As if running weren’t challenging enough, large breasts can make it a full-on contact sport.
Thumping against your chest, weighing you down, and threatening to give you black eyes, graphic breast bouncing is more than embarrassing. It’s painful—and can prove detrimental to running performance, says sports physiotherapist Deirdre McGhee, Ph.D., a researcher with Breast Research Australia at the University of Wollongong.
Here, we explore the top three complaints of large-breasted runners everywhere—as well as how to ease the pain with some simple tricks and bra-fit guidelines.
- Baby Got Back Pain
A pair of D-cup breasts weighs in at between 6 and 10 kilos. That’s more than enough to pull your trunk forward, force you into a hunched-over running posture, decrease your stride’s efficiency, and even up your risk of injury, McGhee says.
And, if you haven’t noticed, pretty much the only thing keeping your breasts up during a run is your bra’s shoulder straps. They take a lot of weight. So, when those straps are thin, the pressure can be so great that they not only leave dents in your shoulders but also hit the brachial plexus nerve group, causing numbness in the pinky fingers.
While, unfortunately, (all reductions aside) you can’t reduce your breasts’ weight, you can improve your body’s ability to remain erect, says Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist.
Upper and lower back exercises (think: pull-down and row variations) can help prevent the back fatigue and poor posture that can set in with longer running durations, Hamilton says. Exercising your core, which includes your lower and middle back, can also help stabilise your spine, says Victoria Barnaby, an athlete and running coach. Focus on functional core strengthening exercises that work multiple muscles through several planes of motion, she says. Examples include the forearm plank with alternating leg raises, prone plank on a stability ball, Superman, bird-dog, side plank, and abdominal twists.
- The Bounce Factor
How far your breasts bounce depends almost entirely on your breast size and the elasticity of the skin covering your breasts, says McGhee. However, skin tends to lose its elasticity with both age and “excessive breast bouncing.” So, basically, the more your breasts bounce, the more they will bounce during future runs.
So how much do boobs bounce? Measuring both bare and bra-covered breasts bounce during treadmill workouts, McGhee has found that the average 38D moves about five inches from top to bottom during running. For the record, small breasts bounce more like three inches, which can still prove uncomfortable.
High-support bras, while they can’t completely eliminate bouncing, can cut the range of motion in about half, McGhee says. (Check out tips on buying your best bra below.) The goal is for the breasts to move in unison with your torso and not bounce independently of one another.
- Rubbed Raw
“Finding a sports bra that fits properly to your bust is the first step to prevent chafing, says Barnaby. After all, the less your bra moves during your run, the less it will rub. (Again, we’ve got tips for buying your best bra below.) However, the larger your breasts, the more difficult it can become to prevent any movement. She suggests also using anti-chafing balms and creams on sensitive areas such as under your armpits.
If your running bra still rubs you raw, before starting a run, apply a thin strip of first aid tape across the areas where you tend to get chafed, Hamilton says. However, since tape can also be an irritant, it’s best to try tape during a short run before heading out on a 10 or 15k run, she says.
What’s more, wearing a sports bra that’s built with sweat-wicking materials can also prevent skin irritations, which can develop into full-blown chafing, McGhee says. Bonus: You’ll have less boob sweat pooling under your nose.
How to Find Your Best Running Bra
“When first purchasing a sports bra, resist the urge to purchase online; go to a retailer to try on styles,” Barnaby says.
Look for bras with high-support elements such as molded cups, underwires, padded straps, and multiple hooks. While, the less your breasts move, the better, high-support bras can risk becoming uncomfortable. McGhee recommends trying on as many bras as possible to find which ones keep the girls in place—without sacrificing too much comfort. “If a bra is not comfortable to wear walking and stretching, then don’t even think about hitting the road with it,” Barnaby says.
When trying on sports bras, though, don’t just go by the feel. McGhee recommends looking for these markers:
The Band: It should be made of a wide elastic material so that it can support your breasts without causing back bulges or riding up when you lift your arms. You should fasten the bra on the loosest hook so that, as it ages and becomes looser, you can tighten the fit.
The Shoulder Straps: It should be wide and padded so that they don’t dig into your shoulders.
The Cups: To limit movement, the cups must completely cover your breasts (but without leaving any creases or gaps). Keep in mind that your running bra cup size may be different from what you wear under your little black dress. That’s OK.
The Underwire: It should sit on your ribs so that it does not dig into your breasts or the tissue under your armpits.
The Front Band: The centre of the bra should sit on your breastbone, squarely between your breasts.
Meanwhile, if you’ve long since outgrown DD bras, you may need to also look for a “crop top” compression bra for some double-bra layering, McGhee says.
She recommends first putting on a high-support bra with structured cups and an underwire and then layering it with compression bra that will help hold everything in place. Again, with the compression bra, you’ll need to find a middle ground between “my boobs are all over the place” and “I feel like an encased sausage.”
Barnaby recommends taking home a few different styles to wear on test runs. If you’re concerned about the cost of buying some bras that will potentially not pan out, ask a sales rep if you can return bras after one or two wears for a full refund or store credit.
After a few runs, chances are you’ll figure out the brands and styles that work best for your unique shape, Barnaby says. Once you find your can’t-run-without bra, write down its silhouette and style number. It’s the key to being able to buy online—or finding a similar bra should the brand discontinue the style. Either way, it’ll simplify the contain-the-girls process for future runs.