Why Working Out Without A Bra Isn't Such A Good Idea

If you're working out at home or heading out for a run somewhere private, it may be tempting to skip the struggle of putting on a sports bra. But the compressive garment isn't just designed to make your chest look a certain way, it was invented in order to protect your breast health during exercise that causes your breasts to bounce. It may sound funny, but skipping a sports bra too often can have negative consequences for breast health.

"A huge number of women are experiencing some breast injury from tissue moving up and down or in and out during exercise," Susan Nethero, founder of the bra company Intimacy, told POP Sugar Fitness.

That's because your breasts are connected to your chest by thin tissue called the Cooper's Ligaments, and a repetitive up-and-down motion, whether it's from running, skipping rope, or doing a dynamic movement like jumping jacks, can eventually cause pain and sagging in that tissue (via Livestrong). Unfortunately, breast size is linked directly to discomfort levels: Women with larger breasts are more likely to experience breast pain when exercising.

What should you look for in a sports bra?

The level of compression — how tight the bra is in order to keep your breasts from bouncing — depends on the activity you're doing. Running will require a more high-impact bra, while slow, gentle movement like yoga means a lower-impact bra can be used. When trying on a sports bra, don't just stand in the fitting room: Give it a jump test to see how well it controls bounce. And good news: A more supportive bra can actually improve your running posture (via Human Movement Science).

If you do have larger breasts, Shape recommends an encapsulation-style sports bra that has separate cups for more control and a more comfortable fit. But even those with smaller breasts should be seeking support: Regardless of breast size, the connective tissue can still be damaged by high-impact exercise. You may be able to wear a lower impact, less compressive bra, but some level of support is critical. Because a good sports bra can be the difference between a pain-free workout and a frustrating one, it's important to pick bras that feel comfortable as well as supportive. Don't be afraid to splurge on a sports bra that fits well.

Pain can extend beyond the breasts

Chest pain might already be enough to slow you down during workout sessions. However, not wearing a bra can trigger discomfort in other areas, too. According to WebMD, intense exercise can cause the breasts to move up to 12 centimeters when not supported by a sports bra. Besides being uncomfortable for the breasts, this movement of the tissue can lead to back pain.

Dr. Nupur Gupta, an OB/GYN specialist, has seen this in her practice. "Back and neck pain or discomfort has been frequently noticed among women who don't wear a sports bra while exercising," Dr. Gupta explained to Health Shots. "Rapid movement of breasts causes discomfort and that's why it is always recommended to wear a sports bra while exercising."

A 2012 study published in The Open Orthopaedics Journal also researched the relationship between breast size and pain. Researchers concluded that a large cup size can cause shoulder and neck pain. Though the study didn't focus specifically on the benefits of wearing a bra, the findings are a reminder that chest support may help support other tissue groups as well.

You might notice stretching and sagging

If working out sans sports bra hasn't caused any trouble yet, the worst may be yet to come. Doing high-intensity exercises without a bra can cause irreversible drooping, says the Sports Injury Clinic. This happens when Cooper's ligaments are stretched from the repetitive bounce caused by jogging and other physical activities. Without a sports bra, the ligaments become too weak to support breast tissue, resulting in noticeable sagging.

This effect usually gets progressively worse with time. "As we get older, our skin becomes thinner and less elastic, so gravity has an easier time pulling us down," Dr. Teodora Gratziela Crisovan, a sports medicine expert, told Stylist. "That stretching process tends to accelerate during times of high impact such as whilst running or doing high intensity exercise. So the older you are, the more you'll need to wear a sports bra to prevent that gravitational pull, as well as skeletal and posture problems."

Some breast sagging is normal, and most women will notice changes to their breasts over time. According to WebMD, hormone fluctuations, weight changes, and pregnancy are other common reasons for sagging besides physical activity. Still, wearing supportive clothing while working out is one easy way to slow down breast aging — as long as you have the right sports bra.