With the explosion in the number of girls and women participating in sports and the great variation in the sports they are involved in, there are certain needs for better equipment for the female athlete. In most situations, female sport equipment is no different from that of the male athlete—shoes, socks, shorts, pants, sweatshirts, and jerseys. However, there are some equipment needs that present unique challenges to the woman athlete. For example, in hot weather, a female athlete can't go topless to expose as much heat-radiating skin as her male counterpart can. Cutoffs—half-tops exposing the lower chest and upper abdomen—are appropriate pieces of equipment for distance runners and other athletes who may train and compete in warm and humid weather.

Is there a need for sport bras?

Being a quite freely mobile fatty structure, the female breast is not very vulnerable to significant injury. Serious bruises requiring surgery have occurred in a few rare instances in which the breasts, firmly immobilized against the chest with a wide elastic bandage, received a strong blow. With excellent breast-support bras available for the active athlete, there is no reason to support and immobilize the breasts in this inappropriate manner. There is no evidence to suggest that bumps or bruises in a well-supported breast during athletic participation will have any relation to the eventual development of cancer or tumors.

What are the positive features of well-designed sport bras?

Dr. Christine Haycock, a distinguished surgeon and accomplished athlete, conducted pioneering research in the 1970s and 1980s that biomechanically analyzed breast movement of women running on treadmills. She also conducted key studies investigating breast support and protection. Based on her research, Dr. Haycock concluded that sport bras should have wide bottom bands for extra support and straps not so elastic that they let breasts bounce.

Along with technological advances in support, sport bras now feature welded and molded parts rather than stitched seams, which were too often the source of chafing and discomfort. And sport bras now offer high-performance moisture management. For example, Champion produces a high-support bra that combines slick nylon fabric with seamless design for “friction-free” performance, and it uses a super-wicking fiber made from coconut shells. Big brands, such as Nike, Enell, and Victoria’s Secret, are also producing sport-specific bras, as styles for low-impact activities (yoga and walking) are engineered differently from those intended for running.

As women upped the intensity of their sports, they demanded equipment equal to the task. In turn, that equipment made it possible to go longer, harder, and faster.

Do you want to learn more about accommodating the needs of young female athletes?

  • The Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports and Mastery Approach to Coaching are research-based videos that emphasize skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun.
  • To access the videos, go to the Youth Enrichment in Sports website at http://www.y-e-sports.org/

About the Authors

Ronald Smith

Ronald Smith, Ph.D., is a University of Washington clinical sport psychologist who specializes in developing and evaluating interventions designed to improve the functioning of athletes.

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