Did you know that 44% of women don't exercise in a sports bra? That's right, nearly half of all women that exercise don't wear a sports bra at all when working out, and I'm sure many more are wearing the wrong sports bra.
I felt confident in the knowledge that I wore the right bra for me; high impact, supportive and comfortable, until I came back from a wet 22 mile training run to discover my chest was red raw and bleeding. Not a pretty site for anyone.
I decided to find out a little more about my sports bras, including the life span, washing instructions, sizing, and crucially how to avoid chafing.
Bra Life Span
This depends on how often you wear it, wash it and what you use it for. As running is one of the most strenuous exercises you can put your bra through, the life span decreases in bras that you regularly run in. As a general rule, your bra shouldn't see it's first birthday according to Carol at Boobydoo.
Your sports bra should be replaced after aprox 30-40 washes, as washing damages the fabric's properties. Depending on which manufacturer's bra you wear, they will have different washing instructions. Some bras are machine washable, whilst it's recommended to hand wash others (especially those with an underwire). Tumble drying apparently shortens the life span of your bra even more.
The main reason for chafing is that your bra is too big! As a run or workout session progresses, the sweat builds up, causing extra movement resulting in chafing. To try to avoid issues, tighten the bra is possible. If the cups are too big then the extra movement will add to your chafing and could create some unpleasant scars. When a bra isn't replaced regularly the fabric stretches and the amount of support is reduced, again leading to chafing. Sadly no amount of vaseline or body glide will prevent chafing in a bra that doesn't fit.
As women's cup sizes can fluctuate within the month, it could be worth investing in a few bras in different sizes to accommodate for this.
There is no hard and fast rule in sizing when it comes to purchasing a sports bra, you just have to try on a few to see what size, cut and brand fit best for you. Typically though, women go up a back size and down a cup size when comparing sports bras with regular bras. When testing out a sports bra remember that support comes from three areas in a bra; the straps, the cups and the band. Here's what to look for;
Straps- holding the top of one strap and the centre of the same cup, pull upwards. The less stretchy the front strap, the more motion control you will feel.
Cups-Stretch apart the top and bottom of each cup, again, less stretch means more motion control. You're looking for the whole breast to be held in without any overhang- cleavage is not necessary in a sports bra!
Band- You should be able to slide a finger between your bra and body, however you shouldn't be able to pull it more than 2cm away from your chest. When testing, put the bra on the first eyelet, if you need to reduce the band size then go for a smaller back size. Lifting your arms above your head, see if the band moves, if it does then the band is too large.
I asked a number of running friends for their favourite sports bras from the big brands, although this is by no means a complete list of all the sports bras on the market.
These are my go-to sports bra- I highly recommend these for runners with boobs of all sizes. I regularly wear the Ultimate Run Bra which, with two industrial sized clips, and adjustable padded straps, is the most secure bra I've ever worn-these bras have won awards for being the most secure on the market. Made of quick drying, breathable material, these supportive bras can be a little hard to put on and take off alone. Their Active Multi Sports Support bra is similarly brilliant, offering fewer clips and a little less structure but a similar level of support.
Supernova Race Bras are comfortable and supportive throughout long runs and particularly great in the summer. They feature a CLIMACOOL® function that keep both sweat and tears at bay. These crop top style bras include a hint of padding, perfect for those with A-C chest sizes.
With a great range at a variety of price ranges and in numerous sizes, these are another great option for those with larger chests. The Juno Bra is incredibly supportive, although the over-the-head style won't suit everyone. The bright colours, racer back style, and moisture wicking properties ensure this bra is attractive as well as comfortable.
Panache are perfect for those with D+ cup sizes. With an underwire, wide straps and cups made from strong breathable material, these bras provide maximum support without compromising on comfort. They are shaped at the front to provide a feminine curve rather than just compression.
Without proper cup sizes, these bras are better for those with A-C chests. The Nike X-back provides support for running, and enough definition to not create the boob shelf-look when wearing it. The smooth front, lower back and sleek style mean that it looks good under most tops (or on it's own!).
Sweaty Betty have recently brought out their Ultra Run Bra that is incredibly similar to the Shock Absorber bra, with the addition of a slightly annoying clasp at the back to switch between racer and normal backs. With that said, it is very supportive and comes in a few colour combinations. With sturdy straps, cups and mesh side panels, it's well ventilated and sweat wicking. For smaller cup sizes or lower impact workouts, the Stamina Bra and Upbeat Padded Bra are great.
The Freya Moulded Crop Top Active Bra has moulded cups with 'slings inside the cups'. A thick back and seam-free under wiring, make these bras are highly supportive, even up to a K cup.
H and M
Great sports bras without a huge price tag, ranging from £9.99 to £15. These crop top style bras don't come in specified cup sizes so are better for those with smaller chests. The fun prints, quick drying fabric and soft material mean they are brilliant wardrobe staples.
Regardless of what brand, size or style you go for, just make sure it is the right one for you, follow the washing instructions, and replace it as soon as it starts to stretch and sag.