If you are a woman who exercises regularly, you probably know the importance of wearing a good sports bra. A sports bra is designed to provide support, stability, and comfort for your breasts during physical activity, and to prevent excessive movement, friction, and irritation that can cause pain and damage to the breast tissue.

But did you know that your sports bra can also affect your breathing and performance? According to a recent study by researchers at the University of British Columbia, the tightness of the underband of a sports bra can influence the work of breathing, the pattern of breathing, and the oxygen consumption during exercise.

The study involved nine highly trained female runners who completed maximal and submaximal treadmill tests while wearing a specially modified sports bra that could adjust the underband pressure around the ribcage. The researchers measured the pressure exerted by the underband, the internal pressure of the lungs, the oxygen uptake, and the minute ventilation (the amount of air breathed in and out per minute).

The results showed that during maximal exercise, the work of breathing was significantly higher in the tight condition compared to the loose condition, and the minute ventilation was also 5% higher in the tight condition. The tight condition also changed the pattern of breathing, resulting in higher breathing frequency and lower tidal volume (the amount of air inhaled and exhaled per breath).

During submaximal exercise, the oxygen uptake increased by 1.3% in the tight condition compared to the loose condition, indicating a decrease in running economy (the amount of energy required to run at a given speed).

The researchers concluded that the pressure exerted by the underband of a sports bra can impair the respiratory function and influence the whole-body metabolic rate during exercise. They suggested that loosening the underband pressure can reduce the work of breathing, improve the ventilatory efficiency, and enhance the running economy.

So, how can you choose the right sports bra for your exercise needs? Here are some tips to consider:

  • Don’t size up or down. A sports bra should fit snugly, but not too tightly or loosely. You should be able to fit two fingers under the underband and the straps, and the underband should be parallel to the floor and not ride up or dig in.
  • Measure correctly. Use a soft tape measure and measure without a bra on or wearing a non-padded bra that doesn’t change the shape of your breasts. Measure your underbust (the circumference of your ribcage just below your breasts) and your bust (the fullest part of your breasts). Then, use a bra size calculator or a size chart to find your sports bra size.
  • Choose the right support level. Sports bras tend to come in low, medium, and high-impact varieties. Low impact is best for gentle workouts like yoga, pilates, barre, walking, or stretching while high impact is better for more vigorous workouts like running, kickboxing, dance, or HIIT. The support level depends on the design, the material, and the features of the sports bra, such as the cups, the straps, the back, and the closure.
  • Try before you buy. The best way to find the right sports bra is to try it on and test it out. Look for signs of a good fit, such as no spillage, no gaping, no chafing, no bouncing, and no discomfort. Move around, jump, bend, and stretch to see how the sports bra feels and performs. If possible, try it on with the clothes you plan to wear during exercise, and check yourself in the mirror from different angles.

Remember, a sports bra is not just a piece of clothing, but a piece of equipment that can affect your health and performance. By choosing the right sports bra, you can protect your breasts, improve your breathing, and enhance your exercise experience.

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