Ultimate Sports Bra Guide
What makes a technical Sports Bra different to a crop top?
With so many mass produced, pattern cut sports crops on the market it's easy to see why the women of Australia are confused about what to purchase in mainstream retail. In fact, any old design can have 'high impact' or 'maximum support' splattered all over the swing tag with no consequence.
Those entrenched in the technical Sports Bra world will consider a Sports Bra to tick the following boxes:
- Produced in cup and band sizes eg 12C, 8G.
- Independently tested in a biomechanics lab, to ensure function during activity
- Use technical, moisture wicking fabrics
- Have multiple points of adjustability
- Generally they will be made of many different elements, using up to 32 individual pieces.
Whereas, sports crops will generally be produced in XS-XL sizing, have no lab testing to ensure functionality, be produced with fashion as the major focus, use simple fabrication and be a basic 'pattern cut' design.
Why is getting the fit right so important?
If a bra doesn't fit, it has no chance of functioning. So choosing the 'highest rated' Sports Bra may just leave you disappointed if the size isn't spot on. This is because the bra needs to fit firmly around the ribcage in order to best stabilise breast tissue. The cups also need to be fitted appropriately in order to best control breast displacement. Here's a bra fitting guide to help you ensure your size is spot on.
How does a bra support us?
The band that runs around the ribcage is thought to provide up to 90% of the total support of the bra. If this band fits loosely then the band will ride up and down your back. This will result in the front, 'the bust', doing the same, due to the see-saw effect. As the back rides up and down, so does the front. This is bounce, or vertical breast displacement. So it's crucial to have this band around the ribcage fitted firmly, yet not uncomfortably tight.
The shoulder straps are there to provide secondary support, or as we usually say, 'stability'. While we would be in a bit of trouble without them, they are not there to take the weight of the breast or stop it front bouncing.
Most commonly, women believe it is the underwire that provides the support, however this is not the case. The role of underwire in a bra is to shape and seperate the breast tissue. It does not stop our breast from bouncing during activity.
Understanding bra sizing...
It's staggering how many women don't understand the way bra sizing works. Here's what you need to know... :)
An A cup, or a G cup is not a set unit of measurement, a cup sizes will change when the band size changes. For example an 8D cup will be about the size of an apple, but a 24D cup will be about the size of a rockmelon. As we go up a band size, the cup also goes up in size, but the letter remains the same.
Bra sizing works to allow for a system called 'sister sizing'. This means that if we go down a back size, we need to go up a cup size in order to keep the same cp volume. This means that a size 12D and a 10DD are the same in cup volume/size, but just fit differently around the back. This is the reason that sometimes the 12D's will work well for that customer, and in other brands/models the 10DD works better.
What's most important is to know that bra sizes are just a guide. In most cases we fit customers that are buying multiple products in to more than one size - every brands interpretation of sizing are different.
Why do we need support?
Wouldn't it be great if we had in built support?! Well actually, we kind of do. The problem is that it just isn't sufficient for the demands of today. The skin is the major support structure of the breast, as well as the Coopers Ligaments, which form a thin weave like structure within the breast tissue. The issue is that both of these support systems are considered 'weak' in that they are easily damaged, and once damaged cannot be repaired. There aren't too many women that would happily rely on these support systems alone to get through a workout. This is why we need the help of a supportive bra, not just for sport, but for daily living.
Is underwire better in a Sports Bra?
There seems to be strong opinions from women about which is better for Sport, underwire or wire free. We encourage customers to try both options in store. In a well-fitted activity appropriate technical Sports Bra it should not come down to whether or not the bra is wire free or underwire - it will simply come down to what feels and performs the best. Read our take on underwire in a sports bra (it's a good read!).
Wire free bras will tend to use the 'compression' method of support which suctions breasts to the chest wall, giving a feeling of unparalleled security.
