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Health & Exercise Forum

Pick the Right Sports Bra

Oct 1, 2009

Dr. Paul MackareyContributing Author: Janet M. Caputo, PT, OCS

This is the 1st in a series of 5 Steamtown Marathon Columns. This article was written in response to an email from Joan.

If you really want to get to know someone, run 26.2 miles with him or her! With each passing mile one becomes less and less inhibited. I remember training with for the Steamtown Marathon with several women who had concerns about the health and safety of their breasts while running 26.2 miles.

Twenty years ago, two women who were experiencing painful discomfort from excessive breast movement their exercise, sport, and recreational activities decided to by two jock straps, sew them together, and create the world’s first sports bra! These early sports bras were uncomfortable and unattractive! However, with today’s innovative designs and new fabrics, the sports bra offers a cost-effective way of breast protection during exercise!

Traditional bras provide breast support, but a sports bra is designed to reduce breast movement. In an article from the journal Physician And Sports Medicine, Dr. Stanford states that vigorous physical activity causes a women’s breasts to bounce, which can compromise the skin and delicate ligaments that are the fragile support structures for the breasts, resulting in sagging (small breasts can sag too!). Since breasts are not composed of muscle tissue, no amount or type of exercise will tone them. Therefore, constant motion will disrupt the ligaments and erode breast support and positioning. However, a good sports bra can reduce breast movement by at least 56%!

If you plan to start on an exercise regime, make sure you protect your breasts and alleviate discomfort with a sports bra. An effective, well-designed sports bra will offer many benefits:

  • Shock absorption minimizing the impact of strenuous activity upon the breasts
  • Proper breast positioning
  • Reduces/controls excessive breast movement that causes uncomfortable rubbing and pain
  • Minimizes the risk of breast ligament strain which is a big risk for athletic women
  • Absorbs perspiration
  • T-back styles afford back support, as well as breast control

Pick the Right Sports Bra

Selecting the correct sports bra is as important as choosing the proper running shoe! To maximize comfort and motion control, there are several crucial aspects to consider:

  • Fit: Dr. Stamford advises to perform “the jumping jack test”, since the entire upper body should move as one unit: the sports bra should control motion without causing discomfort or difficulty breathing.
  • Style choices
  • Underwear or outerwear
  • Sports bras that are suitable to wear without a cover-up typically provide more body coverage
  • Back styles
    • T-back: Offers back support as well as breast support. Offers enhanced freedom of arm movement.
    • Racer back: Most support for women with larger busts. Offers enhanced freedom of arm movement.
    • Scoop back: a more traditional strap back styles if you are more comfortable with a traditionally styled bra
    • Harness style: Which encapsulates each breast are more suited for larger busted women
  • Closures
    • Traditional hook closures (front or back styles) allow for easier on-off
    • Hookless styles can be pulled over the head or stepped into
    • One-piece construction or longer lines will better accommodate heart-rate monitors such as Polar
  • Fabrics
    • Should wick away moisture from the skin and then dry quickly
    • Should be breathable: Allows moisture and excess heat and pass through to be cooler and drier when its hot and drier and warmer when its cold
    • Prevents sweat from accumulating
    • Best choice: blend of at least 50% cotton and a “breathable” material such as Lycra mesh
    • Most popular fabrics and their benefits:
      • Supplex Nylon/Lycra Spandex: Offers soft, luxurious feel and incredible fit, support and shape retention
      • Cotton/Lycra Spandex: Soft, moisture-managing cotton combines with shape-retaining Lycra to create a very comfortable fabric with just the right amount of stretch and support
      • CoolMax Polyester/Lycra Spandex: This high-performance fabric deliveries you all the moisture-wicking benefits of CoolMax plus the comfort, stretch, and shape retention of Lycra
      • Polyester/Cotton/Lycra Spandex: This three fiber blend offers polyester and cotton for softness and moisture management while Lycra provides optimal fit and support
      • Polyester/Cotton: Classic blend provides gentle softness and powerful moisture management for all your workouts
  • Anti-chafe features
    • Covered, hidden, or ribbon soft tags
    • Soft thread
    • Flat locked seams
    • Covered, wide, elastic bands around ribs with a snug fit
    • Apply Vaseline or a fabric friendly product such as Body glide between you and your bra
  • Firm fit with minimal breast movement

If a sports bra is used 3-4 times per week, it usually needs to be replaced within 6-12 months due to the loss of elasticity in the bra’s support materials. Because of the high elasticity content, a sport’s bra that is hand washed and hung dry will typically last longer than a bra that is machine washed and tumbled dry.

Signs that a sports bra should be replaced:

  • A noticeably looser fit
  • Increased breast motion during exercise
  • Fabric pilling

Keep in mind that not every bra will fit every woman. Proportions and contours should allow freedom of movement without shifting, binding, twisting, or chafing. It is important to try on various styles to find the bra that feels comfortable and supportive when you are in motion.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: