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Do You Own a Sports Bra? You Should.

6 May

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By Adam Welsch
Cupid Intimates

You may not realize it, but fifty-six years ago today, English runner Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes.  That milestone is certainly one of the most talked-about in the history of track and field.  So, in honor of Sir Roger (he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975), it seems like the right day to talk about the sports bra.  Why?  The sports bra was invented largely in response to the discomfort women were experiencing while running.

In 1977, University of Vermont student Lisa Lindahl, with help from costume designer Polly Smith, created the first sports bra after Lisa’s sister complained of the discomfort she was feeling when jogging.  After initial prototypes were not successful, Lindahl and Smith hit upon their successful design when they sewed two men’s jockstraps together.  Along with Polly’s assistant Hinda Schreiber, Lindahl and Smith formed a company and began selling their Jogbra to sporting-goods retailers as athletic equipment, rather than to department stores and lingerie shops as intimate apparel.  The sports bra was born.  Then as now, everyday bras were designed to properly fit a wearer standing at rest, with her arms at her sides.  With the passage of Title IX in 1972, the explosion of tennis and jogging as exercise crazes later in that decade, and the arrival of aerobics on the sports scene in the 1980s, the need for a bra to properly fit and support a woman in constant, athletic motion became obvious.

Do you exercise regularly?  If you do, odds are that you don’t wear a sports bra, as research suggests that nearly three out of every four such women don’t.  This is a shame, as all women, even those with smaller busts, can be more comfortable when wearing one during physical activity.  Sports bras alleviate discomfort by restricting – not completely preventing – breast movement.  Research from the University of Portsmouth (UK) has found that breast movement occurs along three axes, not one.  In addition to bouncing up and down, breast tissue shifts from side to side and flexes in and out.  Conventional bras are designed to help reduce bounce, but don’t usually address movement along the other two planes.  Another interesting finding of this research is that the movement of breast tissue during exercise isn’t directly related to the speed of the activity.  In other words, since the tissue can move as much during a slow jog as it can during an all-out run, the need for sports bras has been historically underestimated.  A particular sports bra’s comfort and effectiveness will depend on how well its design addresses movement along the three different axes.

There are two principal categories of sports bras.  The first is the compression sports bra.  This type works by pulling the breasts towards the torso to stabilize them.  It’s usually styled as a pullover bra, lacking traditional bra-closure hardware on its front and back.  Most sports-bra manufacturers make this type, so there are many styles from which to choose.  The compression sports bra is often the better alternative for smaller-busted women.  If you prefer this type, but are looking for a little more support, check out styles that have racerback strap designs.  The biggest drawback to wearing a compression sports bra is that it tends to create the “uniboob” look.

The second category is known as the encapsulating sports bra.  This type may be the better alternative for larger-busted women.  It works by separating the two breasts and individually securing them.  Rather than styled as a pullover bra, the encapsulating sports bra usually has a front or rear closure similar to that found on a conventional bra.  You may even find a style or two made with a front-side zipper.  Encapsulating sports bras are also often made with underwires that provide additional support.  There are also adjustable encapsulating sports bras designed to provide maximum support for large-breasted runners.  These feature wide, adjustable bra bands and wider, rigid adjustable straps that allow the wearer to create a more custom fit.

Keep in mind that after figuring out which type of sports bra is right for you, you’ll have to decide whether you’ll be wearing yours as underwear or outerwear.  Many companies make styles that are meant to be seen.  Naturally, this choice is a matter of personal taste, so you’ll have to make your decision based on the venues in which you’ll be exercising and your own comfort level.

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Another important variable to consider when choosing a sports bra is the fabric out of which it’s constructed.  Many are now made using materials that wick moisture away from the body.  This allows perspiration to evaporate and keeps your skin cooler and drier.  While you may think that bras made from cotton would be cool and comfy choices to wear while exercising, keep in mind that while soft and comfortable when first put on, cotton bras are highly absorbent and tend to retain moisture rather than allow for efficient evaporation.  They can become soggy, uncomfortable baggage during vigorous, physical activity.

When shopping for a sports bra, as for a conventional bra, make sure to properly measure yourself (or work with a fit specialist) and find the size that’s right for you.  Remember, 80% of women wear the wrong-sized bra.  When you try one on in the store, remember to test how it feels when you jump, move your arms about, and run in place.  You won’t be able to eliminate all breast movement, but you should feel comfortable during these actions.

Sports bras have come a long way since their birth from men’s jockstraps.  They can drastically improve your overall comfort, and therefore your performance, during exercise and are available in a wide variety of styles and colors.  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest athletic apparel retailer today and pick one up.  On second thought, don’t run until you’re wearing your new sports bra.

CC Image courtesy of mikebaird on Flickr / CC BY 2.0
CC Image courtesy of Evil Erin on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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