Image Courtesy of Lululemon
End the painful bouncing and too-tight feeling once and for all with the newest generation of sports bras.
Bras have come a long way from the cloth and leather supports women used to bind their breasts in ancient Rome. But shockingly, it wasn’t until 1977 when the first “modern” sports bra was invented by Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith. Known as the Jockbra, and later rebranded as the Jogbra, it was fashioned out of two jockstraps sewn together. Certainly, there was room for improvement—but it served as a crucial starting point.
Now, more than 40 years later we’re finally seeing major strides in the advancement of the category, partly because of the staying power of the athleisure trend and the rise of fitness culture, which has become ingrained in much of our daily lives. “Today, sports bras now account for roughly 40 percent of the bras a woman owns—in short, it’s become a big business,” says Joanna Griffiths, founder of Knix, the Canadian-born undergarments (and sports bra) brand, which has seen major success both here and beyond our borders. And the second reason she cites for the evolution? Knowledge. “We only recently began to understand the way that breasts move, which is not up and down like one might expect, but rather in a figure-eight motion,” says Griffiths, who worked with three different university testing partners to study chafing and bounce rate reduction when creating Knix’s acclaimed Catalyst bra. Thanks to its performance-moulded cups that keep breasts lifted, separated and supported, Catalyst has outperformed more than 800 bras in third-party testing.
Big brands like Lululemon and Under Armour have also been working hard on building better sports bras. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen people rightfully demanding more from their bras,” says Kate Warrington Williams, Lululemon’s vice president of women’s design – performance. She explains it’s not enough for a sports bra to serve a singular purpose of performance because at the end of the day customers also want it to look great and feel comfortable. This point is echoed by Montreal-based Under Armour trainer Jennifer “JRO” Rochon. “I look for something comfortable, supportive and easy to put on and take off, but at the end of the day it has to look good.” Rochon, who admits to owning 40 different sports bras, adds, “Fabric is so important, too! I only wear styles that let my skin breathe and don’t leave me with sweat marks.”
Something that wicks away sweat while providing coverage is important, but that fabric also can’t stretch out or be too tight and pinch the shoulders or squeeze the rib cage. In short, it’s complicated! “Designing sports bras is an intentional, rigorous process. There are multiple components and considerations, from fabric and fit to movement management needs and style,” says Warrington Williams, who explains that Lululemon’s proprietary performance fabrics are a key factor in its bras-engineering process.
Before we dig into how to find your perfect sports bra, it’s important to know what we’re working with, and more importantly what we’re supporting. Breasts themselves have no muscles, they’re made mostly of fat, glands and connective tissues which rest upon the pectoral muscles. “As women age and become peri-menopausal or menopausal, the natural levels of progesterone and estrogen start to change,” says Dr. Angela Giacomantonio, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “This causes the connective tissue in the breasts to become less elastic, while the ducts (previously needed for milk production) often shrink and are replaced with fatty tissue, causing breasts to lose their shape and become saggier,” she explains.
In translation, it’s important to adjust to a more supportive sports bra as we age in order to be comfortable. “Not wearing the right sports bra can put strain on your back and wreak havoc with your posture, even when you’re doing low-impact exercises,” says Ofra Inselberg, apparel design manager for bras at Under Armour.
Find the Perfect Fit
Countless studies conducted over the years indicate that between 80 and 100 percent of women wear the wrong bra size, which doesn’t just translate to a matter of discomfort or annoyance when it comes to sports bras, but can also be the reason women stop participating in physical activities altogether. “About 75 percent of women avoid exercising because they can’t find a bra that fits properly,” says Griffiths, who recommends measuring yourself and following each brand’s specific size guidelines, as every brand fits differently. “If you’re squeezing into a size that’s too small, you’re not going to be comfortable, and if you’re wearing a size that’s too large, you won’t be supported,” she explains, adding that Knix offers virtual tools for clients trying to find the right fit.
Comfort is Key
Think snug, but not too tight. A sports bra should fit tighter than a regular bra but shouldn’t hamper breathing. “You never want to feel so restricted that you’re thinking about your bra the entire time, and you also want to avoid things like chafing that can happen when you sweat,” says Griffiths. A common rule of thumb is that you should be able to fit two fingers between the straps of your sports bra and your shoulders. However, if you see wrinkles in the fabric, that’s a sign the cup is too big.
Pick the Right Level of Support
“Knowing what activities you’ll be engaging in and related performance needs will help ensure you find the best fit and support for how you want to feel,” says Warrington Williams. Sports bras offer three different levels of support: low, medium and high impact. The type you need will depend on your cup size and the type of exercise you do.
Find the Bra That's Right For You
- Strength training
Construction: Just as for high-impact bras, there’s plenty of science behind the comfort of the light support styles, except these are made for activities with a lower degree of bouncing. “The most important thing to consider when buying any type of sports bra is how you want to feel in your chosen activity,” says Warrington Williams, who notes that Lululemon’s Like a Cloud Bra is a great low-impact option because of its marshmallow-soft cushioning for breasts during gentle activities such as yoga. “It has functional performance, but its versatile comfort makes it a great option for daily wear.” Lower impact sports bras typically feature a cup-less design and restrict movement by compressing the breasts against the chest wall. If your cup size is larger than a D you may want to bump up to a medium-impact sports bra for these activities.
Our Product Picks:
Lululemon Like a Cloud BRA, $64, lululemon.com.
Adidas by Stella McCartney TruePurpose Seamless BRA, $120, adidas.ca.
Smartwool Seamless Racerback BRA, $75, smartwool.ca.
Construction: “Support is important, but flexibility for your body to still move is also crucial to the health of your breasts,” says Dani Witek, Under Armour’s senior design lead in bra innovation. These medium-impact bras are designed with an extra level of support for people of all cup sizes. Typically, these bras come with a slight degree of compression and fit snug to the body for additional lift and support.
Our Product Picks:
Under Armour Mid Crossback Sports BRA, $40, underarmour.ca.
Puma Medium Impact 4 Keeps Studio Sports BRA, $40, sportchek.ca.
New Balance NB Rhythm N Run BRA, $55, newbalance.ca.
- HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)
Construction: High-impact sports bras are designed for vigorous activities and intense movements, like running and jumping, that result in the breasts bouncing. They’re often built with a higher degree of compression, as well as more robust straps and bottom bands, offering additional support. The U.K.’s University of Portsmouth—which specializes in breast health and biomechanics research—found low- to medium-impact sports bras will reduce bounce but are not effective for restricting the side-to-side movement that occurs when running. “People engaging in high-impact activities want to feel locked and loaded and are looking for sports bras that offer both high compression and comfort,” says Warrington Williams.
Our Product Picks:
Knix Catalyst Front Zip Sports BRA, $98, knix.ca.
Nike Impact Sports BRA, $74, nike.com.
Lululemon Enlite BRA Weave High Support, $98, lululemon.com.