We get it – boobs can be a pain when you’re running. From pain to bounce, chafing and feeling self-conscious, being larger-busted can put many of us off hitting the pavements. But armed with the right knowledge and support, you can get back on track.
Hands up if you think you can’t run because of your boobs? For anyone over a B cup, running – perhaps over other forms of exercise – can seem tricky. We tend to think of issues such as bounce, pain and chafing, but scientists from the University of Portsmouth’s research group in breast health have found that the problems run much deeper than this – from making us feel as though we’re working harder to decreasing our stride length, being larger-chested has a real and measurable effect on our running habits.
But there are ways we can address the balance, so to speak. We spoke to four women who have found solutions and now run free – and comfortably.
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Why is running hard for women with bigger boobs?
Even with a relatively supportive sports bra (and don’t get us started on how tricky these are to find), many of us find that running is uncomfortable, at best, and at times downright painful.
It might sound innocuous, but boob bounce is a very real problem. Forget Pamela Anderson striding gracefully along a beach – the reality of running or even walking with big boobs is a minefield.
“Even if I walk down the stairs without a bra, I have to hold my boobs in my hands,” says physiotherapist Nell Mead. “So I actually don’t do any form of sports at all if I don’t have a sports bra – and even then, if I don’t get the right bra, I struggle with chafing and uncomfortable bouncing.”
The ligaments holding our breasts in place are known as Cooper’s ligaments. They help to maintain the shape and structure of boobs and prevent sagging. But when we run, particularly without adequate support, these ligaments stretch and become thinner. Repetitive bouncing can damage the ligaments permanently, causing sagging, pain and even neck and back problems.
Bouncing boobs often leads to pain, both in the actual breast and also in the neck and back. For some women, the pain can be severe enough to warrant surgery. “I was a 32G and had to wear a sports bra, compression bra and catsuit to be comfortable enough to run,” explains resilience coach Nicki Bass. “I am now 34DD and still find it uncomfortable if I don’t have a max-supportive bra.”
Unfortunately, many of us still feel some degree of shame around our very natural boob jiggle – and no one wants to be stared at while out running. “I’ve always been petite with a big bust after I spent my teenage years manifesting a cleavage,” muses Maiden Voyage CEO Carolyn Pearson. “I wear a 28HH sports bra. I’ve signed up to Race For Life this year and will do Couch to 5K, but I have to practise running away from the traffic as I get hounded by the inevitable beeping and catcalling – even my husband has commented on my boobs at times.”
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3 ways to feel more comfortable when running with bigger boobs
Even with a huge range of sports bras on the market, finding the right supportive bra is the biggest barrier to working out with larger breasts. Look at any women’s workout-wear site and most of the bras are only light or medium support – useless, then, for anyone with almost any breast tissue at all. And the sad reality is that finding a great sports bra that isn’t also ugly is near impossible, which can put us off.
“As a physio, I see a lot of young women wearing inadequate, unsupportive or ill-fitting sports bras, and getting proper bra fittings is something I discuss with them,” says Mead. “Getting the size and fit right is vital. If I wear a band that’s too small, I get chafing. Since I also play a lot of tennis, I need sports bras that hold my boobs steady not just on the up/down of running but also the rotation of tennis, and they have to allow my shoulders to move as well so that I can serve properly.”
All of the women we spoke to maintain that their sports bra is the most important piece of running kit they own. Many of them also agreed that, unfortunately, lots of bras that claim to be high-impact are nowhere near suitable, so it seems there is still work to be done. No one wants to be holding their boobs in place over 26.2 miles.
Find a bra brand that caters to larger bust sizes
Interestingly, all four women we spoke to have a favourite bra brand – congratulations Bravissimo.
“I went to Bravissimo and was fitted for a sports bra from the Panache range,” says image consultant and marathon runner Lindsay Edwards. “I tested it out by having a little jump up and down in the fitting room. I was really impressed. It was so supportive, it actually felt like it was hugging my breasts in place. And it is just as supportive and well-fitting five years later. For me, it was certainly money well spent.”
Other brands with an excellent reputation for larger busts include Panache and Shock Absorber, whose award-winning ultimate run bra has been formulated especially for – you guessed it – (bigger-boobed) runners.
Choose a bra that’s genuinely supportive
According to research undertaken by the University of Portsmouth research group in breast health, there are five key characteristics to look for when choosing a sports bra:
- Encapsulation style – bras which support each breast in a separate cup and have a band and straps similar to an everyday bra.
- Padded cups will ensure support and separation.
- Adjustable under-band – you shouldn’t be able to pull this more than one inch away from your chest.
- Nylon fabric – this tends to be lighter on the skin and more absorbent than other fabrics.
- High neckline to prevent spillage during high-impact running.
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Try these physio-approved exercises
There are some simple moves you can try in between your runs to support breast health and minimise the impact of any bounce and stress. Mead recommends a mix of mobility, stretches and exercises to keep your upper body supple and supported.
“I advise women to focus on anything that works the muscles of their back, essentially at boob level,” she suggests. “The idea is to build the muscles that stack your torso like a Jenga tower, rather than letting your boobs pull you forwards.”
Foam roller thorax stretch
“Upper-back mobility exercises can really help to strengthen and support the breast area in between runs, counteracting the stress we’re putting it under when running,” advises Mead.
You’ll need to start by lying on your back with the foam roller placed horizontally underneath your shoulder blades.
With your knees bent and hands behind your head, roll slowly up and down, moving the roller from the base of your neck through to the top of the ribcage.
“Any rowing exercise is great for working your back muscles to support your boobs,” advises Mead.
HOW TO DO A RENEGADE ROW
Place your dumbbells on the floor, shoulder width-apart.
Get into plank position, holding onto the dumbbells instead of having your hands flat on the floor. The further apart your feet are, the easier it will be to balance. If it’s too tricky on your feet, feel free to drop to your knees.
Ensure that there’s a straight line between your wrists, elbows and shoulders – bodyweight should be over the wrists.
Slowly bend the right below to bring the dumbbell towards your hip.
Lower the weight back down and repeat on the left.
No other part of the body should be moving – only the single arm.
“I’m also a fan of anything that helps you to work on your posture,” advises Mead. “I did a lot of ballet when I was younger, and the ‘port de bras’ arm positions are superb for working the upper back muscles which balance your torso, but pilates moves are also really good.”
IMPROVE YOUR POSTURE BY:
- Taking regular breaks from your desk, bed or kitchen table when you’re working
- Concentrate on stretching and strengthening the front and back body
- Try to keep your screen at eye line so that you’re not hunching down to see your screen
- Have a go at pilates or a mobility class to lengthen and strengthen weak or tight muscles
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