Sports bras are designed to give you support during physical activity. There are different types that will work better for different activities. A sports bra for yoga should be really comfortable and offer greater movement, whereas one for jogging should be firm enough to remove bounce and also breathe well to reduce sweating.
Some use special fabrics like COOLMAX that help to draw sweat away from your body, these can be expensive though. Mesh sections are another way they can help keep you cool while active.
The shape of sports bras can vary greatly. A racer back is quite common as it gives your arms and shoulders a good range of motion, the straps can’t fall down and they can be quite supportive. Some have underwires but it is quite common for them not to have them as many people find them uncomfortable. If they are digging in at all the repetitive motion of exercise can cause rubbing and they could end up being painful. If you prefer the support of underwires don’t be put off by that, you can still get them just make sure they feel good when on.
Encapsulation and compression
There are two main ways that a sports bra will keep you in place. The encapsulation method has full moulded cups that separate and hold each breast in place separately. These look more like a standard bra. The difference is a standard bra mostly supports from underneath, encapsulation means the cup should be holding you from every direction to reduce any movement while exercising.
Compression bras are made with stretchy fabric and are tight to hold you in. This type doesn’t traditionally have cups and usually goes on over your head like a crop top. If the main goal is to reduce motion, as with a high impact sport, then studies have shown that the encapsulation method is better (see the ‘Exercise discomfort’ section on Sports bras in Wikipedia). The wire and fastening free style of the compression bra can be more comfortable if chafing is going to be an issue.
The two types aren’t as distinct as they used to be, there are lots of designs coming out now that are taking the strengths from each and creating a sort of hybrid between the two. See the bra at the top of this page (the one that is black, red and white from Triumph). It’s a soft cup so doesn’t contain any wires, the cups aren’t as moulded as a standard encapsulation type but it has shaping at the sides of the bra and between the cups to hold you in place. The fabric over the cups is stretchy and tight like a compression bra would be.
There are a huge range of different styles available now. If you look around the internet you will find heaps of articles that tell you how to choose the right sports bra for your size and exercise type. Nothing beats trying on a few in store until you find what feels right.
Tips for buying a sports bra
- The bounce test. Never buy a sports bra without first jumping up and down, and side to side in the changing room with it on. You may get some funny looks when you come out but it’s the most reliable way to check if a sports bra is going to work for you.
- As well as bouncing try stretching a bit too, this will make sure you have a good range of movement in it.
- If the activity you will be wearing it for is going to make you sweat then look for one that has mesh sections or uses a wicking fabric like COOLMAX to draw sweat away from your body.
- Look for any bits that could cause chafing. There could be a bulky join on the strap that could rub, or if it has an underwire that isn’t fitting you quite right and digging in that could end up quite painful after a workout.
- How do the straps feel? Are they wide and comfy or digging in? Remember than any discomfort you are feeling while you have it on is going to be amplified by a work out.
- Try a range of quite different sports bras on when you are in the store, looking out for the points mentioned above. This is a quick way to get down to the style that will suit you.