Bras are complicated, with cup sizes and band sizes and all those intricate straps and closures. But sports bras are simple -- right?
Wrong. Turns out those stretchy undergarments have as much as going on regular bras, but we often don't give them enough attention. We spoke to bra fitting specialist Bobbie Smith of Freshpair, who informed us that not only should we be getting our sports bras custom-fitted, we're also wearing the wrong kind.
Most of us are wearing compressions bras, aka the "uniboob" bras.
Compression bras are the basic sports bras we're used to, the ones that give us that "uniboob" shape. But those bras don't accomplish the main goal of a sports bra: limiting total breast movement. Compression bras only limit the in-and-out movement of breasts away from and towards the chest. But as researchers have found, breasts actually "arc through a complicated figure-8 pattern," going down and to one side, then up and over to the other side. This movement strains the Cooper's ligaments, the connective tissue that keeps breasts perky.
But we should be wearing encapsulated bras, which have cups to limit breast movement.
"Compression bras only hold the breast tissue back," Bobbie told us. But encapsulated bras have separate cups for each breast, like a regular bra. "Encapsulated sports bras limit that crossover movement and that helps protect the Cooper's ligaments," explained Bobbie. That limits the strain, which otherwise would lead to a loss of elasticity... and sagging. The kind people get breast lifts to fix.
Even women with small breasts need encapsulated sports bras.
"It's very important to stress that bust size does not make a difference!" Bobbie told us. "Even if you have an A cup, it's still very important to have an encapsulated style. With a small bust, you can damage those ligaments just like you can with the others ones, and small, saggy boobs are not attractive."
And we should be buying those encapsulated sports bras in normal bra sizes (32A, 34D, etc).
To ensure the cups on the encapsulated bra are limiting as much movement as possible, the fit must be perfect. "You should never buy a sports bra that's just in a size range," said Bobbie, meaning a small, medium, large, etc. "You should be buying your sports bra in your actual bra size." That means the cups should be the right size, and the back band should be level all the way around, not riding up in the back.
Your sports bra should have an actual closure, not just pull over your head.
"If you can pull your sports bra over your head, and it fits over your shoulders, it's definitely not firm enough to support your bust," said Bobbie. "Just think about how wide your shoulders are. If you're able to squeeze that over your bust, it's not supporting." So find a sports bra with a firm back closure -- front closures are less ideal, explains Bobbie, because they usually only have one set of hooks, so you can't tighten it as the bra stretches. "Then the life of the bra is only one hook long, so to speak," she said.
It should be made of breathable, moisture-wicking material, not plain cotton.
"COOLMAX technology and moisture-wicking properties are really important," explained Bobbie, "because if you doing high-impact activity, especially if you have a fuller bust, it's common to have chafing." A moisture-wicking fabric can help limit that damage.
In short, we're all going to age, and with aging comes saggier boobs. "That connective tissue isn't going to last forever," she said. "But the deterioration can happen prematurely if we're not supporting ourselves when we're being active. So basically we want to push back that as long as possible." And that means wearing the right sports bra.
Here are some bras that fit the bill: