Joanne O'Riordan: Well engineered sports bra pivotal to performance

Women deserve choice – and with that comes complexity associated with all types and size

A good sports bra, like any piece of equipment, will you in the right place to achieving all your goals.

A good sports bra, like any piece of equipment, will you in the right place to achieving all your goals.

 

Bríd Ryan from Queen B Athletics wants you to know one thing – sports bras are a piece of equipment. Like a hockey stick, hurley, football boots and gloves, what undergarment women choose can affect performance.

Deidre McGhee is an Associate Professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Wollongong and an APA sports physiotherapist and co-director of Breast Research Australia (University of Wollongong). McGhee is so interested in support for your breasts during sports that she took matters into her own hands.

“I would be guiding my athletes on what they were wearing. Because you’d notice that they change when they’re in a higher level of breast support. The athletes had free movement, and the large breasted women stood up straighter. So, to fix their shoulders in the back, I needed them to stand more upright because they were leaning forward. And so, the only way I could do that was if their breasts were lifted. And so, from that, I designed my first bra back in 1995.”

Severe pain

So, let’s talk about breasts and breast support. Breast support and performance go hand in hand. According to McGhee, women with large breasts are more likely to experience breast pain, so naturally, when a bra doesn’t support, the breasts move, and women feel severe pain, and excessive movement is associated with breast pain. McGhee says from an anatomy side, if there’s tension on the attachments of the breast to the chest wall and within the fascia of the breast itself, then pain will occur and obviously disrupt performance.

McGhee explains further how women protect themselves from uncomfortable bras. “What we find is what women will instinctively do, if they don’t have sufficient breast support, they tend to brace their trunk like an instinct to try and limit the movement. So, when you put a woman in a higher level of breast support, one of the comments is that I feel freer to move in my trunk and arms. Then the other problem women have is that if a bra is not fitting correctly, because it’s a close-fitting garment, it’s uncomfortable, so they keep adjusting it. So, it’s a distraction for a high-level athlete.”

All of these stories resonate with Ryan, a former athlete turned businesswoman. From limited knowledge on the benefits of a sports bra, changing in random places due to no facilities and wanting something that can do the job and look cool.

Women deserve choice, and with that comes the complexities of every type of woman

“I think when the idea eventually came to me, I was like, imagine if you took sport, and you made it really functional for women, but brought in that aesthetic, how exciting would that be? And in the initial phases of Queen B, we spoke to athletes from kind of participation level to Olympic level. We said to them, is this important? We get that kit is important and needs to be fitted nicely on the rest. But do you care that it looks nice? And across the board, our research shows that, yeah, people care. It’s exciting. If you’re training seven days a week, it’s really nice to be like, ooh, we’re going to work today.”

McGhee agrees that a lot of this is down to education. Very few women openly talk about bras and fitting and breasts, but education can make it more accessible and fun.

“I think the big thing we need to do is to get into high school education. So that when women or young girls are starting to develop breasts, they understand how to look after them, and they understand the effect they can have. In Australia, it’s not part of high school education at all. And I ran a study where I educated adolescent females about breast anatomy, and the mothers came to all the meetings because the mothers didn’t know.

“So, mothers can’t teach their daughters. So, there are other things we have in public health, where we have it transferred from parent to child, but because the mothers don’t have this information, they can’t transfer it down. And then it’s not given in schools. I’ve tried to overcome that in Australia. And I’ve developed an app called sports bra, it’s www.bra.edu.au, and it’s free, it’s got international sizing. But women of all different size breasts and all different ages can use that to guide them in the characteristics they need to look for in a supportive bra.”

‘Not embarrassing’

Ryan sees it first hand in her jointly owned shop with her sister in Carrigaline how awkward women get and has reiterated the importance of a casual and embarrassment free atmosphere. “I think a big thing is you don’t have to figure it out for yourself. There are people out there who will help you. It’s easy to get one in a way that is comfortable for you.

“It’s not embarrassing when someone comes to our shop. I know straight away if someone’s embarrassed and I’ll be like, ‘I’m going to pull out a few things for you. We’re going to leave them here. You try them out. I’m gone. And if you need help, or if you’re finished, just open the door.’ So, they’re done in a really nice, sweet way.”

McGhee says there are two criteria one should look out for when selecting a sports bra in a generic educational format.

“Number one, look at how much your breasts are moving. So, we look at how much breast movement is acceptable because you don’t want to wear a bra that completely stops breast movement because it’s just too uncomfortable to wear, and you’re just transferring breast pain to broad discomfort pain, so you’re not winning. And the second criteria is that should be no discomfort. You should not feel any discomfort in your breast when you’re doing your form of exercise. If you use those two criteria, then you’ll be able to work out is that bras supportive enough for you.”

One thing is sure with Ryan and McGhee. Women deserve choice, and with that comes the complexities of every type of woman. McGhee points out that women who have had breast cancer need totally different bras on the market and are driven towards private, expensive custom-fit bras. Ryan also realises that sales will only increase if women enjoy wearing a Queen B bra, the same way a hurler would return to a hurley making company if the hurley worked perfectly.

For now, the urge is to ask women to never feel uncomfortable again. Irrespective of whether you are one of the sporting groups affiliated with Queen B Athletics, from Team GB Rowers in 2016, HerSport, Cork camogie and Hockey Ireland, or the passive athlete chasing goals, what matters is that tiny 1 per cent doesn’t put you off, and it doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.

Like any piece of equipment, once it works for you, it’ll put you in the right direction to achieving all your goals.

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