Breast health update: why your sports bra really matters

A poor-fitting sports bra can mean bad news for the health of your chest. Use these easy expert pointers to make sure you avoid any tissue damage.

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Almost every woman I know has a love-hate relationship with all bras. And, frankly, it tends to tip toward the negative end of the scale: bras can be frustrating to shop for, expensive, and downright uncomfortable when they don’t fit properly. Which, as you probably already know, is a lot of the time.

Reports claim anywhere from 64 to 90 (!) percent of women are wearing the wrong size bra, so it’s not terribly surprising that a new report says most women are also working out in the wrong-sized sports bra.

But here’s the shocking part: while wearing a poor-fitting “regular” bra may keep us from looking or feeling our best, a poor-fitting sports bra actually poses “irreparable” danger and can cause serious injury.

According to Febin Melepura, M.D., a pain specialist at Stanford Pain and Sports Medicine of NYC, properly fitting sports bras are designed to support the increased “activity and motion” when exercising.

“The breast is held together by fatty tissue and Cooper’s ligaments,” Melepura says. “With all the stress of movement, it does stretch out. It doesn’t go back. It can cause the breasts to sag and cause injury to the connective tissue of breast and cause pain.”

That stretching out isn’t because of bouncing alone. According to experts, when we exercise, our breasts move in a figure-eight or “butterfly” pattern, with A and B cups often moving an inch in every direction and C+ cups moving several inches. Our breasts get a workout they did not ask for, and do not need.

That said, try not to let concerns about stretched-out injured breast tissue and ligaments scare you off exercising. The solution is a simple one: having the right bra will keep your breasts in the right places and your body injury-free.

Danny Koch, owner of Town Shop in New York, says women can avoid injury by getting fitted for a sports bra to keep breasts from moving during exercise. “The basic rule of thumb as far as I’m concerned,” Koch told the Daily Mail, “is that your breasts should be closer to your chin than your belly button.”

Keeping your chest healthy

According to sports bra experts and manufacturers, here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the right bra for exercise:

1. Start with the right mindset. Consider your sports bra as the literal foundation of your exercise outfit for any given activity. It’s way more important than your cute ruffly running skirt. Really.

2. Get fitted. Since you’re likely buying the wrong size anyway, find a shop in your area that will measure you. Or, measure yourself. Victoria’s Secret offers a quiz to help you find the perfect fit. And REI walks you through some simple measurements (and math!) to find your fit. (Hint: Measure snugly just under your bra band and add 5. Round up to get your band size. Then, measure loosely your bust at its fullest point. Round up. Subtract your band size from your bust size for your cup size, 1 inch=A, 2 inch=B, and so on.)

3. Know the types. Sports bras take two basic forms: compression and encapsulation. Compression bras are the most familiar—think, “uniboob”—while encapsulation bras offer a “capsule” for each breast. Some experts say compression bras are great for A and B cups (doing moderate workouts) and encapsulation better for larger cup sizes. Still others recommend everyone use encapsulation bras for best support.

4. Test for comfort and support. According to REI, sports bras should fit a little tighter than regular bras—but not so tight that straps dig in (nor should they slide off). And, if a bra chafes or fails to support you when you jump or run (yes, do this when trying one on!), go for another style or size.

5. Don’t be cheap. Although many women confess to going cheap on sports bras (after all, they aren’t meant to be seen), cheaper certainly isn’t better. And you should be willing to say goodbye to even a wonderfully supportive bra every few months. Just like a pair of favorite running shoes, a good sports bra’s time with us is meant to be limited.

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira

Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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