Breasts and Running: What You Should Know

Young woman running on boardwalk at beach

Exercise and breasts do not go well together; especially if you’re a runner. And I can attest to this, as I’m sure my fellow female athletes will. And if you’re on the larger side, well, good luck! They get in the way, they get sweaty- the inside of a sports bra is a dark and humid place- and they sometimes even cause you pain. Over the years, in various studies that have been conducted, a large number of female marathon runners have complained about breast pain while running. And while that is something that can be figured out, the sad part is that a good number of these women decided to cut back on their training because of the discomfort. It is the same story that I have personally seen played out around me as well; girls who grew up playing a sport for years, and ones that fell in love with a game, decided to give up on them when puberty hit, because they weren’t sure how to accommodate their breasts in the process.

Most female runners wear a sports bra. The big question is, are you wearing the correct sports bra? 8 out of 10 women wear the wrong size sports bra. Are you one of them? Do you wear two bras to help decrease breast movement with exercise? Does your bra cause chafing? There is some light at the end of this tunnel though; breast movement is something that researchers are trying to understand better, in order to design bras that are more effective and beneficial for female runners; thanks to technology that is constantly improving, sports bras are now nothing short of an engineering marvel. There are now several options for women to choose from, and even though the good ones are on the slightly more expensive side, if you find yourself engaging in a medium to high impact workout, they are definitely worth the investment. So if you’re a woman who enjoys a good workout, but is sometimes irritated when your breasts get in the way, these are some things that you should know!

  1. Your body is not your friend: Large chested women have it a lot harder when it comes to exercise, and of course the pain is going to vary according to the size of your breasts, but most female athletes complain of some sort of breast discomfort, regardless of their size. The body doesn’t support them very well, and there’s not much around your chest area to keep them in place. Other parts of your body are luckier in this aspect, but there’s a comparatively weak covering around your breasts, and it doesn’t do much for you while you run. This area has practically no supporters, but does have pain receptors; so when the tissues around your chest are stretched thin, you experience pain.
  2. They move a LOT: In fact, more than you think, and not in the way you would assume either. Researchers in the UK have been conducting experiments on breast movement to better understand and develop; they had women run on treadmills bare breasted, and in sports bras to capture the full range of motion. Their discovery? The breast moves in a figure eight  pattern and not just vertically (as most people assume); they move up and down, side to side and forward and backward. The reason that it it moves in so many different directions is because the breast is just tissue, not muscle; it isn’t rigid enough to be confined to a certain sort of movement.
  3. The RIGHT sports bra: Is a must have. If you’re a regular runner, you should ideally have four to five bras that you can rotate, so that you can preserve the elasticity on all of them. And with all that movement, you definitely need the support. Most experts advise that you spend a good amount of time in the shop and try on various bras to understand the different kinds of fit. If you need some help, it is advisable to visit a store and talk to someone who knows about the same. If you’re specifically looking for a bra for running, a high intensity sports bra is a must; some women prefer compression, others prefer encapsulation models, but this doesn’t matter, the best bra is the one that you’re happy to wear. If you get one that hooks in the back, you should be able to wear it on its loosest fastening. As it goes through the wash and becomes looser, you can go to the tighter fastenings.
  4. Your pace doesn’t matter: Research has found that regardless of the speed you’re running at, your breasts are going to move the same amount. And if you’re wondering amount the point that I’m trying to make, here it is: if you’re setting out for a slow jog/run, and you think a low impact sports bra will suffice, you’re probably going to be in some pain. You need to put on a high intensity bra every time you go for a run.  
  5. They might shrink a tad: Some women experience a slight shrinking of the breasts, but this is entirely normal. Breasts are basically made up of fat and fibrous tissue and when a person exercises and eats regularly, you are bound to reduce the amount of fat in your body. So while running doesn’t actually cause your breasts to shrink, the regular exercise will definitely decrease some of the fat in your breasts as well.

  6. Pain should not be ignored: There are different kinds of breast pain, and most of them are easily explained, but either way, it should not be ignored. Most breast pain from running is a result of inadequate support, and your bra is not doing its job. Finding a good sports bra can be tough, and even more so for women who are on the larger side. Furthermore, many women are extra sensitive in their breasts in the days leading up to menstruation. It’s highly variable from person to person. If the pain is severe enough, you might want to pick a workout with less impact- like yoga or cycling. And it’s only for a couple of days. However, if you want to power through it, and your breasts are too sore, you can take an anti-inflammatory to help ease some of the pain.
  7. Don’t let it stop you: Recent research out of the University of Portsmouth has shown that breast comfort affects a woman’s willingness to run; it’s hard enough to get motivated to drag yourself out the door for a few miles everyday without having to consider the pain that you’re signing yourself up for. It could be a subconscious reaction, but you could be sabotaging your workout plans in fear of the pain that it will bring. So always, ALWAYS, have a good sports bra handy.
  8. Running helps prevent breast cancer: Recent studies that have been conducted establish a clear link between exercise and reduced rates of breast cancer; it works at the primary prevention- keeps you from getting in in the first place- and secondary prevention- keeps it from coming back- levels. So if this isn’t motivation enough, I guess it’s time to hit the road! With a good bra, of course.  
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LIFE IS COMPLICATED, YOUR BRA SHOULD NOT BE.
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