Why are sports bras important?
If you’ve ever tried to run, even just for the bus, without a bra on, you’ll probably know that on a basic level, it can be at least a little uncomfortable. But, just like a good pair of shoes, a good quality bra will provide an important level of support to the soft tissue and ligaments, which make up the breasts.
Unlike muscles, this soft tissue doesn’t bounce back quite as well from continuous stretching. So over time, the coil-like structures eventually succumb to gravity and cause drooping in the chest. Sports bras work to counter this, cutting movement of the breasts by around half. This ensures they maintain their integrity for years to come.
When selecting a sports bra, you will have to determine the level of impact of the sport you’ll be using it for as this is how they are generally described. Below is a brief explanation of the levels of impact and the types of sports causing said impact.
Low impact: Low-impact sport is determined by activities that use minimal physical movement by the whole body (or at least slower movement) and in turn create less bounce. This might look like yoga, swimming, tai chi, walking, rock climbing and rowing.
Medium impact: Moderately physical activities may include hiking, road cycling and horseback riding. These involve slightly more or quicker movement than low-impact sports.
High impact: High-impact activities are those that are much more rigorous with lots of fast movement such as running, dancing, tennis or gymnastics.
How much support do you need?
Generally, riding will generate less movement in the chest than traditionally high-impact sports. For road cycling, which will likely be smooth and (hopefully) not involve any bouncing around, a low- or medium-impact or even a compression bra will be more comfortable than a restrictive high-impact bra. For mountain biking, however, the added support of a high-impact or running-type sports bra may be welcome. Personal choice will prevail, of course, depending on the level of support you tend to opt for.
Types of bras
Compression: This type of sports bra won’t have separate cups and is usually pulled over the head. They can come with or without a clasp at the back but are often used for lower to medium-impact sports or for those with a smaller bust, though they can be designed for high-impact sports. These may look somewhat like a crop top and come with a variety of strap types.
Encapsulation: Often used for high-impact activities as they offer a good level of support due to their built-in cups. They will usually have a clasp at the back to ensure a good fit and can even come with an underwire. For those with a smaller bust, they may come with removable pads to aid in compression.
Wired: Wires may be used in bras that offer a higher level of support as these can create cups, separating and defining the bust, enabling the bra to hold them in place.
Non-wired: Non-wired, also known as ‘mono’ bras as they don’t separate the bust. These sports bras may be made with thicker and less stretchy fabric to make up for the lack of structure in the shape of the bra. They instead offer support through compression by keeping the chest still during movement.
As well as supporting the bust, a sports bra should effectively wick sweat away from the body to prevent chafing and chilling caused by excess moisture. They are worn next to the skin and often from materials such as polyester, nylon, spandex and merino. Cotton is best avoided as this retains moisture, contributing to chafing and feeling cold and without the level of stretch and compression needed to effectively support the bust.
Sports bras will come in measurements similar to bra sizes or use small, medium, large, etc. With lower-impact sports, the measurement may not be quite so critical but for high-impact sports, you may want to have an accurate measurement and buy a bra according to that. This will ensure your sports bra does its job. These may also have a clasp, so you would start on the loosest clasp and as the fabric stretches over time, increase by a clasp to maintain the life of your sports bra.
Due to the great variety of sports bras on the market, it might be useful to try different styles once you’ve decided on the level of support you’ll need. Invest in a bra that fits well and can do its job, and you’ll forget you’re even wearing one on your bumpy descents or long days in the saddle.