They’re crucial to a good workout, and maintaining the health of your breasts. But shopping for one can be confusing! Here’s what to look for when buying a sports bra
By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Whether you’re a marathon runner, tennis player, or keen yogi, you’re probably more comfortable engaging in your favourite type of exercise when you’re wearing clothing that’s comfortable. And in most cases, that involves a sports bra.
But given the plethora of sports bras available, which one is best for you? What should you look for when buying a sports bra? And do you actually even need one?
The answers might be more complicated than you think!
Why you need a sports bra
The truth is, the main reason you need a sports bra is for comfort. And ultimately, that’s subjective. I mean, if you’re a AA cup, you can probably participate in a Pilates class braless, no problem. But if you’re about to run a marathon, chafing an be an issue!
But even if you’re super comfy without using a sports bra, you probably should. Doing most sports, while good for you in other ways, can enhance the risk of breast sagging and discomfort. In fact, studies that were carried out in the 70s by Dr Christine Haycock demonstrated that an excessive “breast bounce” was found to be associated with increased breast pain. Not nice!
Here are a few tips on what to look for in a sports bra.
Two main types of sports bra
Ok, so now that we’ve established why you need a sports bra, what kind should you get?
Basically, sports bras can be classified into two different types: compression bras and encapsulation bras.
A compression bra is the one that applies a delicate pressure around the chest and under the arms. It is also used after breast enhancement surgery to help support and heal newly reconstructed breasts. In sports, this type of bra is quite practical, since its stretchy fabric limits movement of the breasts and allows for all kinds of activities, thanks to the stretch.
On the other hand, an encapsulation bra separates each breast with a defined cup structure and sometimes, an underwire. These bras keep the shape of your assets more defined. and are very practical for more intense workouts, since they prevent bounce and reduce strain around your chest. Some prefer not to wear encapsulation bras for activities like yoga, though. That’s because stretching can move your breasts from inside the cups, which can feel awkward.
Different sports, different bra styles
In terms of design and functionality, there are multiple styles you should know about when deciding what to look for in a sports bra.
For example? A criss-cross style at the back helps provide a firmer support. Racerback bras, where straps join together between shoulder blades to create a Y-shape, are recommended for more intense workouts. V Vertical centre designs can prevent the straps from slipping off the shoulders during exercise.
Pullover bras are probably the most common types of sports bra. They look like tank tops with an elasticised bottom-lining below the chest and are usually chosen by bustier women. They suit most sports – even running, if they’re made with a compression material.
There are also different sports bra designs for different levels of intensity: light (yoga), medium (hiking), and high (intense sports). They usually stipulate which sports they’re best suited to on the label.
How to get the right fit
The right fit for a sports bra is crucial. A poor fit could mean pinching, pain, or a lack of support.
What you should first look at in a sports bra is the band, because it determines 80% of the support. If the band digs into your skin, it’s too small and you should get a bigger size. But if it gapes, it’s going to fail its purpose, so pick a smaller size. If you can run two fingers under the strap, the fit should be comfortable. The same test should be applied to the straps, especially if they aren’t adjustable.
The cups are also something to consider if they are present. Something you can do to verify if it’s a good fit is lift and scoop your bust into the cups. If there’s any ‘spillage’ on the sides, it’s too big. If you see gaps or loose fabric anywhere, it’s probably too small.
Finally, do a few tests. Stretch your arms around to see if everything stays in place. Jump up and down a few times to see if you feel the support you need. If not, go for a bra with more compression.
Getting the right fit in a sports bra is a total game-changer when it comes to optimising your workout!
The importance of natural fibres and dyes
One of the most important considerations when knowing what to look for in a sports bra is the fabric.
As you probably know, what goes on your skin permeates through your body. Any nasty chemicals from dyes or artificial fibres can easily pass into your system. And the results can be highly detrimental! In fact, studies show that wearing the wrong sportswear can harm your health. But when it comes to bras, the results can even be breast cancer.
Yep, that’s right. The plastic contained in the clothing is the main cause, which is used by the major global sports brands. A study carried out by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) found out that several sports bras contain dangerous levels of the estrogen-mimicking chemical BPA, which is an industrial chemical used precisely in plastics manufacturing.
What happens when BPA mimics the structure and function of the hormone estrogen is that estrogen receptors influence a variety of natural processes in your body. These range from cellular repair to fetal development. As explained by Dr. Jimena Díaz Leiva, Science Director at CEH:
“Even low levels of exposure during pregnancy have been associated with a variety of health problems in offspring. These problems include abnormal development of the mammary glands and ovaries that can increase the likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer later in life. These effects occur even at low levels of exposure like those seen in people today.”
Therefore, it’s vital to look for brands that use natural materials, including: Tencel, modal, organic cotton, and hemp. Also look for natural fibre certifications such as OEKO-TEX and Ecocert.
Bear in mind that unfortunately there will likely be a small percentage of spandex to keep your sports bra stretchy and/or compressive, but the less the better.
All women benefit from knowing what to look for when buying a sports bra. Not only will you look good and feel good, you’ll also give yourself a competitive advantage, no matter what your sport of choice may be!
What do you look for when buying a sports bra? Let us know in the comments, below!
All Images: Booty by Brabants