1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education,
credentials, experience, etc.).
credentials, experience, etc.).
Dr Chris Mills
I completed my PhD in 2005 at Loughborough University in the UK, where I was funded by British Gymnastics to investigate force dissipation characteristics of landing mats and gymnasts with the aim of reducing injury. I continued to focus my research on lower and upper body soft tissue motion and for the past 6 years have worked closely with the research group in breast health at the University of Portsmouth. As a part of this group we work closely with garment manufactures to improve their design, as well as conducting fundamental scientific research studies. Most of the research within breast biomechanics to date has been land based however recently a swimwear manufacturer approached our group with an interesting project. We combined our experience of breast biomechanics, swimming mechanics and physiology (via Dr Mitch Lomax, who has contributed to your website in the past) to investigate the effect of breast support on trunk motion during swimming.
2. You recently published an article on breast displacement in freestyle and breaststroke. Is there any other research on this area in swimming?
At present there is very limited research on breast mechanics, let alone the movement behavior of the breasts in water and the impact breast support has on swimming technique. Clearly more research is needed in this area to ascertain whether swimming costume design modifications could benefit performance.
3. What did your study look at?
We were interested in investigating whether varying levels of breast support influence swimming technique. On land, a lack of sufficient breast support has been shown to decrease performance and increase pain, however we did not know if the same was true in water. We were also particularly interested to understanding whether regular swimsuits afforded any support to the breast during swimming.
4. What were the results of your study?
Key findings suggested that although trunk motion was not altered with varying levels of breast support, a swimsuit was no more effective at reducing the movement of the breasts than not wearing one at all! Despite trunk motion not being effected by breast support conditions, ongoing research hopes to determine whether other aspects of swim stroke mechanics (such as hand path etc.), that may influence swim performance, are effected by the amount of breast support.
5. What were the practical implications for coaches and swimmers from your study?
Female swimmers with larger breasts may wish to consider wearing an additional sports bra under their swimsuit to reduce breast motion and compress the breasts against the chest wall (decreasing the trunk moment of inertia and the possibility of the breasts obstructing the desired hand path during swimming). Our findings revealed that a sports bra (traditionally used for landing based activities) was more effective as reducing breast motion than a swimsuit.
6. Do you think the same results would have occurred with faster women? Hi-tech suits? Women of smaller breast size?
This is difficult to answer however if the women swim faster the drag created would also increase. If the breasts are not ‘restrained’ sufficiently this may increase the ‘bagging’ effect (from our paper) and increase form drag and hence decrease performance. Hi Tech suits usually have a higher level of compression (similar to compression garments on land), however we have not tested this. Unpublished research from the group has found that upper body compression garments do reduce breast motion during land based running. It may be possible that a similar increase in compression may also reduce breast motion (similar to that of the sports bra in this study). Women with smaller breasts do not experience the same magnitudes of breast motion (on land) therefore in the water they are also likely to experience reduced magnitudes of breast motion when compared to women with larger breasts. The ‘bagging’ effect and potential increases in form drag may not be as great for women with smaller breasts.
7. Does male pec size influence swimming? Could this be one reason why "bulkier" male swimmers anecdotally did better with the full body suits?
This is a difficult one to comment on and really outside our area of expertise. The only aspect to consider is that men pecs are mainly muscle and hence are used to generate joint motion; however the female breast does not contain any muscle (just mainly fat and glandular tissue), hence minimizing their form drag may be beneficial to swimming performance.
8. What can swim suit manufactures do to improve swim suits for women?
I would recommend an increase the amount of compression afforded around the breasts to move their center of mass closer to the trunk and help to streamline their shape to decrease form drag. A higher neckline may also help to decrease the ‘bagging’ effect described in our paper. Possibly some structured support, similar to an encapsulation bra. Finally, appropriate sizing, that can cater more for trunk circumference and breast sizes variations, within a, for example, UK size 12 swimsuit.
9. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
We currently have two more papers under review associated with breast motion during water based activities. We are also seeking collaborative links with garment manufacturers interested in developing this area of research.