads, the best advice that scientists currently can offer to women hoping to corral their breasts during exercise is more commonsensical than high-tech. Find a sports bra that “feels supportive,” Ms. White said. That advice may “sound obvious,” she added, “but many bras are marketed as a sports bra” but are instead “just a fashionable crop top that has very stretchy material and that would not provide a lot of support.” To test support, jump “up and down in the changing room and assess how much movement occurs.”

Here is what Q, a design expert when it comes to sports bras, says about this report and the studies mentioned in it:

This article is very upsetting, because it’s completely inaccurate.  A lot of the outcomes of the studies mentioned are not new information, like the 8 pattern of breast movement was researched back in the 70’s.  This researcher is not our favorite and does testing on size D cups without the support of any bra and I don’t know any D size women that would ever run without any kind of support.  The truth is ********* bras are highly supportive (depending on the MCR rating) and go through extensive testing before they hit the market, so I with have to disagree with these findings.

I find this so interesting.  I completely trust and believe Q (in basically every facet of my life, this being a minor one).  So, what is going on with the science here?  Or the designing?  Why is there such a discrepancy?

I wear Q’s bras and don’t have any problem.  But then I am not even close to a size D (which I was back when I was breastfeeding, but that has a whole other set of issues associated with it).  I’m also a terrible runner.  But I don’t think that has to do with my breasts.  I just don’t know…

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One thought on “Sports Bras, Science, and Design

  1. I’ve yet to find a sports bra that is comfortable and effective for running. I have large breasts, which are even bigger while I’m breastfeeding. As the NYT article suggests, I don’t exercise as often, or as vigorously as I might like because I am embarrassed and uncomfortable. I HATE that (that I’m embarrassed, and uncomfortable) but it’s what it is. I’d be curious to know what bra your friend Q might suggest for me.

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