Every female runner understands the value of a good sports bra, and now we finally have the science to back that up. A new study published in the journal Frontiers in Sports and Active Living has determined that wearing a supportive sports bra can improve your running performance by seven per cent.
The study claims that up to 72 per cent of women experience exercise-induced breast pain, which can interfere with performance. Beyond simply providing a more comfortable running experience, previous research has shown that a good sports bra that provides better support can lower oxygen consumption and improve range of motion–both factors that affect running economy and performance.
Sports bras and biomechanics
The link between breast support and running biomechanics may surprise you: the researchers at the Breast Biomechanics Research Center at the University of Memphis identified that breast support influences knee joint stiffness, which has been associated with lower oxygen consumption, improved running performance and fewer injuries.
Knee joint stiffness is a biomechanical measurement that indicates how resistant the knee joint is to movement when you apply force to the joint. In the case of running, force is applied to your knees every time your foot strikes the ground.
The study included 12 recreational runners aged between 18 and 35, all of whom self-reported as being either a B-, C-, or D-cup. Each participant was professionally fitted with two different sports bras: one that offered a high degree of support, and one that offered very little. They then performed three running tests of three minutes’ duration: one in the high-support bra, one in the low-support bra and one with no sports bra at all, to act as a control.
Using a 10-camera motion-capture system, the researchers tracked their movements and calculated knee joint stiffness and breast displacements during the stance phase of their running gait.
The experiment revealed that when the runners had more breast support, their knees experienced smaller excursions–in other words, their knee joints moved from side to side less, or became “stiffer.” In this case, stiffness is a good thing–less lateral movement in your knee increases your running economy and decreases your risk for injuries.
Compared to the control condition (ie, the no-sports-bra test), the runners in the study saw a five per cent improvement in their running performance. Those results, combined with results from previous research by the same group, have led the researchers to conclude that a high-support sports bra can improve running performance by up to seven percent.
This study proves that poor breast support not only impacts breast movement during activity but has whole-body implications that can reduce performance and increase injury risk. There have been very few significant updates to sports bra design in the last several decades, but the researchers hope that their work will encourage companies to revisit this vital piece of apparel, so that female runners everywhere can have a more comfortable running experience.