Whether you’re a football star or new runner, your boobs need support

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Whether you’re a football star or new runner, your boobs need support

By Jenna Price

When the Matildas run onto the pitch, with luck and planning, they will all be wearing one particular form of protective equipment. And so should the rest of us, even if we aren’t competing.

This one stops pain, supports us in our bid to exercise and makes running more efficient. Hell, it even protects our tricky anterior cruciate ligaments, which support our knees as we run and kick, jump and stop, or even just walk. Yes, new research tells us a well-fitting sports bra lessens the risk of injuries to the ACL.

A well-fitting sports bra can make all the difference.

A well-fitting sports bra can make all the difference.Credit: iStock

Wearing a sports bra reduces the energetic cost of running (yes, you conserve energy which means you can put more effort into running) and may allow you to run faster at the same level of effort.

Researcher Doug Powell from the University of Memphis says some of the coolest running shoes claim to reduce oxygen cost by 4 per cent. A good sports bra does nearly double that and, if you shop well, won’t cost anything like those sturdy Hokas you love.

This is all great news for serious athletes. But it took Powell’s junior research student Hailey Fong, now on her way to a PhD, to explain to him why sports bras really mattered for those of us who don’t compete. Bouncing breasts hurt.


“And if breast pain stops you exercising, you don’t get the benefits of exercise,” Powell says.

When Anna Spargo-Ryan first wore a sports bra, it changed her life. Today, the Melbourne-based writer can run 14 kilometres without dying. But two years ago, when she saw her 40th birthday on her horizon and an utterly sedentary life in her every day, she bought herself a smart watch and an even smarter sports bra.

Spargo-Ryan knew she needed to get fit, but it had been two children and a lifetime ago since she’d done any regular exercise. Her whole body was floppy. Now, she runs and runs, the fittest and healthiest she’s been since high school.


“I could roll my boobs up like socks,” she says. “Now I run about 40 kilometres a week and if I hadn’t found a good sports bra for support, I don’t think I would have been able to do that. It would have been too painful. A great sports bra feels as much like an emotional cheerleader as the actual people who encourage me.”

What makes a great sports bra? The University of Wollongong’s Deirdre McGhee has been researching bra fitness for over two decades. Here’s what she says are the key elements for giving you support:

  1. A wide support band under your breasts
  2. Cups which cover all your breast
  3. Thick padded adjustable straps

I’ll be honest, these are not things of beauty. But what’s truly beautiful is the ability to chuck weights in the air, walk fast – even run – without the nagging yoink of unsupported boobs.

McGhee says there are three main types of sports bra: the encapsulation style, which holds each breast separately; the crop top style, which smooshes both together; and a third hybrid style, which has cups inside the crop stop. I’ve opted for the first and it is genuinely the ugliest undergarment I’ve ever owned, but is comfortable as ugg boots.


How do you know whether a bra fits properly? Experienced fitters are rare as international football trophies won by Australia, but McGhee has the Sportsbra app for that. As an added bonus, the models showing you how to use the app have body fat like nearly all the rest of us human beings.

For a final word of praise on sports bras, I went to one of the oldest (OK, most experienced) women’s football advocates in Australia, Maria Berry. The coach, player and administrator remembers a time when women were advised to wear breastplates when they ran on to the pitch, though they were more like a knight’s shield than anything supportive – useless.

It took women’s advocacy to get the right fit, Berry says, “so you don’t have breasts swinging left while your knees are going right”.

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