Second Base: A Runner’s Guide to Bouncing Boobs

Kyle's boobs
My boobs. Runbow T-shirt by Oiselle.

I have something on my chest that I’d like to discuss, something very close to my heart. Two somethings, in fact.  What I’m going to talk about today is a factor that weighs heavily on some of us but is a light topic for others.  I’m sure you’ve been sore on the subject and wanted to keep it locked up, but maybe you’ll feel better if you just…let it all out.

Dear readers, sit back, relax, take your shirts off if you like and join me as I investigate something many have explored but few have conquered. Let’s talk about boobs.

If you’re like me your running bra is the second only to your shoes in its importance as a piece of sports equipment.  I mean, my boobs aren’t huge or anything but just because my chest is a small matter doesn’t mean finding a bra is too.  I have had the unfortunate experience of running in a regular bra and it was a lot like trying to run in kitten heels: it’s awkward, things don’t land in the right places, and after about a hundred meters it starts to hurt.

My boobs in an encapsulation bra
Side view of my boobs in an encapsulation bra
Compression bra
Side view of my boobs in a compression bra

For years I was running in cheaper compression style bras that squash my breasts down into my chest, but I’ve been curious about encapsulation bras, bras that offer two separate cups to divide and conquer.  I purchased (and love) a Lululemon Ta-Ta Tamer, but as summer approaches I’d really like something I can wear on the outside.  Something that…well…doesn’t look so much like a bra.  Before I set off to find the perfect hybrid, I wanted to understand why my not-so-big boobs hurt when I run.  Naturally I turned to science.

As an arts student in college I hadn’t studied the reproductive system since about ninth grade, so I started my Braject with a little crash-course in anatomy.  I’m certainly not the only one who’s been researching my boobs lately (hey-o!) but this time I was actually interested (zing!).  As I poked and prodded I enlisted the use of visual aids to provide me with a reference point. The Mayo Clinic’s website has a great slideshow that illustrates the different systems that have parts in your boobs, but for our purposes we’ll use this basic illustration:

A cross-section of your boob
image via

As you can see, the business parts of your boobs are essentially suspended in a layer of fat that lies on top of your chest, so your pectoral muscle doesn’t really come into play when supporting your boobs.  From this I draw two main conclusions: A) this is why they’re fun to jiggle and B) there’s really no amount of chest exercises you can do to help support them.  The main supporting structure of your boobs are the Cooper’s ligaments, which cross through the fat to attach your skin to the milk-producing lobules (what a gross word).  According to several articles I found, there is evidence that suggests these ligaments can stretch and tear during high-impact exercise.  If you feel any breast pain after or during your training, it’s probably due to strain on these ligaments.

Most sources speculate that the strain is caused by the distance breasts move during impact but I found several sources (including Scientific American and that cite a UK study showing pain tends to increases when bouncing speeds up rather than increases in distance. What that means is that runners get the worst of it compared to other types of athletes, regardless of breast size. Additionally, the faster you run the more likely you are to suffer some strain.  Maybe that’s the real reason why you don’t see too many well-endowed elites.  I wonder.

The Invention of the Word 'Boob'
This amazing meme showed up a few days ago on and went crazy viral.

What drives me crazy is that articles about the best bounce-resistant bras abound but almost every one I found approached bra selection from a large-breasted perspective.  And for you big girls, I know you have a tougher time, but what if I have small boobs and I’m still feeling the pain?  This Self Magazine article is a great jumping off point, but they don’t give any examples of bras to try. This RW article has some good ideas for big jugs and little ones alike but there isn’t a lot of information there to back up the bras they suggest. Bounce by Title Nine has a really good bra finder, but I really wished for more options than they offered–especially options that make me feel comfortable taking my shirt off.

So what’s the answer? What’s the best way to find the best sport bra?

As far as I can tell, the answer is you just go try on a sh*tload of bras until you find one that you like. And hopefully it won’t chafe you to hell after mile 5 – or mile 10 – or, in Clove‘s case, mile 74.  I know it sucks, and I’m sorry to have to bring you that news, especially since I know how hard it is to find options in smaller cities.  Here in NYC I’m pretty spoiled with Lululemon, NikeTown, Paragon, Jackrabbit, Urban Athletics and a thousand specialty lingerie stores.

But for those of you who live in smaller towns, there’s hope!  Hope in the form of bouncing boobs!

This article covers the same study as the Scientific American blurb I referenced above but linked me to, which is an online retailer that has taken the above mentioned research to a consumer level with The Bounce Test, a series of videos that highlight what a 34D model’s boobs do when she runs in different sport bras.  I still think you should try on a bra before you buy it if you can, but these videos are pretty great if you can’t. And they’re fun to watch, too! Check out an example:

Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. By day she's a camera assistant for films and tv in New York, and by night she's on a quest for zen in the 10k. Her writing is a mix of satirical humor, finding wholeness as an average runner, cheering for runners at all paces and more.

