Sunday, October 30, 2011

No Boys Allowed: Sports Bra 101

by Monica Rondon

Sorry boys but this one is for the ladies.

Being a woman is awesome. However being a woman also often requires extra “equipment”. In the context of racing I am referring of course to the sports bra. I worked for a number of years as a professional bra-fitter at an upscale lingerie/fitting boutique (yes there is such a job and no boys they are not hiring) and over those years amassed a fair amount of training and knowledge, which I would like to share with you. Consider this post Sports Bra 101.

1. Why should I wear a sports bra?

Now most of you are already convinced of the necessity of a sports bra and if so please skip ahead. To those of you sitting there and thinking “My mosquito bites don’t need support” or “The bra is a just another patriarchal tool of oppression!” or “My awesome cotton/soy/bamboo blended vegan camisole does the trick” stay put and sit tight.

Ligaments are connective tissue in your body. Once they stretch out they never shrink back. Your only option for a stretched out ligament is to hope it turns into scar tissue if it is a small stretch or surgery if the stretching the substantial. Now guess what holds your lady bits up? Your Cooper’s ligament! Guess what stretches it out? Exercising with unsupported breasts. This is the case whether you are a 28AA or a 38J. If your Cooper’s ligament stretches out your breast will lose their shape, contour and firmness.

When you exercise your breasts move up, down, side to side and in a figure eight. Breasts move between 4cms to 14cms when active. A regular bra reduces bounce by 38% when properly fit*. A sports bra can reduce bounce by up to 70% when fit properly. No bra will eliminate movement entirely but a properly fitting sports bra will significantly reduce the damage of your Cooper’s ligament.

*Most women are not wearing a properly fit bra. In a perfect world I would send you all to a great bra fitting boutique and they would fit you for an awesome sports bra. Since I haven’t won the lottery yet keep on reading.

2. Okay, I am on board with needing a sports bra, what should I look for in one?

Okay pop quiz! Where does the majority of the support come from in a bra?

a. The straps

b. The cups

c. The back/band

d. My plastic surgeon

If you said “c” you are a winner! Believe it or not, between 60% to 80% of the support in a bra comes from the band distributing the weight of your breasts across your back. I won’t go into the engineering behind this but this why you often hear that most women are wearing the wrong bra size, i.e. a back that is too big and a cup that is too small.

This is particularly relevant in the context of sports bras because I bet 90% of you are wearing that super awesome comfy sports bra that you pull over your shoulders to get on because it has no clasps. Don’t shoot the messenger but if the band in your sports bra is big enough to go around your shoulders, it is too big to significantly support your breasts. Slip into your favorite sports bra right now and hook two fingers into sides. Can you pull more than an inch away from each side? Your band is too big.


Caption: Comfy, cute and too loose in the band.

Ideally you want a style of sports bra that has clasps or hook closures in the back or along the sides. CW-X, ShockAbsorber, Anita and Freya all make awesome bras with clasps. You also want a clasp with multiple rows of hooks. Why? Well the band is made of elastic, which will break down over time as it absorbs the sweat and oil produced by your body. So if you buy a sports bra that fits snugly on the loosest set of hooks when new as the band breaks down and stretches out you can move onto the next set of hooks and continue to get an awesome snug fitting back.

Your band should always run parallel to the ground. clip_image004

Caption: Snug back sitting parallel to the floor.


When your band rides up it acts like a seesaw and drops your breasts forwards. Dropping breast=droopy breasts=poor support.


Caption: Too loose back riding up up.

3. But I love my super comfy over the shoulder sports bra from Nike, Brooks, Lululemon etc.

Yes most athletic apparel companies make bras that go over your shoulder and yes they are all producer fantastic athletic apparel. And if they invested nearly in much in the design of their bras as they did in their shoes, yoga pants etc. they would make more bras with clasps. But they don’t have to because we as consumers keep buying crappy sports bras with backs/bands that are too big. So if we keep buying them, why would they stop making them?

I am not trying to hate. I worked for Lululemon before I became a fitter and still love many of their products. But if you want your girls to stay where they are ditch your over the shoulder bra. Or do what I do and save the cute bra for race day when someone might be snapping your photo.

4. Okay now I am pretty bitter about losing my comfy sports bra but what else should I be looking for in a sports bra?

clip_image008There are two basic types of sports bras: compression and encapsulation. Most of us already own a compression sports bra, which reduces bounces by compressing the breasts back down.

Caption: Compression Bra

Compression bras are great for smaller to midsize breast ladies. This correlates roughly to a 32A to 38B/38C if you haven’t been properly fit. For my ladies that have been to a fitting boutique and understand the conspiracy that is bra sizing in major retailers like Victoria Secrets, compression bras fit well from a 28AA up to 36/38E in North American sizing and a 36/38F French sizing.


If you are a fuller breasted lady or your breasts are particularly full on top you have probably found that traditional compression bras tend to pop your breasts out the top and create what we professionals call “the dreaded double boob”. This the phenomenon where by a cup that is too small cuts into the top of breast pushing it up and out. This results in cleavage up to the clavicle and whilst it looks sexy in Rihanna’s music videos it most assuredly is not going to help get you pass that dude in front of you.

