Female athlete lifting weights in our gym

Campaign reveals widespread lack of breast and bra education in sportswomen

  • 13 January 2020
  • 2 min read

Our Research Group in Breast Health has found that female athletes lack bra and breast education and this negatively affects their sporting performance.

The majority of female athletes who took part in this research reported that they want more advice on bra styles and fitting. Some said they'd never previously received advice about bras or had never had a bra fitting.

Their main issues were:

  • lack of bra and breast education
  • difficulty putting on and adjusting bras
  • the negative impact of a bra on performance
  • sporting impairment caused by breast motion

Several athletes wore free sports bras given away at events or provided by a sponsor. These bras were of varying effectiveness and often the incorrect size. The majority were wearing ill-fitting garments, which limited their breast support. Athletes were poorly provided for, with one stating the sports bra she was provided was so small she would need one for each breast.

Bra design was a common discussion point for the athletes. Manufacturers do not often consider factors such as thermal comfort, aerodynamics or the incorporation of trackers and monitors when designing products. Paralympic athletes in the project had particular issues with bra fastening and adjustments, often leading to dependence on an assistant when dressing for training or competition.

Breast-related athletic impairment

A small number of athletes we spoke to reported severe athletic impairment caused by their breasts. One athlete’s breasts were preventing her from achieving her full range of motion. She had resorted to using tape and wearing a sports bra to support the breasts. Another athlete was unable to find a bra that could support her breasts when throwing, with some bras breaking after only a couple of uses.

For this study our Research Group in Breast Health worked with the English Institute of Sport and lingerie manufacturers, Clover Group, on the SmartHER campaign supporting Britain’s elite female athletes.

The SmartHER campaign

The campaign aims to better understand female athletes, encourage their communication and make performance gains. Topics addressed by the campaign are rarely considered in elite sport and include:

  • female hormonal fluctuations
  • the menstrual cycle
  • breast health

The project began with educational workshops to elite female athletes in the UK. Athletes were then invited to 1-to-1 sessions to discuss specific breast and bra-related issues. A total of 41 athletes and support staff from 13 different sports attended. Approximately 15% of the women were Paralympic athletes. 

Future research

Having gained insight into these issues, our Research Group in Breast Health will continue to work with a small number of athletes to provide customised breast support garments that may alleviate the most severe symptoms experienced by these exceptional women. You can apply to take part in future research, or sign up for the Research Group's annual newsletter.