Sports Support: Everything you ever wanted (and needed!) to know about sports bras


We’ve all heard by now that most of us are wearing the wrong bra. Unfortunately, sports bras are no different. Although they’ve been around for 30 years (the first one was created out of two jock straps – yikes!), these necessities are still a mystery to most women. But proper fit and support is just as (if not more) important (researchers say an un-supported breast moves up and down about 6 centimeters!) when we’re working out.

(Discomfort should not be a quality in your sports bra of choice!)

Whether you’re a jogger, a dancer, a kick boxer or a yoga enthusiast, you need a well-fitting sports bra that keeps your breasts firmly in place during any activity. And sports bras are a must have for women of all breast sizes, small or large! It’s always a good idea to support any and all breast tissue with a proper-fitting sports bra.

Sports bras generally come in two basic designs, “encapsulation” and “compression.” Sound scientific? Well, it is. These “models” have been developed as a result of years of research. According to a 2006 article by Thomas Affatato in Infinite Health Resources, “encapsulation models are constructed with two cups (just like typical bras), under the theory that two small masses are easier to control than one large one.” Experts say this is the better option for larger breasted women. As for compression, these “basically press your breasts flat to your chest (in an attempt to reduce motion) and are typically pulled on over your head.” This option better suits smaller breasted women.

Sports bras often come in the same size guidelines as regular bras, but some are simply a generic small, medium and large.

Here are some tips for a perfect sports bra fit:

• The best option is to try it on. The elastic band on the bottom should fit snugly around your rib cage (but not too snug that it takes your breathe away.)
• Jump up and down a few times in the dressing room – you may look a little crazy but you’ll accurately determine if the bra gives you the necessary support needed for physical activity! Obviously, the less “bounce,” the better.
• Look for wider shoulder straps.
• Those with built-in “shock absorbers” are designed to minimize bounce and impact.
• The fabric you choose also has an impact on the comfort and effectiveness of the sports bra – most are designed to wick moisture away from the body but you can choose one that goes a step further to prevent chafing and all-around discomfort.

Sports bras are infamous for creating a uni-boob appearance, but many on the market today are much more flattering. I have taken a liking to a style by Nike that zips up in the front – an added bonus: you can adjust your breast tissue after you zip it up and create great cleavage – sans uni-boob effect. Remember, it’s important to shop around and get the best fit you can.

(Nike Zip Front Sports Bra)

Here’s how to measure for a sports bra (like with a regular bra, a professional fitting is recommended.)
• Take a tape measure and wrap it around your ribcage, just under your breasts.
• Add 5 inches to that number. This number is your band size.
• Measure the fullest part of your bust.
• Calculate the difference between the two numbers and that is your cup size, as shown in the chart below.

(Credit: Lauren Termini)

Sports bras should also be replaced at least every year, depending on how much use they get. If the elastic is stretched out and no longer flush against your rib cage, it’s time for a new one! I have large-busted friends who actually wear two sports bras to the gym. This shouldn’t have to happen, no matter how big your bust. If you find a proper fitting and well-constructed sports bra (and care for it properly, too), ONE should be enough to give you the right support to get through nearly any activity.

Bio: Jené Luciani is a fashion journalist, on-air stylist and author of The Bra Book: the Fashion Formula to Finding the Perfect Fit, which will be released by BenBella Books in fall of 2009 and available in bookstores and Fashion Forms retail outlets nationwide. For more info, visit

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