Football celebration in England highlights breast health

When they took to the field to face the Germans in Sunday’s European Nations Cup final, England’s national women’s soccer team not only had the country’s support, but the specially-designed sports bras selected in consultation with scientists.

He might have remained a secret weapon had it not been for Chloe Kelly’s accidental celebration after scoring the match-winning goal, leading to a national conversation in the newspapers, the airwaves, and a massive sales affair of sports bras.

“Cups and Awards: How the bra inspired players to fit into the final,” reads one of the headlines in The Guardian. “Now bring home a sports bra,” read another from The Times, a play on the English football anthem Three Lions (She’s Coming Home).

Department store John Lewis reported a 130 percent increase in sports bra searches after the moment of victory and a 15 percent increase in sports bra sales compared to the previous week.

Perhaps the last time a sports bra witnessed such a big moment in football was in 1999, when American player Brandy Chastain took off her shirt after scoring the World Cup final winner against China.

In fact, Chastain tweeted to her English counterpart on Sunday: “See you @ChloeKelly well done.”

American football star Brandi Chastain tweeted England striker Chloe Kelly after she celebrated her match-winning goal by taking off her shirt – just as Chastain did at the 1999 World Cup. (Brandishstein/Twitter)

While there have been plenty of iconic moments in bra delight, it has also propelled women’s breast health into the spotlight.

Joanna Wakefield Score, professor of body mechanics and chair of the breast health research group at the University of Portsmouth.

The Wakefield Score team consulted with the Lionesses before the tournament to help them find the best bra for the job, after the FA learned of her previous work with Olympic athletes.

“What we’ve found when we’ve been working with Olympic athletes is that sports bras can have a performance benefit,” she said.

improve the performance

Wakefield-Score has been studying how breasts affect athletic performance for 17 years. Part of the methodology involves having the athletes exercise to have a baseline of tissue movement, then repeating the activity with different sports bras to gauge how well the different models can improve performance.

Professor Joanna Wakefield Score’s breast health group at the University of Portsmouth worked with the English women’s team to equip them with bras designed to improve their performance on the field. (CBC)

In the professor’s lab, athletes run on a treadmill without a bra while sensors record tissue movement. These exercises are then repeated in a variety of sports bras while researchers study how different bras create or restrict movement and alter pressure on the body.

Commercial sports bras have been around for a long time. A “jogging” bra was developed by two New Jersey women in 1977 who sewed two jock straps together. But the importance of soccer bras, and the application of technology to make them better and more responsive to women’s needs, is a recent development.

“[Sports bras] It can improve your running mechanics, for example. They can improve your breathing rate, they can lower your heart rate, so they can make you more efficient,” Wakefield Score said. We have seen a decrease in muscle activity, so it can actually help reduce fatigue during sports activity.

Watch | Researchers are studying how breast support affects athletic performance:

This video shows measures of breast movement being recorded at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, where scientists are studying how breast support affects athletic performance.

The wrong sports bra, she said, can make balance and muscle strain more difficult, and alter body dynamics by repositioning breast tissue and weight, which can alter players’ center of gravity and force them to work harder.

“There are a lot of competing implications from a performance perspective in terms of how we should reposition the breast tissue, where we should place it, and how we should support it,” said Wakefield-Score.

The research team found that compression bras, which crush breast tissue against the chest wall and are usually worn by soccer players, may not be the best model for the sport.

“By compressing the breast tissue toward the chest wall, sort of bringing the right and left breasts together and reducing movement…it creates a heavier mass in the chest area,” said Wakefield Score.

Instead, the research shows that bras that encapsulate each breast individually help athletes improve movement efficiency.

This is a benefit

In an email to CBC News, the Football Association said it had prioritized working on the health and performance of female players, and had several projects in place to support England’s women’s team. She noted that each lioness underwent an individual evaluation of their sports bras with the research group to find the best bra for their health, comfort and performance.

The federation said it intends to continue using any new technology that benefits players on and off the field.

On a pitch in east London, 21-year-old football veteran Olivia Worsfold, who heads women’s development at her club Leyton Orient, learns from experience how the wrong sports bra can affect a player.

Olivia Worsvold, who has played the sport for 21 years, says it’s good to see the science applied to women’s soccer. (Lauren Sproul/CBC)

“You look really uncomfortable. You end up holding yourself in funny poses. You probably don’t want to run. You know if you have a bigger chest, it might start to hurt.” [Some people start] She said, “And then you don’t perform, do you?”

Worsfold is thrilled to see the flag applied to women’s soccer.

“We’ve used it for shoes for years – [men’s star David] Beckham was famous, right, because he had, like, the extra detail in his shoes. So why can’t we now as women scientists use it positively in our performance? This is a benefit.”

Watch | British football veteran Olivia Worsfold praises the focus on science in sports bras:

British football veteran Olivia Worsvold says, Before now, some women felt ashamed that they couldn’t get proper breast support and stopped exercising.

Worsfold said the new national focus on the science of sports bras may open doors for women with large breasts, who have often struggled for support and may have experienced not participating in team sports because of it.

“It’s an awkward situation, isn’t it? Like…” I can’t run. It is uncomfortable. “So instead of trying to solve the problem, they are ashamed of it.”

“But now there, it’s not awkward anymore. You know, females have breasts, so we need to make sure we take care of them, just like we take care of the other part of our bodies,” Worsvold said.

Wakefield-Scurr is thrilled that rather than being sexualized, Chloe Kelly’s celebration of winning the game is seen as empowering and has led to more awareness of sports bra technology.

“We did a large survey several years ago where we found that breasts were a barrier to exercise for 17 percent of women,” she said.

Wakefield Score hopes that with the Lionesses putting sports bras in the spotlight, that may change for some women.

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