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  1. I have the privilege of working at a run specialty store and can tell you that when it comes to a quality product backed by extensive research and testing, Moving Comfort is a great sports bra company. Most of their bras are high impact-made for lots of movement- and they use the same testing labs as Brooks to keep their bras well-made and extra supportive. They’re also an all female company which totally rocks!

    1. That’s right, Colleena! You just did the interview about bras on the morning news show here. Cinnamon’s in NYC and she wrote this post and I’ve been spacey. Moving Comfort is a great brand and is available at both Fleet Feet Cleveland locations 😉

      (I need to add that Pepper and I are on a racing team sponsored by FF CLE!)

    2. I want to second Moving Comfort as a great set of bras. They’re encapsulated bras and I think they would probably look fine as a stand-alone (no shirt). I don’t have the physique to try that, but they’re a good looking bra. Since I switched to them, I’ve never gone back, and I’ve had bra troubles throughout my life! They’re also online and at Dick’s sporting goods stores here in Cleveland.

      1. One of the big girls here…encapsulated is the way to go. A little bounce is OK, much better than the constriction of wearing a size too small or doubling up, which I used to do!!!!!. There has been an evolution in sports bras over the years. I suffered greatly in my preteens and teens.

  2. Now now ladies, let’s not get ahead of ourselves – I’m on a mission to try on every bra in New York City for a future post. There are lots of great bras out there by different manufacturers too.

  3. Heidi, that’s true. I did a lot of research for this post and I was surprised to find that many of the bra gurus out there discourage large-chested women from doubling up. I’ve had a few friends over the years who have done it and said it was they only way they could get by.

    Hopefully more busty gals are getting the message about encapsulation bras now that they are becoming more readily available in styles and colors that don’t look so much like lingerie. Spread the word to boobs all around!

  4. As another “larger” girl, I’ve found champion maximum support bras pretty good but they are more of the compression smash you in type. What I hate the most is the horrible chaffing I get from the elastic underneath. I’ve been using Aquaphor, I put it on and let it dry for a min before putting on my bra and that does seem to really help.

  5. Tara, have you tried anything other than Aquaphor? Specifically I’m thinking of BodyGlide, which I’m totally obsessed with. I’m interested to see how the two compare…

    1. I have tried Body Glide and some sort of Asics chaffing cream but I seem to have better luck with Aquaphor. Using the other ones I will still get chaffing while the Aquaphor seems to last longer and provide a better shield for my skin. Any place I used to use Body Glide on I switched to using Aquaphor.

      1. I switched to Tri Slide a few years ago – LOVE it – I am petite overall but have big “girls” and it’s the only thing that stops the chafind under the front of the bra.

  6. I don’t know how well Target’s bras work for C cups and over but for B and under, they are really good. And not too expensive. I never spent over $20 on a bra though. Maybe I should give one a try…it might change my mind about Target’s!

    1. I am a cheap ass and bought most of mine at target, but being pretty unendowed I can get away with that. They are a little flimsy for wearing sans shirt though. Hellllo nips!

  7. Good post. Although my issue with sports bras is not to prevent pain. Instead, I am in search of a good, comfortable sports bra that provides light padding without being too heavy. I have no interest in looking bigger, but I hate that sports bras often show way too much if you know what I mean. I would prefer to be more discreet – especially when running with kids. And don’t you hate when you find a great race photo, but um, yeah, oops! I found one through Athleta that is okay for shorter runs, but not comfortable enough for the long run or a marathon (see Anyone have suggestions for a bra that will go the distance while also “twarting the headlights” (Athleta’s description, not mine). 🙂

  8. I totally understand the concept of wearing a size too small and doubleing up! I have several workout tanks that have built ins that just don’t offer enough support for running or yoga – watch out during those inversions and downward dogs! The other main issue I have with sports bras is finding ones with adjustable straps. I’m petite and if those straps don’t adjust (even though it would be nice for bras to have infinite strap-shortening capacity) forget it! The distance between my chest and my shoulders is just too short. I actually have several different kinds and styles of bras for different events. Which sounds complicated but works for me. So the bras I wear for cycling and yoga are cheap champion adjustable racerbacks from target. I have chafing issues when my workout goes beyond 1.5 hours so I’ve been relying on aquaphor for that. However when I run my fav so far was a style by nike that they don’t make anymore 🙁 but it had an adjustable tab in the front that you cinch up and that would create a bit of separation and it had adjustable straps.
    And then for triathlons I need support BUT something that is lightweight enough to dry rather quickly. This has been my go to: i have crazy chaffing from it though but for drying and support it works the best so far.

    Thanks for the post! 🙂