Are your breasts too big for running?

By Catherine Orda | Photo by  Jon Ly /Unsplash

Would it be distastefully feminist of me to point out that, in a lot of ways, biology has never been fair to women?

We can entertain the existence of so-called gray areas of feminist discourse in socio-political, historical, or cultural terms, but when it all boils down to scientific fact, there’s little room for argument—our body’s biological limits, the physiological realities of the two sexes, and how these realities make women more susceptible to pain, inconvenience, and oppression.

Take breasts, for instance. They’re just masses of heavy, muscle-free tissue and subcutaneous fat that are only supported by some skin and a few ligaments. They have essentially no support yet like other parts of the body they have pain receptors. This is obviously bad news for women, especially for those who love running. And, unfortunately, breast pain induced by running is a lot more complicated than you’d think. Here are some facts about how breasts can affect running (and how far a decent pair of sports bra can go):

  1. Breast Pain Comes with Back Pains

According to sports physiotherapist Deirde McGhee, a pair of D-cup boobs can weigh from 15 to 23 pounds. All that weight can force you into a hunched position when you run, which not only leads to back pains but also puts you at risk of incurring injuries. Your stride’s efficiency is also compromised. This is where a decent pair of sports bra can’t be understated. Since it’s practically just your skin that carries all that breast weight, it’s important to invest in sports bras that compensate for that lack of support. One thing to look for in sports bras is the thickness of the straps—the thicker the straps, the higher the chances of minimizing the pressure inflicted on both breasts and back.

Another thing you can do to curb running-induced breast pains and back pains is to improve your posture. With a better posture, your body has better chances of not getting bogged down by breast weight. So try out upper and lower back exercises that can strengthen your core and stabilize your spine. Some exercises you can try out include forearm planks with alternating leg raises, side planks, leg lifts, and abdominal twists.

  1. It Also Comes with Skin Irritation

Minimizing pressure is only one aspect of chest discomfort during a run. There’s also the possibility of chafing or skin irritation due to rubbing, which is aggravated by sweating. This can be avoided by minimizing bra movement. So it’s not only important to have sports bras with thick straps but also ones that fit really well. It’s also helpful to choose the kind of bra made of sweat-wicking materials. Additionally, you can take extra precautions: Apply anti-chafing balms and creams or even a strip of first aid tape under your armpits or wherever you tend to experience chafing.

  1. It Doesn’t Matter How Fast You Run—Its Still Going to Hurt

In a study about breast movement, researchers from the sports and exercise department of the University of Portsmouth found that speed has virtually no effect on how much breasts will move. Which means that even if you just like going on jogs, it’s still important to wear a good pair of sports bra and strengthen your core. Michelle Norris, one of the authors of the study and a runner herself, says: “I would have thought that the faster I run, the more my breasts might move. That’s not actually the way it goes. If you’re running at 10 kilometers per hour (about 10:00 pace), they’re actually moving at their maximal displacement. If you’re running at 14 kilometers per hour (about 7:00 pace), they’re not going to move any more than that.”

They’re just masses of heavy, muscle-free tissue and subcutaneous fat that are only supported by some skin and a few ligaments. They have essentially no support yet like other parts of the body they have pain receptors. This is obviously bad news for women, especially for those who love running.

  1. Breast Pain and Discomfort Have a Lot to Do with How Breasts Move

Again, the problem lies with breast movement. In the same experiment, Norris and her co-researchers found that during a run, breasts don’t move vertically, but in a figure eight pattern—side to side and forward and backward as well. Adding the three planes, together it was found that breasts (without the support of a pair of sports bra) move about 15 centimeters when running. Smaller breasts on the other hand move about eight centimeters. And to think that it’s only your skin that’s carrying all that weight. With that knowledge, your best bet is high-support sports bras, which can actually cut that 15 centimeter-range of motion by about half. These bras also help to ensure that the breasts move in unison with your torso and not independently of one another—which is what you should be aiming for in order to reduce running-induced pressure.

  1. You Might Be Less Motivated Because of It

It’s already hard enough to stick to a running routine, and with the added pressure (both literal and otherwise) of having breasts, it’s not surprising to see some women give up on their running goals. In the same study, Norris found that breast comfort is a key determinant in a woman’s willingness to run. “If you pick up the wrong bra, you’re not going to go,” she says.

  1. Runners Are Less Prone to Breast Cancer

There was found to be a clear link between exercise and reduced rates of breast cancer, with one study suggesting that running can slow the growth of breast cancer cells. A 2014 study meanwhile found that running is the best exercise when it comes to preventing breast cancer. And so while it’s true that women have to take extra measures when they run, there’s no doubt that the payoffs of running will always be worth it.