Fitness: Expert sports bra advice

Feb 17, 2011

Ask LaJean Lawson, a sports apparel designer and researcher, questions about sports bras. Read the related story: The sports bra: Your No. 1 supporter

What considerations do you need to make when selecting a sports bra for a tennis player w/38d

I'll let LaJean handle this too, but one interesting product to look into is the Shock Absorber Racket bra, which is designed specifically to limit the lateral movement created by racket sports. But if you go to the company's website while you're at work, avoid the Bounce-o-meter. Trust me on this one.

High support to control both up-and-down and side-to-side breast motion when you're dashing and changing directions on the court is obviously really important.  But also, tennis requires major reaching and stretching overhead with your arms.  So look for straps that won't slip (Y-back or T-back), firm anchoring of the cups (and underwire is great) so they don't slide up over your breasts when you're serving, and great moisture management fabrics to handle the sweat.

I have tried many many sports bras, but all of them leave a red friction line on my obliques. This only happens during long runs(5miles +), but since I would like to be able to run even longer runs what are my options?

It may have to do with the fabric -- when I used to wear cotton sports bras, that happened to me too. So make sure what you're picking is wicking! Also: Body Glide. Or other anti-chafe stuff. That'll make most bras friendlier for those longer runs.

If it's the bottom band causing the problem, look for one that is fully covered in a smooth, no-chafe fabric so that no elastic directly touches your skin.  For A, B or C cups, I like the Champion 6793 Compression Vented sports bra, and for C through DDD, Champion's new 1602 Spot Comfort Full Support sports bra. Also, make sure the band is not too loose--ironically that allows it to shift back and forth during each running stride and chafe you.

I am a large-breasted woman 46I. Where does someone like me find a sports bra that supports and fits? Any recommendations or online resources?

Enell only makes two styles of bras, but bigger women swear by them! And they do custom orders, which I think is what you'd need to get the proper fit: enell.com/custom_sizes.php

They also make support vests for men with enlarged breasts.

Try www.herroom.com--one of the best resources for sports bras in your size range.

I have a pretty small chest (34B). Do I still need to get expensive bras, or will the Champion ones from Target be OK? I mainly bike but do a little running and walking.

Certainly you are lucky as a B cup because you have many more choices in the marketplace for sports bras that are stylish and offer good enough support!  But you still do need to make sure your bra does a good job of wicking away sweat, and doesn't chafe or annoy you.  C9 by Champion sports bras at Target are a great value, will certainly work for biking, running and walking.

I'm 14 weeks pregnant, and not only are my breasts growing, but they're much more sensitive. Do you have any recommendations for sports bras that would be good for pregnant ladies? (If it helps, I'm normally a small C-cup; not sure what I am now!) Thank you!

One things we've found in sports bra research in the sport science lab is that extra motion can definitely cause extra discomfort.  So you may need to look for more support than in the past--look for a high support rating on the sports bra hangtag.  A style like Champion's 6242 Seamless Underwire sports bra actually fits across more than one cup size due to subtle stretch in the cups, and would "expand" to fit you as change size.  It's also really soft and body-friendly, straps and bottom band adjust so you can personalize fit and support.  P.S.  I personally went from a B pre-pregnancy to a C during most of pregnancy, to a D right after delivery, then back to a C during my year of nursing!

Since taking up weight lifting I've dropped inches in my chest (down to a 32!) but not my bust (now an H). Are sports bras even made for people like me? The general S-M-L sizing doesn't seem to apply.

You're right! The S-M-L sizing doesn't apply to you. But that's why bras are increasingly being sold by cup and band size. I'm curious -- what are you wearing now?

Take a look at herroom.com and enell.com--you may be able find just what you need for your size.

I've been fitted for regular bras by a professional, can I use the same measurement when getting my sports bras? I've done that for the one's I have and they fit well but am wondering if I need to get a sports bra fitting as well. Please advise!

The question is: How long ago were you fitted for a regular bra? Weight fluctuates, which will change your size. At Fleet Feet Gaithersburg, sports bra buyer Melissa Barber told me she recommends customers get fit every six months. It can't hurt, right?

When it comes to picking the size of your sports bra, your regular bra is a good starting point, but feel free to head any direction, size-wise, to get the support and coverage you want.  You may go for a snugger fit (think smaller size) in your sports model for better lockdown of breast motion.  Or if you need more complete coverage to prevent 'the girls' from spilling out at the neck or underarms, you might try moving up a cup size to get everything under wraps.  For more tips, I hope you'll visit my Bra Blog on Champion's Facebook wall!

 

When do you know it's time to replace your sports bra? The article says the bra should never have a birthday depending on usage and care. But what should you look for when examining a bra?

