- Many women feel their sports bras don’t work for them – and some don’t work out because of it.
- There are two kind of sports bras: encapsulation bras, which support each breast, and compression bras, which compress the breasts against the body.
- Finding the best sports bra for you means considering your age and activity level, and trying before you buy.
- To make a good sports bra last longer, air dry it after laundering.
Finding a bra that fits is a quest that has haunted women for decades. In fact, the only thing more difficult than finding a bra that fits might be finding a sports bra that fits.
According to one study, 17% of women avoid working out because they can’t find a sports bra that works for them. Another more recent study found that 46% of women with breasts categorised as large felt discouraged from working out because their breasts affected their exercise routine.
The consequences can be long-term, too. “Research has shown that excessive breast motion can lead to breast pain, embarrassment, and potential damage to the breast,” Brogan Horler, head of bra testing at the University of Portsmouth, told Insider.
Working out without proper support can also lead to sagging breasts later on down the line, worse workouts, and even altered breathing while working out.
Insider talked to experts to find out exactly how to find the right sports bra for you.
There are two kinds of sports bras: compression and encapsulation bras
Sports bras are generally made from stretchy, breathable, moisture-wicking material to provide support and to help women stay dry while working out.
They’re different from regular bras in that they tend to have more tension around the underband, where the majority of support comes from, breast health expert Nicola Brown, from the Research Group in Breast Health at the University of Portsmouth, told Insider.
But there are two different kinds of sports bras: compression and encapsulation bras.
Compression bras are usually pulled over the head and limit movement by tightly holding the breasts in place against the body. Encapsulation bras are moulded around each breast and offer each breast individual support.
Encapsulation bras tend to be more comfortable, while compression bras often create the illusion of a uniboob and can be painful in the long term for larger breasted women. Trans men often use compression bras to bind their breasts.
Combination bras, which have elements of both compression and encapsulation bras, are also available.
Your activity and age affect your sports bra choice
Breast discomfort is related to how fast your breasts are moving, or breast velocity, according to one study.You will need a more supportive sports bra for running than you will for pilates, for example, because your breasts will be moving faster.
You also may need a different type of sports bra as you age. One study shows that unlike younger breasts, which bounce in an up-and-down motion, the breasts of women over age 45 bounce more side-to-side and in-and-out.
Trying on a sports bra should include jumping or jogging in place
The traditional method of tape measuring to figure out your bra size has been shown to be unreliable, underestimating cup size 84% of the time and overestimating band size 76% of the time.
Plus, “there is no industry standard that identifies what constitutes a sports bra,” Brown told Insider. That means anyone can market their bras (or even bralettes) as sports bras, even they offer zero support.
That’s why it’s better to simply to try before you buy. Brown recommends jumping around in the fitting room or jogging on the spot to make sure the bra is offering the support you need.
Here are some other rules of thumb:
- Make sure the underband is level around the body. If it’s too tight, it will affect your breathing and your flesh might bulge over the band.
- The cups should be fitted to your size. If the cups are gaping or your breasts are spilling out, it’s time to try sizing up or down.
- The shoulder straps shouldn’t dig into the skin or be so loose they slip off the shoulders. “You should be able to fit two stacked fingers comfortably between your shoulder and the strap,” according to Brown.
- The centre front of the bra should sit flat against the chest. If it doesn’t, you might need to size up.
- The underwire should not be painful, and shouldn’t rest on any breast tissue.
Metaphortography / iStockAir drying will help your bras last longer.
Skip the dryer for a longer bra life expectancy
There are no rules for how long sports bras should last. It depends on how often you use it, what you use it for, and how often you wash it.
“If you wash and wear a sports bra three to four times a week, you may need to replace it in six months because it will have lost support,” scientist Dr. LaJean Lawson, who has operated Champion’s bra-testing laboratory for the last 30 years, told Insider.
To get the most life out of a good sports performance bra, wash it by hand instead of subjecting it to the wear and tear of the laundry machine, Lawson said. Don’t use any chlorine-based laundry products either.
If that’s too much hassle, at the very least, keep your bra out of the dryer, Lawson said.
It’s time to throw a bra out if you start chafing, if it no longer feels snug, if it rides up, if your size changed, or even if it starts looking old and ugly. “A bra is a woman’s most personal form of apparel,” Lawson said. So, it’s worth investing in a good one, and saying goodbye to those that have turned bad.
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