You rush into your gym locker room mere minutes before your bootcamp workout class starts. As you scramble to get ready, you realize that in your haste, you completely forgot to pack one of the most essential items for a workout: a sports bra. Your options are to turn around and get hit with a cancelation fee, or try to get through a workout braless.
Both choices are less than ideal. All those burpees and jumping jacks sure seem like they would hurt without a bra. But, is it actually dangerous to work out braless if you're in a bind? The answer depends on a couple things, including the type of workout you're doing and the size of your breasts, says Donnica Moore, MD, host of the podcast In The Ladies Room, and women's health expert in Chester, NJ. But ultimately, it comes down to comfort, Dr. Moore says.
Your breasts are made of fatty tissue, connective tissue, and glandular tissue. Sports bras — and all bras, really — exist to support your breasts and minimize movement while you exercise. While it's a personal choice to wear a bra or not, if your breasts are free to ricochet around on your body, then the tissue can get irritated, which can cause breast pain. Some people can tolerate this just fine, while others are really bothered by it.
"If you’re not uncomfortable physically, it’s probably not going to do any damage to you," Dr. Moore says. Lots of people worry that exercising sans bra will somehow lengthen the connective tissue in your breasts and cause them to sag, she says. While breast tissue could stretch over time if you never wear a bra to work out, one workout without a bra isn't going to make any significant changes. (Plus, it's completely normal for breasts to change shape as you age, anyways.)
However, if you feel pain or discomfort while you're working out braless, then that's a different story. "Here's where pain really serves a purpose," she says. Pain is your body's way of sending a signal that you may need to do something different, she says. "Whether that something different is a different activity or different clothing, it's important to know."
Some high-intensity workouts, like running, bootcamp classes, or dance, do require that you wear a bra, because the gravity and movement can cause breast pain, Dr. Moore says. Or, if you play a high-contact sport, like soccer or basketball, then you'll want some kind of support and protection for your breasts, she says. "It doesn't really become a matter of safety unless you're talking about a sport where you actually need physical protection," she says. But basic comfort can impact safety, too: If you feel like you have to literally hold your breasts, or aren't able to properly perform exercises because you're trying to alleviate the breast pain, then your exercise form could suffer and lead to muscular imbalances or injuries.
So, back to the gym scenario. If you go to the gym with the intention of doing a high-intensity workout, but you don't have a bra, you can still find a way to get active, Dr. Moore says. "The priority is working out," she says. Your best bet is to just modify your routine and do something low key, like walking on the treadmill for 30 minutes, doing some gentle stretches, or lifting weights (yes, it's safe to lift without a bra), she says. And then when you get home, you can do some research and buy yourself an extra sports bra to have handy.
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