When it comes to a number, if you wear and wash your sports bra 3-4 times a week, you may need to replace it within 6-12 months.  Here's what to look for:

-Your bra no longer feels snug--especially pullover styles that depend on strong spandex to support.

-It rides up and won't stay put around the bottom band (even in the tightest adjustment if it has hooks.

-The straps have lost all their stretch

-YOU change size or shape due to weight gain/loss, pregnancy, etc

-Your sports bra looks too old and ugly to motivate you to put it on and do your workout (I do love my bright-colored, new spring sports bras!)

Where can a 42 DDD cup find an exercise bra, I have to wear a regular bra and try to find an exercise bra while I am playing basket ball, to hold me. I need help badly.

I've played a lot of basketball too, and believe me, it really is a high impact, high sweat sport--plus you're reaching up over your head all the time and you straps MUST NOT slip!  For you, Champion's 1691 Powersleek Sports bra, with adjustable band and straps, comes in sizes through 42DDD (see it at championusa.com).  You'll also find great options at herroom.com. 

P.S. Almost forgot about Champion's brand new 1602 Spot Comfort Full Support sports bra, which also comes in 42DDD!

Another great place for sports bras is Title 9 (titlenine.com). They have stores on the west coast; but, you can also buy their products online. Having worked there, I can tell you that all employees are knowledgeable about the sprots bras they sell since we had to try them all on!

So spill! Which bras do you like?

Hi, I was surprised at the article suggesting that sportsbras don't even last a year. Most of mine are in the 1-5 year range, with frequent use for running and sports, and they seem in good shape. They aren't stretched out, fit well and the fabric appears to be in good shape (I let mine air dry after laundering). Are there less obvious indicators for knowing when a sportsbra is worn out?

Congratulations--you are giving your sports bras the TLC they deserve!  And it sounds like you have a good "wardrobe" which allows you to rotate them out--another great strategy to give them long life. If they still feel supportive and haven't become rough and 'pilled' so that they chafe you, I'd not be worried.  Keep up the good work--and the good workouts!

I often get chafe on the underside of my breasts. Does this mean I'm wearing a bra that's too small, or too big?

I'm wondering what your cupsize is, as this could be a different issue for smaller vs. larger cupsizes. But for all sizes, chafing on the underside of your breasts often has to do with a bottom band (or seams between the cups and bottom band) that has rough fabric, elastic or stitching.  One solution is to look for sports bras where the inside of the bottom band is completely covered with smooth fabric and stitching, like Champion's 6793 Vented Compression for A,B,C cups, or their 1602 Spot Comfort Full Support for C-DDD.

My favorite at Title Nine are: 3-Reasons Support, Solid Shape-Up, Bye Bye Bounce, and the 7 Wonders Sports Bra. But when I'm working out, I'm active and like the girls to not move at all; but, they have many different bras with differing levels of support. One of the best (and I'm not just saying that because I used to work there) part of Title Nine's bra's is that they are organized by how much support you want or need.

The dumbbell rating system is pretty handy...And FYI to other readers: Those are all Moving Comfort bras.

any advice for bras that camoflague my nipples, which always seem to poke through my workout clothes?

LaJean just wrote an AMAZING post on this topic on her Champion Facebook blog, which she isn't bragging about (so I'll do it for her!).

http://apps.facebook.com/brablog/blog/post/22-things-that-go-bump-in-the-workout

But generally, "modesty" features (usually removable cups or "cookies") are getting popular for this very reason. Have those in the bra and it'll be smooth sailing.

Wear testing with active women suggests that your simplest and most effective solution is a shaper sports bra with contour cups made from thicker 'spacer' or foam fabrics that maintain their own shape and totally obscure what's going on underneath.  A shaping seam over the area of the nipple can also help (make sure there's no rough stitching inside next to your skin). Two great choices are Champion's 1050 T-Back Shape Sports Bra (32A to 38D) and 6843 Shape Scoop Sports Bra at championusa.com. If you don't like padding or seams, you can still get partial relief with a bra that has firmly molded non-stretch inner cups.

Also be sure your sports bra has great wicking properties in the cups--when your breasts get damp and chilled, it makes the "high beam" response stronger.

will that work in reverse too? i am currently losing weight and would love to find a sports bra that will last. trying to only buy new clothes when i absolutely have to.

The 6242 Seamless Underwire comes in B/C and D/DD combos, with bottom band sizes that stretch across 2 sizes as well.  It works because when you are larger (and need more support), the cup fabric stretches more and actually becomes more rigid and supportive; as you get a little smaller (and need a little less support), the fabric can relax a little.  The 6242 is also great for changing body sizes because the straps and bottom band are fully adjustable.

