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Secret support: did prescription bras help Lionesses to Euro 2022 glory? | uknews

It may go down as one of the most iconic images in English sporting history: Chloe Kelly whirling her England shirt above her head as she sprints across the pitch in a white Nike sports bra.

But if those cups could talk, they might claim a share of the Lionesses’ victory for themselves.

Ahead of the Euros, breast biomechanics experts provided personalized bra prescriptions to the England players to improve their comfort and ensure they were getting the right support. According to their latest data, the bras may have increased the players’ athletic performances as well.

“Evidence suggests that sports bras have performance benefits, comfort benefits and health benefits, so I would say they’re just as important for exercising females as trainers,” said Prof Joanna Wakefield-Scurr of the University of Portsmouth, who led the project.

In the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2021, Wakefield-Scurr and her colleagues provided similar prescriptions to 112 British athletes, in collaboration with the English Institute of Sport (EIS). Before their intervention, most of the athletes wore ill-fitting, loose bras, offering limited support, and many reported breast discomfort or pain. Four weeks later, 87% of the athletes reported having benefited from the prescriptions, and 17% said it had improved their sports performance.

“We were delighted because it meant the athletes had noticed a difference in their performance on the pitch, the court or wherever, and that difference was the result of changing their bra,” said Wakefield-Scurr.

Sports bras broadly fall into one of two categories. There are compression bras, which help reduce breast movement by squashing them flat against the chest, and encapsulation bras, which support each breast in individual cups.

“Crop top-style compression sports bras are really common in football,” said Wakefield-Scurr. “They can be reasonably effective for smaller-breasted athletes, but there are also some hybrid bras that look like a crop top but contain a bit more support, which is what Chloe [Kelly] was wearing. It looks like a crop top from the front but it’s got more structured support within it.”

This support is important. Previous research has suggested that wearing an ill-fitting bra can create multiple problems, from breast pain and sagging tissue to chafed skin. Running in a poorly supportive bra was also found to shorten women’s strides by up to 4cm, which could add up to an extra mile over the length of a marathon.

“Some of our research has also shown reductions in muscle activity in the upper body as a result of wearing a well-fitting bra, which means you could potentially go for a bit longer in your training session before getting fatigued,” said Wakefield-Scurr . “If you are exercising and your breasts are moving a lot, you essentially work harder in your upper body to try to stop that movement.”

Before the UEFA European Women’s Championships, Wakefield-Scurr provided general breast and bra education to the Lionesses, followed by individual sessions. “We looked at their bra needs and any issues they’d been experiencing with their sports bras, and then we prescribed sports bras for them – including the sports bra that we saw Chloe displaying to everybody,” she said.

“They were off-the-shelf bras, but we found that the players really appreciated information on how to fit them, what styles would work for them best. There are some really good products out there that can work for elite athletes, but it’s about helping them navigate through the marketplace.”

Dr Pippa Bennett, acting director of medical services at the English Institute of Sport and the Football Association’s medical lead for the women’s professional game, said: “While the EIS has not worked directly with the Lionesses, it is great to see that the FA has – like the EIS – prioritized work on female athlete health, including bra fitting.”

Besides inspiring more women to take up football, Kelly – who has said she will frame her bra – may have inadvertently prompted a boom in sports bra purchases. John Lewis said sales had surged 140% over the weekend, while there was a nearly tenfold increase in Google searches for “Nike sports bra” following Saturday’s game.

That’s not bad, said Wakefield-Scurr. “What we tend to see with sports bras is that they can offer increased comfort, and they probably also have a bit more R&D behind them because some of the big sports apparel brands have put in a lot of money into their development. I think the general public can get real benefits from wearing them, and they can be worn every day.”

How to choose a supportive sports bra

The best bra is a well-fitting bra, but because women’s breasts vary so widely in size, shape and composition, what suits one women may not suit another. The same is true of sports bras.

Pure compression bras are made of stretchy material that flattens the breasts against the chest to minimize bounce. “The challenge is that breast tissue is non-compressible. It doesn’t get smaller, the bra just repositions it somewhere else,” said Wakefield-Scurr. “To cope with that, compression bras have to have quite a lot of elastic in them, which tends to make them quite stretchy.”

Although they may be OK for small-breasted women doing low-impact activities, Wakefield-Scurr doesn’t generally recommend them for exercising women. Encapsulated or hybrid bras are a better option, because they contain cups that support each breast. But it may not be obvious which type of bra you’re looking at.

Wakefield-Scurr recommends turning the bra inside out to get a better look: “From the outside you quite often can’t tell [if it’s a hybrid bra]but if you turn it inside out you’ll be able to see the structuring – either a molded cup that has a shape to it, or seaming where multiple panels have been sewn together to create a 3D shape.”

Both types can be equally effective, but some women prefer the thickness of a molded cup. Whichever you choose, make sure your bra doesn’t restrict your breathing, that the fabric of the cup is smooth and unwrinkled, and that breast tissue isn’t spilling out. Another tip is to try jumping around the changing room and swinging your arms. If you experience pain or discomfort, try another bra.

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