A sports bra is a crucial piece of fitness kit – as anyone who has breasts will tell you.
Boobs can be a serious hindrance to getting the most of a workout if they’re not securely strapped in.
Too much bounce can be distracting, uncomfortable, painful and it can even cause long-term damage to breast tissue and to the back and shoulders.
But is your sports bra actually doing a good-enough job? A former sports bra tester has told us why so many bras on the market aren’t up to standard – and it’s all to do with ‘upward motion’.
‘Not many people know that some sports bras are tested in lab conditions. This was my job,’ Mari Thomas tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I worked in a laboratory running experiments on different sports bra designs. A number of the world’s top sports brands came to our facility at Loughborough University to evaluate the effectiveness of their design.’
But how would you effectively test sports bras? Is it a case of simply jumping up and down and monitoring the levels of jiggle? Not exactly.
‘Testing would involve the recruiting of different sized women who didn’t mind running on a treadmill in their sports bra,’ explains Mari.
‘Motion capture sensors would be placed on the fullest part of the breasts to measure the motion experienced. The greater the motion, the worse the performance of that bra would be.’
One of the main takeaways from Mari’s time as a sports bra tester was understanding the complexity of how breasts move when we are being active.
Mari says that too many consumers – and manufacturers – only focus on the downward movement of the breast – but when we run, jump, spin or play sport, our boobs basically have minds of their own.
‘Boobs move in all sorts of directions, not just downwards. Even when you’re doing a pretty repetitive movement like running,’ says Mari.
‘They complete a three-dimensional figure of eight when running; moving up and down, side-to-side and in and out. So to make a sports bra which only looks at reducing downward motion is a short-sighted and outdated concept.
‘It is very important that we reduce the downward motion of the breast.
‘The Cooper’s ligament in the breast can stretch and elongate if subjected to a great enough downward force for a long period of time. But if our boobs are allowed to travel upward to begin with then it allows for a greater downward distance for travel.
‘After all, what goes up, must come down.
‘Our breasts are made up of many components, and the Cooper’s Ligament is one of them. It extends from the clavicle to the deep fascia of the breasts and it helps to shape out breasts.
‘It’s important that we prevent excessive stretching to the Cooper’s Ligament to reduce sagging and pain of the breast. Sports bras will help to minimise this, as they can reduce breast motion by up to 95% during exercise.’
It’s solid logic – if your boobs go higher when we run then the downward force will be bigger. It makes sense to limit that movement altogether.
And Mari says it’s not just about stretching the ligaments. Wearing the wrong sports bra can effect performance too.
‘Having poor support can also affect our running cadence,’ explains Mari.
‘I compare it to running with a rucksack on your back. It causes no bother when we’re walking along, but as soon as you start to run it’s a whole different ball game.
‘If the bag isn’t strapped down to move in rhythm with your body then it throws off your running pattern.
‘This is because the rucksack reaches its furthest downward position later than your body does, it has a delayed motion compared to your body.’
Breast discomfort and excessive movement is one of the main deterrents for women – and anyone with breasts – when it comes to exercising.
Mari launched her own range of sports bras in 2018 to help tackle this issue, with a focus on upward motion as well as downward.
‘I had the idea for the Overband® bra around five years before I even started MAAREE.
‘I used to be running along and thinking to myself; “this bra would be perfect if only it stopped things from coming up too”.
What to think about when choosing a sports bra
If I could advise just one thing, I would say that it is important to know what’s right for you and to get to know your own body.
What one person may think is good about a sports bra for them, may not be right for you. There’s no one-bra-suits-all out there.
Learn about the different types of sports bras out there and get to know what feels and performs well for you. If you are selecting a sports bra out there solely on how it looks, then you may want to take a step back and think “actually, will this work for me?”
Don’t get me wrong, how a bra looks is also an important factor. I mean, if you don’t feel good in it, then you’re probably not going to wear it. But it shouldn’t be the main or only factor you base your purchase on.
Mari Thomas, Maaree sports bras
‘Combining my own experience with what I was learning from my job as a sports bra tester, I couldn’t think why no-one was solving this problem.
‘I assumed someone would do it eventually. However, years passed and I got tired of waiting. So I started sewing prototypes at home, to see if there was any truth to my concept.
‘When I completed my very first sports bra with Overband® prototype, I saw that there was a big improvement with my design.
‘So I designed two bras for my first collection; the Solidarity High-Impact Sports Bra and the Empower Medium-Impact Sports Bra.
‘It’s a radical change to the current market offering and I wasn’t sure if anyone would understand the problem I am trying to tackle. Especially as no-one has previously shone a light on this aspect of sports bras.
‘Many companies will try to improve bras my making them tighter and tighter, which can affect the user’s breathing. Whereas I am tackling the problem differently.
‘Fortunately, I could not be happier with the response I’ve had to date. I have already had so many messages saying how much people love my bras and how they are even changed their lives.’
As an active woman Mari knows just how crucial it is to find the perfect sports bra – she wants to make it easier for people to find a fit that suits them and helps them to feel comfortable and portected.
‘It is incredibly important to be aware of your breast support and comfort when you work out,’ says Mari.
‘Shopping for a sports bra should be a similar experience as to when you chose your running shoes. You wouldn’t walk out of the shop with a pair that caused you discomfort or wasn’t the right size.
‘It’s a very important piece of equipment that serves a purpose and wearing a poor-performing bra can be detrimental to our bodies.
‘It’s not always easy to feel how much motion our breasts are experiencing when we are active, as we don’t run in front of a mirror most of the time.
‘So I would ask that you check yourself regularly by placing your hands just above the breasts when you are active, to feel how much motion you are experiencing.’
I am Team GB
Toyota has teamed up with Team GB to re-launch the hugely successful participation campaign ‘I am Team GB’.
Over the weekend, there will be hundreds of free and fun activities across the country, put on by an army of volunteers; the ‘I am Team GB Games Makers’.
To Join the Team and be part of The Nation’s Biggest Sports Day sign up at: www.IAmTeamGB.com