I'm a 36G and play soccer. I bought a Shock Absorber and it's been doing pretty well by me, but sometimes I wish that I had something a little less, ah, industrial for lighter activities, like hiking. Are there any such options? And where can I find these things in stores? I bought mine online, and wish I could try these things on first.

I just looked up 36G on Herroom.com and found out the Anita Molded Sports bra comes in that size. And Tomima Edmark (who founded the site) told me that's a full-figure best-seller since it gets good reviews and looks pretty fashionable. Maybe give that one a try? I wish I had store recommendations for you, but I don't know of any around the DC area that carries larger sizes. Chatters? Any tips?

I want some new spring sports bras! Where can I get fun colors? I'm a 32D in a regular bra and usually buy Champion bras which, at that size, usually come in only white, black, or gray.

Funny you should say that because when I talked to Dianna Deveney, who handles sports bras for Fit3 in Tysons Corner, she was complaining that they have all of these awesome bras in bright colors (especially from the Moving Comfort brand) and customers only ever seem to want to buy the black ones. But if you're not finding colors you like in stores, try online -- they're definitely out there.

Any truth to the story that not having supportive enough bras makes you sag more/prematurely?

I've often wished I could do a scientific study on this!  But that would involve asking women to strap one breast down and leave the other once free to bounce for several decades to see if it's the bra that makes the difference, which obviously is not possible!  So I've looked for clues to other body parts and what happens to them when you put weight and stress on them over a lifetime (like wearing heavy earrings day after day).  It's not unreasonable to assume that lack of support can accelerate skin stretching and loss of shape in the breasts.

But that said, there are a number of other factors as well--genetics (just like some of us wrinkle more easily around the eyes), and especially, periods of rapid weight gain and loss including pregnancy and nursing.

While we don't have all the scientific answers, if you are concerned about looking as perky for as long as possible (I still am at age 60!), it makes good sense to keep 'the girls' comfortably supported during your workout.  In fact, many women I've talked to in my years of sports bra research tell me they can't run without pain (or at all) unless they are wearing a sports bra designed for high impact.

I have a friend who wears sports bras all the time. I told her this was not good b/c of the whole loft and separate thing but I was just assuming. Is there anything wrong with wearing a sports bra everyday?

I'll let LaJean take on the science side of this, but Renelle Braaten, the founder of Enell, told me that she wears her Lite bra (made for low-impact sports) as an everyday bra. So your pal has company!

I've looked carefully at the medical research side, and have never found any evidence that wearing compressive (holds everything snug as a single unit) have any negative effect on breast or body health--in fact compression socks and garments are often used medically and in sports to enhance blood flow (and performance).  One study looked at the effect of a snug sports bra on the ability to take a deep breath during vigorous activity, and again, no negative effect.

Your friend is not alone--many of the women in my research have fallen in love with the comfort, support, moisture management, and no-slip straps of their sports bras and have a hard time going back to 'regular' bras.  If that what feels best to her, no problem!

Hi! I'm a runner with a larger chest (36FF/G) and I am totally frustrated at how few options exist for me. The Freya underwire sports bra works ok for me but chafes after a long run. And at $60+ a pop, it's not exactly easy to try out new styles (there's really no way to tell if it'll chafe until you've put some miles in, at which point you can't exactly return the bra). Any suggestions?

I don't know how comforting this is to hear, but there are many other women in your shoes (your bras?) who can't find what they're looking for. But it seems companies are starting to realize that this is an underserved market and in the next few years, there will be more options. Hopefully. Right, LaJean?

Absolutely!  I've been doing serious sports bra research in and out of the biomechanics lab since 1984, and believe me, we have SO come out of the real Dark Ages of the sports bra world.  There are so many more options now.

But there are reasons besides manufacturers' indifference why it is so hard.  Sports bras are the most technical, hardworking piece of clothing you will ever put on your body!  And as cup size increases, the "engineering" job we ask our bras to do increases even more dramatically.  Women, even of the same cup size, vary dramatically in actual body 'topology', which complicated things further.

It is tough to find a way to get little pieces of flexible fabric to carry high loads (suspended from tender shoulders) in a stylish, non-chafing, non-constricting, body-friendly way! But there leading sports bra brands like Champion (who I know the best because I've been consulting with them for many years) are continuing to push the envelope, take advantage of new fabric technologies (for anti-chafing, etc), and listen to real women of all sizes in order to make better sports bras.  It's a journey--we've come a long ways, but still a long ways to go!

But to answer your question--try to find a retailer with great return policy!

 

In This Chat
LaJean Lawson
Sports apparel and equipment designer and researcher
Vicky Hallett
Vicky Hallett is one of the MisFit columnists and the fit editor for Express
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