Wearing the right sports bra, with more breast support, may increase your running performance, new research suggests.
Greater support during running is associated with increased knee joint stiffness, altering the lower body movement, the small study found.
A sports bra that offers high support may increase this stiffness – which is linked to improved running performance – by up to 5%, the findings suggest.
Good quality running gear, such as the right pair of shoes, is vital to improving running performance and reducing injury risk.
Researchers suggest this can be a significant barrier to practicing sports, with up to 72% of women experiencing breast pain while running.
In the study, 12 recreational runners, aged between 18 and 35 years, with a self reported B-, C-, or D-cup, were professionally fitted with two different sports bras – a high support bra and a low support bra.
Another group was asked to perform the experiment bare chested.
Each runner then performed three-minute running bouts in each of the three breast support conditions – high, low, bare.
The study found that compared to those running without a bra, the low and high support conditions were associated with 2% and 5% increases in knee joint stiffness respectively.
Taking into account these results and results from previous study they conducted, the researchers suggest a high support sports bra can improve a female’s running performance by 7%.
Dr Douglas Powell of the University of Memphis in the US said: “The findings show that breast support not only influences movement of the breasts but that compensations occur across the entire body.
“These compensations can lead to reduced running performance, increased injury risk, and even the development of chronic pain such as back and chest pain.
He added: “Over the past 50 years, limited evolution in bra design has occurred.
“Our findings, in conjunction with previous research studies, show that sports bras should be considered not only as apparel, but also as sports equipment that can both improve performance and reduce the risk of injury, playing a role in women’s health.”
Greater knee joint stiffness has been linked to improved running performance, the influence of breast support on knee joint stiffness had not been previously investigated.
Dr Powell, Hailey Fong of the University of Memphis and colleagues at the Breast Biomechanics Research Centre at the University of Memphis, wanted to investigate the effect of a good sports bra on running biomechanics – movement of the body.
Previous research has shown the increased support sports bras offer not only influences breast movement but can also positively influence running performance (speed and metabolic cost – the energy expended by someone to move a certain distance).
Additionally, greater breast support has been linked to lower oxygen consumption and better range of motion.
Dr Powell said: “The biomechanics underlying improved running performance with greater breast support are not well understood.
“Our study represents one of a series of research studies on the topic of breast support and whole body biomechanics.
“We wanted to identify strategies to reduce activity-induced breast pain for females, a group that makes up approximately 50% of the population.”
To collect the data, the researchers used a 10-camera motion capture system and instrumented treadmill.
The researchers used Visual3D – software for analysing 3D motion capture data – to calculate knee joint excursions, while custom software was used to calculate knee joint stiffness and breast displacements during the stance phase of running in each experimental condition.
The study is published in Frontiers in Sports and Active Living.