The real reason you need to wear a sports bra during your workout

Many of us are guilty of putting our comfort first – but not wearing a sports bra can have major implications for breast health. 

Let’s face it, this year has been all about comfort – if it’s not elasticised or loose, we’re just not interested. If you’ve taken this mindset to the mat and have forgone your sports bra, you’re not alone. In a survey, 44% of women admit that they don’t bother to wear a sports bra during exercise. We get it, strapping them down and squeezing them in feels like a lot of effort before we’ve even started our first rep, but ditching the support could have a detrimental effect on your breasts in the long run.

Created in 1977 with two jock straps sewn together (yes, really), the sports bra has quickly become an integral piece of our gym kit with the global market set to be worth an estimated £11.8 billion by 2025. But similarly to our everyday underwear, 80% of us are wearing the wrong size sports bra, giving it a bad rep of being restrictive and uncomfortable. 

So, what’s the big deal if we “accidentally” forget to wear one? “The importance of a sports bra should not be underestimated,” Dr Teodora Gratziela Crisovan says. “As breasts are made of tissue that is supported largely by skin and Cooper’s ligaments (which are bands of tough, fibrous, flexible connective tissue that shape and support your breasts), they require support during exercise. If they don’t get that, it can lead to severe backache, sagging and irreparable damage to the ligaments and tissue. As we get older, our skin becomes thinner and less elastic, so gravity has an easier time pulling us down. That stretching process tends to accelerate during times of high impact such as whilst running or doing high intensity exercise. So the older you are, the more you’ll need to wear a sports bra to prevent that gravitational pull, as well as skeletal and posture problems.”

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We don’t think twice about investing in the correct trainers, sweat-wicking clothing or sturdy equipment. So why do we neglect to treat our breasts with the same consideration? “I don’t think women fully comprehend the extent of the consequences,” Rochelle Mills, womenswear designer at Gymshark tells us. “Plus, the market has struggled to provide stylish looking bras, particular for women with larger breasts. Often times, medium and high-support sports bras look dated and aren’t particularly stylish – which puts off women as they still want to look and feel their best whilst working out.”

For those of us who weren’t endowed with sizeable chests, the go-to excuse for workout sessions sans bra has always been “I don’t need one,” but Dr Crisovan is here to burst that bubble. “’Despite what people may think, sports bras are definitely not just for women with larger breasts,” she says. “Women with larger breasts often feel the need for support whilst exercising to keep everything in place, more than small-breasted women. However, the need for support remains just as important whatever their size. All breasts are made up of the same tissues, skin and ligaments – while they may not move as much, the damage is the same.“ 

“Even in yoga. For example, when you’re in downward facing dog, you’re upside down. Think about where your breasts are at this time.” There’s that gravitational pull again.

Although comfort and breast health is enough to have us snapping up a new sports bra or two, a study conducted by Brooks Running Co. in conjunction with the University of Portsmouthrevealed that women lose up to four centimetres of stride length due to poorly controlled breast movement while running. So, if your boobs won’t thank you for it, your PB certainly will. 


Rochelle outlines her top tips to finding the best fit.


Place a tape measure directly underneath your breasts for the band measurement and over the fullest part of your breasts (across the nipples) for your bust size. You’ll find that most fitness brands will have a sizing chart so that you can find your exact fit.


A good road test for a sports bra is to move as much as you can in all directions to see how they hold up. The straps shouldn’t be too thin as they can dig in after a while and ideally, should be adjustable to provide a bespoke fit.


All of your breast should be encapsulated in the cup, which means the sides and tops of the breast must be inside the bra too.


Make sure you love the design of the product and will feel confident wearing it. Sports bras do not have to be ugly – just like any other piece of gym wear, you should feel amazing in it. 

Shop our pick of the 10 best sports bras here. 

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Image credit: Nimble, Unsplash

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