Q&A with Jenette: Sports Bras

Knowledge Product

1. Why should someone wear a sports bra when engaging in physical activity?

That’s actually a great question, even though my bosomy sisters may wonder why it has to be asked! First of all, in case you’re not clear: there’s no muscle in the breast (though it sits on top of the pectorals). Breasts are composed of sensitive glandular tissue, fatty tissue, and some thin connective tissues known as Cooper’s ligaments, and all held together by skin. That’s it! These tissues cannot absorb shock the way muscle does. Vigorous exercise can cause tiny tears in unsupported breast tissue, which is painful and may contribute to sagging. But that’s not all. A good sports bra is not just for health and comfort, or even looks. It’s a piece of sports equipment that you need to perform your best.

Studies by the renowned Research Group in Breast Health at University of Portsmouth have shown that when breasts are not properly supported: Exercise feels harder. Fatigue may be reached sooner, due to increased upper body muscle activity. Your running stride length is actually decreased! Fuller-busted girls and women are less likely to participate in sports (with measurable impacts on self-esteem).

2. Should sports bras be worn when not working out?

Your choice. There’s no reason to, and no reason not to, if you’re comfortable in it. Any well-fitting bra is going to give you enough support for walking & talking. On the other hand, some contemporary sports bras are designed to cross-over into the athleisure category.

3. In terms of composition, what material is best for a sports bra?

It’s not a one-best-material situation. Good bras are complex multi-part contraptions, and the technology is constantly evolving. You need “short-stretch” materials for stability, breathable mesh or microfiber panels for moisture wicking, brushed or other soft fabrics and flat seams to cut down irritation and chafing, ergonomic straps, lightweight cushioning and so on. Each manufacturer puts together their own set of solutions. I can recommend well-engineered sports bras from Anita, PrimaDonna, Empreinte, and Elomi.

4. Does the type of closure matter (hook, over, slip-on, etc)?

Anything you pull on over your head is going to give you compression only and is not going to do the job for full bust gals. And be warned, they slip on a lot easier than they “slip” off your sweaty, post-workout body. There are some amusing videos on YouTube to illustrate this, if you don’t believe me. I like a racer back for maximum hold and stress distribution.


5. How important is breathability?

OMG! It’s crucial. Do you want to be swimming in sweat while you work out? You’re gonna overheat! We’re living in an unprecedented era of performance textiles–take advantage and maximize your workout. If you feel more comfortable you’ll work out longer.

6. What are the ways a sports bra can provide support?

There are two modes of support. Basic mode is Compression. It goes back to the first sports bra, prototyped from two jockstraps (invented in 1977!). Compression bras just press the breasts flat against the chest (to greater or lesser degree). This creates the look known as “uniboob,” and will work okay for breasts up to a C-cup. Bigger than that, you need to go to advanced mode: containment, also called encapsulation, also called divide and conquer, because it definitively separates the breasts, fully encasing each one to control movement in 360 degrees.

You know that hypnotic movement made by full, uncased breasts on a running woman? They’re not just bouncing up and down. It’s a full figure-eight. Each breast is semaphoring a stream of infinity signs into the universe. It can be awe-inspiring to witness; but not good for the running part. To rein in this wild sublimity, you have to fully contain the boob, and for that reason a sports bra will also have a higher neckline than your other bras.

The other way a good bra supports your fitness goals is psychological. Looking good while you’re working out might not be strictly necessary, but it is definitely popular. You can confidently enjoy your workout in what is basically superhero armor, with none of you moving in the wrong direction.


7. What are some factors large-breasted individuals need to note when buying a bra versus small-breasted individuals?

As bosomy ladies, we must face the two very obvious facts under our nose. They simply place greater demands on the equipment than a small bust does. You can’t cheap out on this. Does it come sized in Small, Medium, and Large? Does it pull on over your head? Is it made entirely from one or two pieces of fabric with few seams? Steer clear!

Your bra will hook in the back, probably have underwire, and definitely be elaborately seamed and constructed from dozens of pieces of fabric to separate and encapsulate the breasts (usually you will get a bit of compression as well). As with all bras, the support comes from the band. For sports especially, you need it snug.

THE GAME (as in You Got…)

One last note on a related point of concern for many women: breast sagging has been shown to be mostly a matter of genetics. There’s not too much you can do about it, short of surgery. There’s no muscle to tone. Ligaments can’t be strengthened. Common sense suggests that supporting the breasts during vigorous exercise is probably a good thing, and you can also take care of the only organ that is holding them up, your skin. Smoking and sun damage and excessive weight fluctuations are the big villains to avoid here.

Let’s Suit up, Ladies!
and Move More, Bounce Less.