Welcome to Fitness Week! All week long we'll be posting stories about fitness, with a distinctly Fashionista spin.
Sports bra technology, not to mention design sensibility, has come a long way since the days of the uniboob compression bra. Brands now make bras in all shapes and sizes, and while this is great for women athletes and weekend warriors alike, it's also potentially confusing. I asked two experts -- Julie Igarashi, vice president of global design for Nike Women’s Training and Audrey Kirkland, the New Balance brand manager of sports bras -- to tell me everything we need to know about boobs and bras.
Movement: The girls don't just move up and down when you're running. "Breasts actually move in a figure-eight pattern," Kirkland says. After 600 hours of biomechanical lab testing, Igarashi says that Nike was able to figure out that "breasts tend to move in the shape of a butterfly—up and left, down, up and right, down." Pretty! And now that you know this, you can totally see it here in this ridiculously bouncy GIF of model Alexandria Morgan.
Pay attention to the bottom: Of the bra, that is. According to Kirkland, the bottom band is the most important part. If that doesn't fit, you risk less-than-optimal support and chafing, which can occur when the bra is too loose or too tight. (Kirkland has such a good eye that she spots bra fit issues on women she's standing behind in the grocery store.) "You build the bra like you build a house. You build the foundation then you build the house up," Kirkland says. "The least amount of work should be done by the shoulder straps. The bottom band should be level around your body and snug -- but not tight -- because your diaphragm has to be able to expand." One mistake she says women make is buying a bigger band size for their bra instead of buying a larger cup size. Kirkland likes a traditional lingerie adjustable clasp in back to ensure a good fit, particularly if you're busty, but they can sometimes be uncomfortable.
Different boobs, different bras: Obviously, A-cups and D-cups have different bra needs. While those criss-crossy straps we're seeing on workout bras lately are cute, if you're looking for the best support, go with an old-school racerback style, according to Kirkland. And take your activity into account. Running requires more support than yoga, no matter what size you are. Kirkland recommends that larger-breasted women shop for lingerie-sized sports bras to ensure an optimal fit. Nike's new Pro Rival line, suitable for B-cups and above, comes in 25 sizes with molded cups and without a back clasp. Kirkland recommends that bustier babes go with molded cups rather than compression styles, which will be more comfortable.
Care and maintenance: Don't just leave your sweaty bras in a heap on your bathroom floor. (Guilty.) Treat them like you would other pieces of lingerie. Kirkland recommends hand washing and air drying, but if time doesn't allow for that, toss your sports bras into a lingerie bag or pillowcase to avoid abrasion. Wash on the cool setting. She also recommends not re-wearing sports bras more than once before washing (which she claims plenty of women do!), because sweat and oil buildup can break down technical fabrics after a while.
Treat your bras like you do your shoes: Kirkland recommends switching your bras out every six to twelve months, just like your running shoes. After use and washing, they lose elasticity, the fit starts to fail, and ultimately the bra isn't supportive anymore.
Need help shopping? Here are 10 sports bra options: