Is It Bad to Exercise Without a Bra?

While it's OK to ditch your bra at home, you should keep it on during your workouts. Running without a bra can affect your posture and cause breast pain, among other issues. These side effects are due to the movement of breast tissue, especially the Coopers ligament.

Breast pain is one of the risks you may have when working out without a bra.
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Tip

Breast pain, bad posture and diminished physical performance are just a few of the risks of working out without a bra. Your breasts consist of delicate tissues that need proper support during exercise.

Are Sports Bras a Necessity?

Breast size has a direct impact on your ability to exercise and perform certain movements. A January 2014 survey published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that more than one-third of female marathon runners experienced mastalgia, or breast pain. As the researchers note, this symptom was related to cup size. About 17 percent of women reported that breast pain affected their exercise behavior.

Unlike your arms, legs, back and other body areas, your breasts are unsupported tissue. They consist of fat cells, blood vessels and 15 to 20 lobes surrounding the nipple, explains the Cleveland Clinic. These structures are held together by Cooper's ligaments, a network of fibrous connective tissue, according to a February 2016 article featured in Gland Surgery.

Copper's ligaments are delicate tissues and may stretch permanently in women who are constantly running without a bra, regardless of their breast size. High-impact activities cause the breasts to move excessively, which may result in pain.

Read more: Can Exercise Reduce Breast Size?

According to a recent study, exercise-induced breast pain is 5.5 times more common in athletes with medium to large breasts compared with those with small breasts. Furthermore, the odds of experiencing this issue increase by 2.6 percent for every one-year increase in age. These findings were published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine in February 2020.

A well-fitted, supportive bra can reduce uncontrolled movement and absorb shocks. While it's true that you may still experience discomfort, your breasts will be better protected. The bigger your breasts, the more support they need.

Risks of Running Without a Bra

As you see, there's not too much to keep your breasts stable during exercise. Whether you're running, jogging or playing tennis, your breasts move up and down, forward and backward and side to side. This may lead to pain, soreness and discomfort. Therefore, a quality bra is a must-have.

If you exercise without a sports bra, your posture may suffer in the long run. The force created by your breasts may cause you to pull your trunk forward and slouch, leading to pain in the neck, back and arms, warns Sports Medicine Australia. Bad posture can affect your sports performance and increase injury risk.

Working out or running without a bra poses greater risks for older women and those with large breasts, notes Sports Medicine Australia. As you age, your skin loses its elasticity. This affects its ability to support the breasts as it once did. Furthermore, wearing a bra is particularly important during high-impact activities that target the lower body or require more vertical movement.

For example, a July 2017 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences has found that 40 percent of female horse riders experienced breast pain. The prevalence of pain was higher in those with larger breasts and affected their horse-riding performance.

Nearly 60 percent of subjects reported bra issues, which reinforces the importance of choosing a well-fitted bra. As the researchers note, an appropriate bra fit may reduce discomfort and other related symptoms that may occur during exercise.

Choose the Right Sports Bra

A supportive sports bra is essential for active women. According to Sports Medicine Australia, 16D breasts weigh about 1.3 pounds grams each. Therefore, you're a D cup or larger, you may want to wear two bras for optimal support. Ideally, look for a model that meets the following criteria:

  • Covers your breasts fully
  • Has a wide, strong band and padded straps for comfort
  • Is made from moisture-wicking materials
  • Can be fastened on the loosest hook
  • It's not too tight or too loose
  • Offers adequate support without limiting your mobility

Go shopping for sports bras at local stores rather than online. This way, you can try it out to see how it fits. Jump around and lean forward to make sure everything stays in place.

Read more: The Best Sports Bras for Every Workout

Decide whether you want a compression sports bra, which works best for medium- to high-impact activities, or an encapsulation bra. The latter is suitable for low-impact exercises, such as yoga or Pilates.

A small study published in the journal Ergonomics in December 2015 suggests that compression bras may reduce breast movement and discomfort to a greater extent than encapsulation bras when running on a treadmill. Although a compression bra may feel uncomfortable at rest, it offers better support during training.

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