Underwire bras will give a feeling of 'familiarity' that lots of busty women desire. Sometimes the feeling of no underwire just feels too 'odd'. The underwire creates a more rounded and separated shape which some women desire, and other women perceive as being support.
Interestingly, our best selling H cup bra is wire free. I can almost guarantee that no H cup customers walk in to our store considering that they may leave in a wire free bra - but lots are seriously impressed by it.
What is 'breast biomechanics'...
Breast biomechanics is a technical term for the study of breast movement, typically during activity. There are now many researchers all over the world that are considered Breast Biomechanist's as their study and research is focused on the mechanical laws relating to the movement of the breasts.
How should our breasts move during activity?
Typically, we want our breasts to move in alignment with our torso. When we walk or run our torso moves in a sideways figure of 8 pattern, like a butterfly shape. We want our breasts to follow this same pattern of movement. When our breasts move out of alignment with our torso, it's believed that potential damage to the tissues is done, pain may be caused and embarrassment may be felt.
Here's some more detail on breast biomechanics.
How long will a Sports Bra last?
If we wash and wear a Sports Bra 3 times a week, we can expect a very useful life of about 9 months out of our bra. But keep in mind, those who are 'hard on their bras', or don't wash according to the manufacturers recommendations will certainly reduce the usable lifespan. It's also important to understand that just because a Sports Bra may still look ok, it doesn't mean it's still functioning optimally. Once the fabrics are stretched out the support will be significantly hampered. Because this happens slowly it can be hard to determine when the bra is no longer serving you.
Here are some ways to know if your bra is no longer useful:
- The ribcage band is on the tightest hook and you feel like you are getting more bounce than you used to.
- You start to get chaffing from the bra. This means that it's too loose and is rubbing against the skin as you move.
- If you have lost 5kg or more, you may well have shrunk out of your bra. While it's fabrics are still in tact, it won't function with an inferior fit.
What is the best way to wash and care for a bra?
Our best recommendation is to always hand wash your bras. The torment of a washing machine will fast track damage to the materials resulting in premature stretch.
If hand washing isn't an option then ensure that you place your bras in a bra/lingerie/wash bag with all the hooks done up. This will prevent your bras snagging on to other garments and stretching out.
NEVER put any bras in the tumble dryer. It is a certainly that materials will break down very quickly.
It's also good to know that manufacturers can very easily determine how bras have been cared for, and will generally not be able to assist with any potential faults that the bra may have.
What causes the bra to chafe?
Chaffing is friction. Friction is caused by rubbing or movement. In order to reduce or eliminate this we need to ensure that the materials sit and stay firmly against our skin. Most commonly, if we can get a technical high quality well-fitted bra then we can eliminate chaffing. However, there are times when this is not achievable. There are other factors that can contribute to chafing, which may not be able to be controlled by the bra itself. These include sheer distance being run/walked, moisture content in the skin and the effect of other garments. Some people are 'chronic' chafers, and it doesn't matter how well a bra is fitted and selected, they will still chafe. Read our blog on how to treat, stop and prevent your bra from chafing.
What materials do Sports Bras use?
Technical Sports Bras came in many styles, with varying fabrications. Each brand will have their own story behind the development of their particular technical fabrics. The end result that they are chasing is generally the same - fabrics to control moisture during activity. Brands want to ensure that materials wick moisture from the skin and move it to the outer layer of the bra. This is a more difficult undertaking in moulded/padded bras, but with advancements in fabrication this has certainly been achievable.
What is the best Sports Bra?
We thought you may ask that. The truth is, there is most definitely no one 'best Sports Bra'. With the myriad of shapes and sizes we see in active women, along with varied personal style preferences and support requirements for different activity demands, there really is no one best bra. Believe me, we've had over 10,000 conversations with women and they all start and end a bit differently.
What we can say, is in order to find your best Sports Bra, the key is to try lots of options and be fitted properly. This means seeking out an expert for advice and ensuring you stay open minded to trying new styles in your fitting.