Bouncy breasts seek better bras

Researchers speculate that inadequate support deters women from exercising. The solution? Smart fabrics!

By Page Rockwell
Published September 11, 2007 7:45PM (EDT)

Here's a welcome development: Some sharp-eyed researchers at the U.K.'s University of Portsmouth recently completed a study of breast jiggle during workouts, and have concluded that the world needs better sports bras. Thank you, science!

According to a story in the London Times on Monday, breasts bounce just as much during a slow jog as they do during a sprint. And when a woman is running, her boobs tend to move in a painful-sounding figure-8 pattern, with "51 per cent of the movement being up and down, 22 per cent side to side and 27 per cent in and out." (For a visual, hark back to last year's blog sensation, the bounce-o-meter.) Researcher Joanna Scurr says conventional sports bras reduce up-and-down movement, but aren't designed to deal with side-to-side or in-and-out bounce. So it's not terribly suprising that test subjects of all sizes -- from A cup to the rather mind-boggling JJ cup -- reported suffering breast pain during exercise. And such pain can discourage women from being active.

So why doesn't a better bra exist already? The world's research and development departments have turned their attention to plenty of non-life-or-death subjects already, so why not the problem of galloping boobs? Well, we've noticed before that bra-technology news tends to be long on advertising spin and short on data. Plus, as Scurr told the BBC, "Sports science has always been dominated by men and for them, studying breasts is seen as slightly laughable."

I suspect the responses in our comments section may bear this out. But, of course, women aren't the only ones whose naughty bits need support. The original athletic bra, after all, was made out of two jockstraps. And who can forget the bro (or, if you prefer, the mansiere)? Men's support vests do exist, just as "Seinfeld's" Kramer envisioned. So improved over-the-shoulder technology may wind up benefiting both sexes.

Anti-breast bias notwithstanding, Scurr's research has spurred invitations to collaborate with lingerie manufacturers and the British military (!), with the aim of developing a "smart fabric" that will contain breasts better. In the meantime, she recommends that pained consumers seek out encapsulation bras, whose molded cups offer more sideways support, rather than smoosh-style compression bras. Happy hopping.

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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