The more useless your sports bra becomes, the more comfy it gets – which is why you keep clinging onto it way after it’s stopped supporting you. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll own dozens of sports bras but religiously only wear a couple of them. The more you wear them, the better they seem to fit… so the more you wear and wash them. My favourite sports bras tend to go through the washing machine at least once a week and I’ve owned each of them for at least a year. It turns out, though, that by this point they’re basically useless.

At least, that’s according to new research which has found that despite sports bras becoming comfier with every wash, the support they offer rapidly declines.

A team of researchersasked 22 women to run in Lululemon Enlite sports bras before and after having them washed. It’s worth saying that the Enlite bra was chosen because it was highly rated by Runner’s World at the time; I’ve also worn one during every marathon training cycle because they’re so supportive and comfy. But scientists found that after they’d been through the wash 25 times, breast motion increased by 20%. That increased to 32% when the bras were worn more regularly during the test period. 

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More interestingly, however, is that the runners recognised the bras offered a reduction in support with each wash but no change in comfort. And it’s that sustained perceived comfort level that researchers believe is behind the fact that “women may wear (sports bras) for longer despite the loss of support”.

Now, this might seem obvious but this is actually the first intervention study to compare the subjective and objective performance of sports bra after washing; until now, we’ve not had conclusive proof that laundering has such an effect on the durability of sports bras.

Led by the Research Group in Breast Health and the University of Portsmouth, each subject was given three identical sports bras and was asked to rate the comfort, fit and aesthetic of each before exercising. They were then asked to do their normal exercise regime wearing their worn/washed bra. After 25 washes, they were asked to re-rate. 

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When sports bras get comfy, they become harder to bin

After that many washes, the bras were found to be less supportive – something compounded by regular wear. And although the women recognised this fact, they still enjoyed wearing them because continuous wearing makes bras (shoes, jeans – just about any item of clothing) more comfortable.

That means it’s going to require extra effort to stay on top of recycling sports bras that are past their prime. We know that running and jumping in less-than-supportive bras can cause real damage to our breast tissue, and while few can afford to replace their kit every month or so, it really is worth trying to have a range of sports bras that you can cycle through.

The paper, published in the journal Sports Biomechanics, suggests aiming to replace your sports bra every three-to-six months. If you run regularly, it’s worth thinking of your sports bra as you would your trainers; once you’ve trained and completed a half marathon, for example, you should probably start considering retiring those shoes. It’s the same with your bra. 

What to do with old sports bras

Recycle them

If your bra is, on the face of it, in good nick but just not as supportive as you need it to be for high-impact sports, then you could try sending it to an Against Breast Cancer bra bank. The charity recycles unwanted and unloved bras and receives £700 for every tonne it collects – all of which goes towards funding research. Find your local bank here. 

Bravissimo also accepts bras in any condition for recycling at its UK shop stores. For every kilo it receives, it makes a donation to Coppafeel!

Keep them for low-impact days

Of course, you don’t have to chuck out your sports bras just because they’re not run-proof anymore. I keep my looser bras for sofa days and times when you just want to wear a comfy crop top but aren’t engaging in any heart-racing activity. If you simply want something to cover your nips, then older sports bras can be a great shout.

Images: Getty

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