Active women take note: A good bra fit isn’t just about comfort. Poor breast support can cause back pain and even irreparable damage.
When was the last time your sports bra had a check-up? The answer may be: a long time, or it might be never. And you wouldn’t be alone. However, a sports bra’s fit can drastically affect your performance and more importantly—your body. A good fit is essential for high-impact activity.
“Large bust or small, you’re looking to hold ‘the girls’ in place to protect something called the Cooper’s ligaments, which are thin bands of supportive tissue in the breast,” says Vanda Borean, owner of Rackets and Runners, a sports store in Vancouver, BC. “During activity, these ligaments are stressed and once they become stretched they do not recover well.”
“These ligaments are the main anatomical element that provides support or lift for the breast,” says Mark Caskenette, Managing Director of Anita Canada. “Exercise puts strain on these ligaments and can cause them to tear. A proper sports bra that can control or eliminate more than 70% of the breast movement is critical.” Poor support can also cause pain in the breasts, neck and back.
Typically neck and back pain is caused by wearing a bra that is the wrong size. Unfortunately, most women wear bras that don’t fit properly. The band should provide 80% of the support, but when your bra doesn’t fit correctly most of the support comes from the straps. The straps dig into the shoulders, creating pain and strain on the body. Neck and back pain is most commonly experienced by women with larger breasts, while Cooper’s ligament damage can occur in any woman.
Borean and Caskenette both recommend visiting a specialty lingerie store for a proper fitting, as not all brands may have your size. Mainstream lingerie stores carry a narrow range of sizes, between 20 and 30. If you have a small waist and a large chest, or if you have a large waist, you probably will not find your size in one of these shops. Specialty stores will carry 80 to 90 sizes to accommodate all body shapes.
But beware: Bras lose their supportive integrity over time from use and washing.
“A sports bra should never celebrate a birthday,” says Borean. “Sports bras are workhorses.” Manufacturers recommend retiring a sports bra after 40 to 70 washes. However, you can still use it for lighter impact activities like walking.
How do you know you have a good fit and what should you look for in a bra? Borean, who is a runner and bra-fitting expert, shares her tips:
The right sports bra should hold you in place and minimize movement vertically, horizontally and in a circular motion.
The foundation of the bra is the band around the rib cage. If possible, choose a sports bra that has an adjustable band. As the bra ages, tighten the band to keep a great fit.
- To minimize chafing, avoid 100% cotton, which holds moisture from sweat and the elements. Choose moisture-wicking, fast-drying fabrics instead.
If you need extra support, look for wide shoulder straps and a wider band.
- Pay attention to the seams and underwire. Exposed seams can cause chafing so opt for covered seams. Underwire should be completely sewn in.
- Try your sports bras on at a running or specialty store with staff trained in bra fitting. The right bra should be snug, but you should still be able to breathe and it shouldn’t cut into your skin. Jump around in the fitting room to test the support.