New research published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport has found the larger a woman’s breasts are, the less likely she is to engage in physical activity. While women everywhere are not surprised by these results — including the researchers — it comes at a time when barriers that keep women from doing anything they please are being more widely recognized. Important strides are being made in a field that — according to study co-author Celeste Coltman, PhD, professor of sport and exercise science at the University of Canberra, Australia — has traditionally been dominated by men.
“Breast biomechanics research began in the 1980s with some pioneering work examining how breasts move during jogging,” she explains. “Although the field has grown as a research area, it is still a small and relatively under-researched field. A major reason research in this field hasn’t been done is because researchers, who traditionally were predominantly men, simply didn’t think about the issue because they don’t have breasts.”
ABOUT THE STUDY
Coltman and her co-authors — senior professor Julie Steele and Dr. Deirdre McGhee, directors of Breast Research Australia, University of Wollongong — hope to bring more awareness to this area of research. That’s why they broke down the breast size of 355 Australian women who volunteered for the study, ages 18–75, into four groups: small, medium, large and hypertrophic.
From there, the women were asked questions about their physical activity, including whether or not their breast size affected their participation in physical activity. They found the larger a woman’s breasts, the less time she spent participating in physical activity, with the biggest discrepancy between women with hypertrophic breasts and those with small breasts. In fact, women with hypertrophic breasts spent 37% less time participating in physical activity than women with small breasts.
“Consistently, we have found that women with large and hypertrophic breast sizes experience many challenges participating in physical activity, for example, finding a sports bra to sufficiently support their breast during activity,” notes Coltman. “Because of this we wanted to examine the extent of the problem (i.e., breast size) on participation in physical activity.”
WHAT WE CAN LEARN
Now that more formal studies of this nature are being conducted, Coltman is hoping the evidence will help support future strategies to assist women with large or hypertrophic breasts to participate in physical activities of all types and intensities. It is important for both the medical and health industries to recognize breast size is a potential barrier for women who are looking to lead an active lifestyle.
“Subsequently, strategies to assist women with large breasts participate in all types and intensities of physical activity, including high-intensity physical activity, are needed,” adds Coltman. “This can include advice on selecting activities that are more appropriate for women with large breasts, such as water-based activities (where the buoyant forces within water can help support the breasts).”
TIPS FOR RUNNING WITH LARGE BREASTS
Of course, women with larger breasts can still run, but you have to make some adjustments. It is also important to note it is completely understandable women with larger busts would be less motivated to run; Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, coach at I Run Tons is quick to point this out. She says a well-fitted, high performance sports bra is the first place runners with larger breasts should start. From there, reducing excess stress put on the body is important.
“Typically the run gait for large-busted women is less efficient simply as a result of gravity and discomfort,” she explains. “The hips are typically too far behind and tilted forward, which can put more stress on the neck, shoulders, lower back and knees.”
So what can be done? This is where targeted core work comes in. Gallagher-Mohler specifically has runners do well-engaged planks. “This is a great place to start since this helps to develop not only the rectus abdominis, but also supports proper scapular retraction and pelvic alignment, which are equally as important,” she adds.
While breast pain has been documented to actually impact training for some runners, working side-by-side with a coach to specifically address issues with gait and eliminate stress put on the body can help. Additionally, it is important to be forgiving of yourself and your body. While breast size can be an obstacle, it doesn’t have to be a limitation that keeps you from activity altogether.