You ladies might want to explore the encapsulation bra. This type of bra separates the breasts and encapsulates each breast in a web of support. The encapsulation bra is significantly more supportive than the compression and in my experience as a bra fitter can be life changing for fuller breasted women who enjoy an active and challenging lifestyle. The catch is that you aren’t going to be winning any beauty pageants wearing this style as it does tend to produce a very perky retro shape. But if your biggest concern whilst kicking ass is “do my breasts look round enough?”, I would argue that you maybe need to reprioritize and save the glam for your post-ass kickery celebration.


Caption:Encapsulation bras.

Also keep in mind with encapsulation styles of sports bra that their primary function is to provide awesome support. Thus the fabric used is usually tougher and has less give. For women breaking in this style of bra I typically recommend applying a layer of anti-blistering lubricant to prevent any chaffing when you first start wearing in the bra. Sports bras are like shoes, always give yourself time to break them in.

Other things to look for…Your breasts should not be popping out of the sides or top of your bra. When you try your bra on do the movements you plan on doing in the bra. If you are a runner, run in place. Cyclist? Sit down and hunch forward. Climber? Stretch out and reach for stuff. You straps should be snug but not too firm.

5. Okay crazy bra lady I am on board, I want a great bra but I just went down to my local Target, Walmart, Zellars etc. and they don’t have anything like what you described.

The brutal sucky truth is that if you want a fantastic sports bra that will keep your breasts rocking out for decades to come you are probably not going to find it at a discount. A good sports bra is like a good pair of running shoes.

And not to get all righteous but a good sports bra should cost more than your sassy “Will Run for Chocolate” shirt. Why? Like a running shoe or any other athletic shoes a good sports bra has a team of engineers behind it. It has to do more for your body than look good and wick away moisture. A good sports bra is controlling for motion, momentum, density and all that other physics stuff. Many of us don’t balk at $100 running shoes and have ten plus running tanks and tees at least $15 a pop. But tell us we should spend more than $25 on a sports bra and that is way too much. You are probably not going to find a good sports bra for under $50. But like your running shoes, one or two sports bras can be worn with a whole lot of different running outfits and a sports bra does a hell of a lot more than make you look good. So the next time you head out to pick up yet another tank or tee, ask yourself if you really need it and whether or not that money wouldn’t be better spent on saving up for one or two really good sports bras you can wear with every sports outfit.

6. Alright, I did the deed and bought the right bra. Now how do I make this bad boy last and really get my monies worth?

I don’t know about you but if I spend money on something I want it to last. The good news is that buy investing in a good sports bra you have already invested in better quality and longer product lifespan.

Bras should ALWAYS be hand-washed. As a bra fitter I have seen too many beautiful bras die a premature death at the hands of the washing machine. The majority of support comes from the band, which is made of elastic, which stretches. Your washing machine is incapable of human judgment and cannot determine when it is stressing or stretching the band.

The gold standard in bra care is to hand-wash in cold water with a soap that won’t leave residue. I am a fan of Soak, a biodegradable hand-wash detergent that does all the work for you. No scrubbing no rubbing just soaking. However I am also a busy/lazy lady so the next easiest care option for your sports bra is to take it in the shower with you post workout. I am not kidding. You are hand-washing yourself, why not take an extra 30 seconds and do your sports bra too? Yes the warm water of the shower is not ideal for the elastic but it is better than your washing machine.

The reason I am a fan of the shower method of sports bra care is that you should really be washing your sports bra every time you wear again. Like I said before, the sweat and oil from your body is what breaks the band down so the more you wash it, the longer it lasts.

It is time to replace your sports bra when the band no longer sits parallel to the floor even on the tightest set of hooks. If you have cared for your sports bra properly you should have gotten at least a year and half out of it but likely longer. Again, I am sure some of you have been wearing the same sports bra for the four years. How many pairs of running shoes did you have to replace in that time?

7. Alright, so what should I really take away from this?

This is just a guide of recommendations from a bra fitter. If you cannot find a back closure bra in your area or budget don’t panic, just try and follow as many good practices in fit and care as you can.

· You need a sports bra regardless of your size.

· Buy a sports bra with clasps that fits snug enough in the band to sit parallel to the floor.

· If you are fuller breasted check out an encapsulation style of sports bra.

· Give yourself time to break your sports bra in the same as you would a pair of shoes.

· Your sports bras are like shoes. They are going to cost more than your tee-shirts and tanks because they are going to do more for your body and more design went into them.

· Hand-wash your sports every time you wear them and replace them when the band no longer sits parallel to the floor.

· Great sports bra companies: Anita, ShockAbsorber, CW-X, Freya and Enell

Enjoy your new sports bras ladies and keep up the chicking!


  1. Great blog!!
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  2. I agree with the importance of washing your bras by hand. Machine-washed bras are more prone to deterioration because of the pressure applied by the machine. But here's the trick: washing your bra after every 4-5 wears is a good idea. But for sports bras, these should be washed more often.



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