Sports and Boobs: An Awkward Relationship

This year’s edition of ESPN The Magazine’s “Body Issue” is generating buzz not just for its portraits of super-fit naked athletes, but for a thought-provoking piece on the problems breasts can cause for female athletes, from amateur joggers discouraged by the discomfort of bouncing boobs to Olympians who resort to surgery to optimize their performances.

“Breasts are an impressive network of milk glands, ducts and sacs, all suspended from the clavicle in twin masses held together by fibrous connective tissue,” writes Amanda Hess. “But a mounting body of evidence suggests that they pose a serious challenge in nearly all corners of competition. Gymnasts push themselves to the brink of starvation to avoid developing them. All sorts of pro athletes have ponied up thousands of dollars to surgically reduce them. For the modern athlete, the question isn't whether breasts get in the way— it's a question of how to compete around them.”

Apparently, an average A-cup boob weighs in at about 0.43 of a pound, with each additional cup size adding another 0.44 of a pound. In sports that involve throwing your body around (think hurdling, gymnastics, pole-vaulting), a few extra pounds of boobage can be a real obstacle — especially in high-stakes situations where a fraction of a second can mean the difference between fame and anonymity.

Even in less high-impact sports, boobs can get in the way, forcing female athletes to alter their technique:

“Well-endowed golfers flock to former player-turned-coach Kellie Stenzel, who teaches them to shift their posture forward so their swing clears the top of their breasts; the bigger the chest, the deeper the lean…. American archer Kristin Braun says her chest causes clearance issues as she draws her bow; in order to get around it, she anchors the string farther away from her body, which can diminish power and consistency.”

It’s no great secret that different body types are suited for different activities. Sprinters usually have a high proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers; basketball players tend to be taller than cyclists. But if a woman’s natural shape is a hindrance for basically all sports, at least part of problem must lay with sports, not women.

Regardless, consider this your AM must-read.