Meet The 'Breast Biomechanic' Fitting The Lionesses With The Best Bras

Chloe Kelly and co wore 'prescription' sports bras for the Euros. Should we all be?
Chloe Kelly celebrating after scoring her team's second goal during the Euros final again Germany.
Maja Hitij via Getty Images
Chloe Kelly celebrating after scoring her team's second goal during the Euros final again Germany.

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It’s become the defining image of the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 victory: Chloe Kelly celebrating her winning goal by running across the pitch in her Nike sports bra.

But the woman behind that bra was actually Joanna Wakefield-Scurr, a professor of biomechanics who worked with the FA to prescribe the players with some game-changing bras.

Professor Wakefield-Scurr heads up the breast health research group at the University of Portsmouth, giving her the unofficial job title of Breast Biomechanic.

“I’ve devoted about 17 years of my life to how the breast moves and how best to support the breast,” she tells HuffPost UK. And how do people tend to react to this (utterly brilliant) job?

“It’s an eye-opener, it’s fairly unusual,” she laughs. “But what’s really great is that there is an important breast health message behind what we’re doing. It’s not about fashion, it’s not about the sexuality of the breast. It’s about how can we make a functional garment that supports the breast and reduces the negative breast health implications if we don’t wear the right type of support.”

Prof Wakefield-Scurr and her team analyse the ways different breasts move during sport and exercise, then figure out the best way to support them.

Before the FA signed her up to help with the Lionesses, she worked with the English Institute of Sport and the British Olympic Association, prescribing bras for the female athletes leading up to the Tokyo Olympics.

Sarah Stier - UEFA via Getty Images

A professional sports bra prescription is a step up from the traditional bra fitting you might get at M&S (though Prof Wakefield-Scurr says those are still worth it). Instead, it’s more comparable to the gait analysis you can get at a running shop to find the best trainers for you.

Ahead of the Euro 2022 tournament, Prof Wakefield-Scurr’s team met with Kelly and the rest of the England squad to get them kitted out.

They didn’t have custom-made bras fitted, but the researchers looked at how each player moved (and how their boobs moved in turn) and matched them with the correct bra on the market for them.

“A lot of it actually is about education. It’s about helping women understand what a sports bra is, how it works, how it should fit, what different types are available, what type might be better for you and for the sport that you’re doing,” she explains.

“And for some of the players – we saw this again with the Olympic athletes – a lot of them had never had a professional bra fitting, or professional advice on what sports bra they should be wearing. So even just that sort of advice and education is really beneficial.”

Prior to their fittings, the Lionesses had a “definite preference” for compression crop tops, says Prof Wakefield-Scurr. So there was an element of “trial and error,” getting the team to sample different types of bras, encouraging them out of their comfort zones and figuring out what actually performed best for them.

“Sports bras work either by compressing the breast tissue towards the chest wall, or they work by lifting and holding. And biomechanically, they’re two completely different ways of trying to stop the movement of the breast,” Prof Wakefield-Scurr explains. “So if one doesn’t work for you, go and look for the other.”

Some sports brands do offer sports bra fitting services and regular fitters at the likes of M&S and John Lewis are also worth tapping up if you’re buying a sports bra in store.

Prof Wakefield-Scurr says this isn’t just for the pros – all women who exercise would benefit from a proper fitting sports bra.

Below, she shares some tips on getting it right when you don’t have a world renowned expert to hand. But first, here’s why it’s worth the hassle:

Whatever your sport or size, it's worth getting clued up on sports bras.
PeopleImages via Getty Images/iStockphoto
Whatever your sport or size, it's worth getting clued up on sports bras.

Why you need to find a well-fitting sports bra

Put simply, if you don’t support your boobs correctly when you exercise, they move. And it’s that movement that has negative consequences.

“We’ve seen up to 21cm of movement [of the breast] in our laboratory, so a huge amount of movement,” says Prof Wakefield-Scurr.

“And that’s uncomfortable, it’s painful for a lot of women. But there’s also the fact that if the breast moves that much, we could potentially start to cause damage to the structures of the breast, so to the breast skin and to the internal structures of the breast.”

When the breast skin starts to snag or there’s stretch marks on the breast, it’s a sign that the breast has been injured. The knock-on impacts of this go way beyond aesthetics.

“When the breast moves that can actually change the way that we move, it can change our breathing frequency, it can change our mechanics and our techniques,” Prof Wakefield-Scurr explains.

“So during running for example, we saw a reduction in stride length of four centimetres when women ran wearing poor bras with poor breast support. And four centimetres doesn’t sound like much, but if you look at that over a marathon distance you lose a mile in distance if you ran wearing poor breast support. So there’s lots of positive benefits to getting it right.”

How to find the best sports bra

The key to finding the best sports bra for you is to think about the type of sport that you’re going to be doing, says Prof Wakefield-Scurr.

“Thinking about how your upper body moves during that sport will determine how your breasts move, which will determine the type of support that you need,” she explains. “So if you’re doing a sport where your upper body rotates a lot, then you want a bra that’s going to give you side to side support, because that’s how your upper body is moving, and that’s how your breast will move.

“If you’re doing a sport that involves a lot of jumping, that’s vertical movement, and so you want a bra that will help stop that vertical movement.”

Some retailers sell bras that are labelled as “suitable for running” or “designed for yoga”, but this isn’t always the case.

If you’re eyeing up a bra without a specific label, try it on and mimic the movement you’ll be doing when you exercise as much as possible – even if that’s a tad tricky in a small fitting room.

“I know this is easier said than done, but do the activity that you want the bra for,” says Prof Wakefield-Scurr. “So if you’re playing tennis, we know that tennis involves a lot of rotation of the upper body, so just try rotating your body, try going through those sort of movements that you would do on the tennis court, for example.

“Or if you want a bra for horse riding, that involves a lot of impact in the up and down direction, so moving your upper body up and down will tell you how much support the bra is going to give you.”

And if you don’t find the perfect bra straight away? Don’t be disheartened. “It’s a really overwhelming marketplace,” says Prof Wakefield-Scurr. “Sometimes even for me when I go into some retail outlets, and I’m faced with loads of different types and styles and sizes and colours and the packaging is telling me this bra is going to do this and this bra is going to do that.

“So you know I do I do sympathise with women. It is quite challenging. ”

Move celebrates exercise in all its forms, with accessible features encouraging you to add movement into your day – because it’s not just good for the body, but the mind, too. We get it: workouts can be a bit of a slog, but there are ways you can move more without dreading it. Whether you love hikes, bike rides, YouTube workouts or hula hoop routines, exercise should be something to enjoy.

HuffPost UK / Rebecca Zisser