Why is it so important to have a proper-fitting sports bra?
The biggest reason why you should wear a proper-fitting sports bra is comfort. A runner should never think about her breasts while running. This is a key indication that the sports bra isn't fitting properly. A poor-fitting sports bra can hinder performance and ruin your entire workout experience. If the sports bra is too tight, it can result in chafing and prevent proper breathing. A sports bra that is too loose won't provide the right amount of support to reduce breast movement. Also, a proper-fitting sports bra helps to keep the Cooper's ligament (connective tissue that supports the breasts) strong. Because women start to wear bras at such a young age, the ligament loses its strength and doesn't have the ability to support the breasts as much as nature intended.
What are some tips to find the right fit? What tests can I do in the dressing room?
First, you need to find out what size sports bra you actually wear by going through a professional fitting. The reality is that 80 percent of women wear the wrong size bra. Women who don't get fitted typically buy a bra with a band that is too big and cups that are too small. Here are some ways to gauge the proper size in the dressing room:
Straps: They shouldn't be too tight or dig into your shoulders. If the straps are providing a majority of the support, the sports bra isn't the right fit. Look for straps with minimal stretch to reduce up-and-down breast movement. Adjustable straps provide a customizable fit.
Band: As the foundation of the bra, the band should fit flat against your ribcage and fit more snugly than a lingerie bra. Take a deep breath to make sure the bra fits comfortably. Look for a wide band with strong elastic to provide necessary support. If it rides up in the back, the band is either too loose or the straps need to be adjusted.
Cups: Your breasts should be fully covered and should not be pouring out of the top. The fabric should be smooth with no wrinkles. When you first try on the bra, adjust your breasts and allow them to settle into the cups for a couple minutes.
Try on a sports bra as you would running shoes. Most specialty running stores have a treadmill or track set up for trying out their running shoes. If the store doesn't have a track or treadmill, run in place in the dressing room. Move in ways that give your breasts every opportunity to move up and down, in and out, and in a figure eight, which is similar to the movement they actually make while you run. While testing out the sports bra, you shouldn't feel bounce or pressure against your chest wall. Remember, you may have to try on several bras until you find the one that is most comfortable.
What are the key features to look for in a sports bra?
Look for a sports bra made from a moisture-wicking material such as polyester that dries quickly. The sports bra should also have cup stability to hold your breasts in place. Many women think of a sports bra as a giant elastic bandage, but for those with larger breasts, you want to look for one with both strap and band adjustability. A woman's breast size can change throughout the month, especially if you lose or gain weight, so it's important to have the ability to slightly alter the bra's size. An adjustable strap and band will help you to customize the bra to your particular shape.
How often should I replace my sports bra?
This depends on how often you wear and wash your sports bra, but in most cases, it should never have a birthday. The fabric wears out over time from sweat, detergent, dryers, etc. You should look for signs of wear such as rippling of the elastic or a loose fit. If you adjust your bra to the tightest hook and you can still fit your fingers underneath, it's likely wearing out. Keep in mind that you should own several sports bras and should never wear the same one two days in a row.
Should I wear different style depending on the activity?
A pullover soft wicking bra is ideal for cycling, yoga or any low-impact activity that doesn't require as much support. For high-impact activities such as running, a supportive bra featuring both compression and encapsulation is ideal. Compression bras minimize movement by pressing flat against your chest. Encapsulating sports bras, which resemble regular bras, add shape and structure and keep each breast separated. Finding the right sports bra is a time-consuming process, but if you start your search equipped with the above advice, you'll be well on your way to bra nirvana. Not only will you feel more comfortable during your workouts, but you'll look fabulous, too. A perfect-fitting sports bra makes all the difference.
Julie Baxter is the vice president of Moving Comfort, a women's fitness apparel brand that specializes in the design and development of sports bras. Learn more at movingcomfort.com.