American Council On Exercise Scrutinizes Sports Bras

Posted: Sep 17, 1998 in

SAN DIEGO - A new study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) reveals that some top-selling sports bras provide no more support than standard, everyday bras.

Though the sports bra has been around for more than two decades, advances in design and construction have done little to prevent women from experiencing breast discomfort while exercising. A recent study confirms that a large majority of women still experience it, causing some to avoid exercise all together. This prompted ACE to examine the comfort and support of some of the most widely available sports bras designed for larger-breasted women currently on the market.

"Women already have a multitude of reasons for not participating in regular physical activity," said Sheryl Marks Brown, executive director for ACE. "Breast discomfort doesn’t have to be one of them."

In hopes of giving women one less reason to shun exercise, ACE tapped Dr. John Porcari and a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, to evaluate five of the most popular sports bras designed for large-breasted women (size C-cup or larger): Athena’s "Moving Comfort" ($38.00), Champion’s "Action Shape Sports Top" ($36.00); Champion’s "Sports Shape" ($25.00), Danskin’s "Support Contour" ($30.00) and Hanes Sports’ "Level 3, Racer Back" ($11.00).

The results were published in the Sept./Oct. issue of ACE’s bimonthly publication, ACE FitnessMatters.

Ten women between the ages of 20 and 45 were recruited for the study. All were active and participated in various exercise activities. Each participant completed a minimum of three 30- minute sessions of running, walking and aerobic dance while wearing each of the sports bras.

Once the subject had completed three exercise sessions wearing a particular bra, they filled out a questionnaire, answering questions in the following areas: overall comfort (e.g., Did the straps move on the shoulders?); support (e.g., Was there a lot of breast movement during exercise?) and psychological fit (e.g., How satisfied were you with the silhouette this bra provides?)

Support also was assessed by measuring the amount of vertical breast movement allowed during exercise. Every subject ran on a motorized treadmill at 6.0 mph while alternately wearing each of the sports bras, as well as their own regular bra. Prior to each trial, reflective markers were placed on the sternum and each bra cup at the nipples. The subjects were then filmed using a high-speed 3-D motional analysis system. The data for three consecutive strides were digitized and averaged and the amount of breast movement was determined in relation to the movement of the sternum.

Here’s what the researchers found:

  • The Champion AS, Champion SS, Hanes and Danskin bras were all significantly more comfortable than the Athena bra.

  • The Champion AS, Athena and the Champion SS provided about the same amount of support. All three provided significantly more support than the Hanes and Danksin bras.

  • The Champion AS, Athena and Champion SS allowed less vertical movement than the Hanes and Danskin bras.

  • The Hanes and Danskin bras did not provide any greater support than the participants’ everyday bras.

The women also were asked to give each bra an overall preference rating. The top rated bra was the Champion Action Shape Sports Top, which offered the highest level of biomechanical and self-reported support, and also rated high on the comfort scale. The Champion Sports Shape scored high marks for support and comfort. Although it provided a good deal of support, the Athena bra rated lowest on the comfort scale.

Based on the results of this study, neither the Hanes nor the Danskin bra was recommended for use as a sports bra. Both were comfortable, but provided no more support than standard bras. For this reason, more than half of the subjects felt too self-conscious exercising in those bras to purchase them.

Responding to consumers’ growing confusion over misleading claims about fitness-related products, ACE offers reliable, unbiased information that helps people cut through the clutter and enjoy safe and effective physical activity. ACE publishes this information in ACE FitnessMatters.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the benefits of physical activity and protecting consumers against unsafe and ineffective fitness products and instruction. As the nation’s "workout watchdog," ACE conducts university-based research and testing that targets fitness products and trends. ACE sets standards for fitness professionals and is the world’s largest nonprofit fitness certifying organization. For more information on ACE and its programs, call (800) 825-3636 or log onto the ACE Web site at

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