First, let’s get one question out the way: Do you really need a proper sports bra? After all, it’s a lot of money to fork out for such a tiny piece of fabric. The short answer: Yes. Even if your go-to everyday bra is padded and underwired to the max (hello, cleavage!), it doesn’t offer enough support to withstand your workout.
According to the Portsmouth University research team, more than 70% of women wear the wrong bra size. When choosing a sports bra, they advise looking for a comfortable fit in five areas: the underband, cups, underwire, centre-front and shoulder straps.
There are no muscles within the breasts – they’re essentially a collection of fat and tissue held to the body by ligaments and skin – and the issue is that neither of these is especially strong. The connective tissue that holds the breast to the chest is comprised of Cooper’s ligaments, which naturally extend with age and over time – but exercise without supporting them properly and they could stretch up to 2cm during high-intensity workouts.
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What’s more, contrary to how your breasts may appear to move up and down as you run, burpee or push press, they actually swing in a figure of eight. It was this discovery that inspired the design of Under Armour’s Infinity bra. Instead of following the traditional method of constructing a sports bra – cutting two breast-shaped cups from a flat piece of padding, glueing and layering pieces of foam – they liquid-injected the foam in a figure-eight (a.k.a. infinity sign) shape, making the bra feel more natural and comfortable without sacrificing support.
Debbie Risius, senior research associate at Portsmouth University, states that a woman’s choice of sports bra can also influence her breathing rate and thermoregulation during exercise. This is down to the fit of the bra and the fabric from which it’s constructed: a 2013 study found that, while all sports bras reduced the cooling ability of the breast – simply by virtue of being another layer of clothing – sports bras made from polyester allowed for better thermoregulation than bras made from other composite materials.
Now we’ve established that a sports bra is a worthy investment, here are five things you need to know when choosing a sports bra.
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1/ Your Bra Size
All kinds of things can influence the size of your breasts, from your menstrual cycle to pregnancy to weight loss. Yet most of us still buy bras according to measurements taken years ago. What’s more, not only do your breasts change size – bras can vary in size from brand to brand.
When to get measured: It’s been more than six months since your last fitting, your body has changed or you’re buying a different brand than your usual. Trying on? Make sure you can’t pull the band more than five centimetres from your chest or the straps more than five centimetres from your shoulders. And make sure the cups fully enclose your boobs.
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2/ Your Workout Style
When you scope out the sports bras on offer, you’ll notice they’re divided into different categories. Usually these will be called high, medium and low impact or high, medium and low support. This is to help you match your bra to the type of workout you do.
Your workout: Running, bootcamp, martial arts, boxing, bodyweight training, anything involving jumping or skipping
You need: High impact. Look for racerback straps and padded or moulded cups. If your breasts are small, you could also you use a medium impact bra.
Your workout: Cycling, spinning, weight lifting, the gym circuit, hiking
You need: Medium impact if your breasts are small; high impact if they’re medium to large. Look for broad straps and padding and/or sturdy fabric with a light stretch.
Your workout: Yoga, Pilates, Barre
You need: Low impact for small boobs; medium impact for medium boobs; high impact for large boobs. Look for comfortable, stretchy fabric, padding optional, strap width according to your preference.
3/ The Fabric
You know that feeling when you walk out of a spinning class and your bra feels like a wet sea creature strapped to your chest? Avoid that sea-sponge feelin’ by choosing synthetic fabrics that don’t hold onto sweat. Words like “moisture wicking”, “breathable” and “ventilation” are what you want to see.