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Support yourself...

Having competed for many years, Agility has become a huge part of Lesley Short's life. In the past, she had often joked that when she  couldn't run anymore she would have a stand selling Sports Bras as a way of continuing to be part of this great community so, when in 2013 she was made redundant, she decided to give it a go.

We all worry about our dog's health and performance when training agility but shouldn't we also take as much care of ourselves. After all, it is a partnership! Apart from generally keeping as fit as we can, one way we can help ourselves is by wearing a decent sports bra. We should be putting as much thought into this item of clothing as we do into our choice of footwear.

Exercise, whether it involves dogs or not, generates excessive movement in our breasts. To protect ourselves from a variety of unpleasant, often damaging, injuries and pain all women should be wearing a decent sports bra when exercising. Otherwise in future, we just might encounter, in varying degrees, some problems such as:-

  • Back ache

  • Neck ache

  • Sweaty under bands

  • Deep shoulder 'ruts'

  • Numbness in the fingers

  • Rashes, sores and chaffing

  • And worst of all sagging breasts in later life!

Fit for purpose...
To be comfortable, confident and healthy, we need to wear a good fitting bra to reduce the 'bounce.' An article entitled
Brassieres: an engineering miracle from Science & Mechanics Journal (February 1964) states: 'The challenge of enclosing and supporting a semi-solid mass of variable volume and shape, plus its adjacent mirror image, involves a design effort comparable to that of building a bridge or a cantilevered skyscraper.'

Research continues and more information is being discovered every day. Both the University of Portsmouth and the University of Loughborough are currently working in this field.

Extensive bio-mechanic research has been carried out to help in the design and manufacture of sports bras. They came in to being around 1970 and research has continued since then to improve the design of sports bras and there is now a much better understanding of the problems that need to be addressed. Improving posture and support by wearing a good sports bra helps eliminate a lot of aches, pains and discomfort caused by unruly breasts!

More bounce to the ounce
In recent years the average bra size has increased from 34B to 36D. Younger women are tending to have a smaller band size but a larger cup size so, Mums out there,  just because you didn't think you needed one when you were young, make sure your daughters understand the importance of wearing a sports bra. The average breast size today in the UK is 36D. Using the average breast size of 36D, each breast will weigh approximately 645gms or 1.5lbs a lot to bounce about think nearly two bags of sugar!

There are no muscles in the breasts, only ligaments. These are like elastic and when over stretched they will refuse to spring back, 80% of doctors believe that  wearing a sports bra will help prevent long term damage by reducing the stress on the 'Cooper's ligaments' and this will help to delay sagging breasts later in life. Maybe you are young enough not to think that this might be a problem, or you do not worry that much about your 'body image' but who knows what the future will bring? Once the damage is done it can't be reversed. This applies to all of us regardless of what cup size you wear.

As part of the research carried out at the University of Portsmouth, reflective markers were placed on the body so that the vertical, horizontal and 'in and out' movement of the breasts could be monitored whilst running. The retro reflective markers that were positioned on the body showed that the breasts moves in a figure of 8  whilst running and this movement is substantially reduced by wearing a sports bra. When a woman runs, more than 50% of the breast's total movement is vertical, 22% side-to-side and 27% in-and-out.

The diagram below shows the basic components of a standard bra, but there are many more components to a sports bra

 A 'G' Cup can bounce up to 14cms, even an  'A' Cup can bounce up to 4cms  - get your tape measure out amazing and scary! Average movement is 8.5cms. Another fact: in 62% of women the left breast is larger than the right. My tip is to always fit to the larger breast.



Sports Bras are often graded either 1-4 or high, maximum or extreme support. Make sure that you buy the correct style for your size and for what level of activity you want to do.

The first style is high support, the second and third  images are  graded as extreme support.

Exercising without good support can lead to breast mastalgia (breast pain), breast ptosis (breast sag) and excessive ground reaction force, as well as rashes, chaffing and even nerve damage resulting in numbness. These are the things we know about and more discoveries are being made every day.


Anatomy of a sports bra
It is amazing how much work goes into making a sports bra. This is for a reason and not just another sales pitch. After all sports bras are often not the most attractive of garments, although that is changing nowadays.

An M&S spokeswoman explains, 'There are 31 components in a bra with a DD+ cup, 10 more than are required for smaller sizes. There's an extra panel of fabric in each cup to allow volume curve. There are slings down the side of the cups that hold the wearer's breasts securely to minimise movement. The under wiring bands have greater stretch to open up and frame the breasts. The under band and shoulder straps are modular, so that some parts stretch while others don't, to create an excellent fit.

Fabrics used in sports bras are moisture wicking so they help to draw sweat away from the body, helping to keep the skin dry and stop sore spots, rashes and chaffing developing. The fabrics are also quick drying to help eliminate hotspots. They are also breathable, allowing air to circulate which helps to keep the skin cool.

Sports bras have deep under bands to help support the breasts rather than all of the support being provided by the shoulder straps. This helps to alleviate back and neck strain. The under band supplies 80-90% of the support and the other 10-20% is supplied by the shoulder straps. Excessive drag on the straps can cause soreness and even neural problems leading to numbness in the fingers.

Have a look at this short video to understand the amount of research going into this problem.

Some ladies have even considered the possibility of having a breast reduction when all that may be needed to help some of these symptoms is a good fitting sports bra.

Another problem that many of us encounter is varying sizes at different times of the month or year. Many of us have 'fat days,' bloated days, water retention problems and depressed times when we have poor body posture or are just too tired to be bothered to stand or sit up properly! In some people these problems can be so pronounced that they will need different size bras for these times. It is worth thinking about this to improve your general well being at these times. You should really check your bra size regularly  - at least every six months - and definitely if you change the make.

Improved bra engineering has not improved the disparities in sizing between different brands.

Portsmouth University's Jenny White says 'It's a minefield of different sizes out there, there is no standardisation of sizes across the industry. You'll be a B cup in one brand and a D in the next.  We talk about form, proportion or shape. This shows how important it is to try several until you find one that suits your body and shape. When you find 'the one' you will be amazed at how comfortable you feel and wonder why you didn't do it before.'

Even if you do not think you are experiencing any problems wearing your normal attire, please be aware that the breasts are bouncing. Whether it bothers you or not, you should consider the implications and go and try some sports bras and see the difference.

For more information, please have a look at my website. If I can be of any help, you can contact me through  or ring m. 07816 160254

About the author...
Lesley Short
has competed in working trials, obedience and agility for over 20 years - always with German Shepherds until recently when she got a little Lurcher called Ash and then another named Rush! She lost two Shepherds last year, very unexpectedly. It was the first time in 32 years that she  haven't had a GSD in the house.

Her lovely boy Rudi competed well in Grade 6 and, although he was very noisy and boisterous around the agility rings, he was a true gent, lovely with puppies and a dog that people would often ask to meet their new additions as he was so good with them. The 'Black Witch' was a rescue dog and always had 'issues' but she is missed as well. Life was too quiet.

Lesley was made redundant, couldn't get a 'proper' job - too old - and was down to only one dog to run - so she decided to give the sports bras idea a go. So far it has gone really well. She is very pleased to see so many agility people taking the plunge and getting a sports bra and then coming back for another when they realise the benefits. She will be attending various shows such as  Rugby and Dog Vegas, Matlock.

First published 18 June 2014


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