Sports bras are designed to provide extra support for female breasts during exercise and to minimise breast movement, which can cause short-term physical discomfort or pain and in the long-term, increases the risk of damage to chest ligaments and/or breast tissue.
Why do I need a Sports Bra?
The vast majority of women can benefit from using a bra specifically designed for sports and exercise – smaller-breasted women will appreciate the performance fabrics and cut of sports-specific bras while for larger-breasted women the right sports bra can be the difference between enjoying their favourite sport or being prevented from participating due to pain.
Common types of sports bras:
- Compression bras – These are ‘tank top’ style bras that compress the breasts to limit movement. They can usually be worn as outerwear and are suitable for smaller cup sizes (A-B).
- Encapsulation bras – Like everyday bras, these have moulded cups to hold and support the breasts and limit movement. They are usually worn under other garments and suitable for larger cup sizes (DD and above),
- Combination bras – These are a hybrid of compression and encapsulation bras and are aimed at mid-range cup sizes (C-D).
Which sports bra is right for you?
When choosing a sports bra there are a number of factors to take into account including:
- Bra type – Sports bras can be broadly divided into two categories – those which feature moulded cups that hold and support the breasts limiting their range of movement (these are sometimes referred to as ‘encapsulation’ bras), and compression-type bras which work by flattening the breasts against the chest (also minimizing how much they can move). Compression-type bras may often be worn as outerwear while encapsulation bras are more typically worn under other clothing. The choice is a personal one and to an extent determined by your cup size – if you have a smaller cup size (A or B) you may find compression bras perfectly adequate. For mid-range cup-sizes (C and D) some ‘combination’-type bras combine elements of the compression and encapsulation bra type for a ‘best of both worlds’ approach. For women with larger breasts (DD and above) an encapsulation bra with no compression will be more effective at limiting movement.
- Innerwear or outwear – As above some support sports bras are, like normal bras, designed to be worn under clothing. However many sports bras – typically the ‘tank top’ style – can be worn as outerwear in the gym, on the track or wherever you choose to exercise.
- Level of control – The kind of sports bra you choose will be determined in many ways by the type of activity you wish to use it for, and the extent to which you wish to control and minimize breast movement. Some sports and activities, for example yoga or walking, require a lower level of control, while others such as cycling or light jogging require a moderate level of control. Meanwhile high-energy, high-impact sports such as football, running, boxing, tennis, volleyball and horse riding require a high level of control. If you participate in a number of different activities it might be wise to consider investing in a range of sports bras with different levels of control.
- Cut – Sports bras come in a number of different styles and cuts. ‘Scoop-back’ styles are suitable for low- or medium-impact activities but for high-impact sports the ‘racer-back’ style offers more support. Also important to consider are the should straps and underband. Padded shoulder straps offer more support than thin, spaghetti-style ones while a wide underband (the part around the bottom of the bra) is also more supportive than a narrow one. In either case, look for soft fabrics that fit snugly next to the skin without chafing or discomfort.
- Materials – As with the majority of sports clothing, sports bras are typically made from synthetic fibres which offer excellent breathability and moisture wicking capabilities (the latter means that they draw moisture away from the skin and to the surface where it can evaporate, rather than absorbing it like cotton). Many sports bras will also feature stretch panels (e.g. from Lycra) in certain areas to increase support and comfort, while others may feature cotton which allows you to breathe easier due to less of a compression however they are more likely to absorb sweat quicker.
- Additional features – Some sports bras, especially those designed as outerwear, may feature additional touches such as reflective piping or holders for headphone cables.