As a CrossFit athlete and a bra maker, I admit I am troubled by the bra top the female athletes will be required to wear to compete at the CrossFit games. The uniform looks much like the sports bra in the picture above. This compression style bra with thin straps is really only good for the smaller breasted among us and certainly not for an activity as demanding as CrossFit. Anyway, I decided to channel my concern into an educational post on sports bras and where they fit into the bra wardrobe.
The Sports Bra Challenge
For active women, sports bras are an essential part of their bra wardrobe. Sports bras need to provide more support than a standard bra given the additional motion of the breasts during exercise. The breasts do not just move up and down, they also move from side to side (in a figure 8 actually) during exercise. The sports bra must provide support and limit this breast movement while not being overly restrictive, chafing or cutting into the body while the body moves vigorously. In all, a pretty tall order for a bra. None of active women I have met with have found exactly what they are looking for in a sports bra but they all know what they are looking for and have lots of suggestions for bra makers!
There are two primary types of sports bras, compression and encapsulation. Compression is the most common. It is constructed to press the breasts against the chest wall to limit their movement. The snugness extends to the “shelf” which is a wide band of elastic that sits just under the breasts. The plus to this style is is simplicity and versatility. You just pull on this bra and get to work and these bras look great on their own. This type of bra is frequently built into full length tank tops, allowing the athlete to have support in a single garment. Of course, there are minuses. The biggest minus is what upsets me about the CrossFit Games uniform – it only supports smaller breasted women. Another negative is it tends to produce a pancake “uniboob” which is less than flattering. The fit can be tricky for this style too. If it is too loose, there is no support and if it is too tight it can make breathing uncomfortable. There is another option.
The second primary type of sports bra is the encapsulation bra. Just like the name implies, this style of bra encapsulates each breast separately via individual cups. The cups may or may not have underwires. By having separate cups constructed to limit the movement of each breast separately, this type of bra provides superior support versus the compression style and it works for many more sizes as well. This style also has the benefit of maintaining the shape of your breasts (it is not pressing them down against your chest) so your body looks more proportional. The disadvantage of this type of bra is that it is difficult to wear on its own since it has a more traditional bra-like appearance with a rear hook and eye closure. Of course, I don’t have any issues with that since it gives me a chance to acquire another layer of clothing.
Regardless of the type of sports bra you choose you want to be very sure that the the straps are fairly wide so they do not dig into the shoulders. I also like the straps to crisscross the back to allow the shoulder blades to be free. You also want to be sure the bra is made from a moisture wicking fabric. This type of fabric has been treated to pull moisture away from the skin and push it through to the outer surface of the fabric where it spreads the moisture out to a larger surface area so it can quickly evaporate so you stay as dry and cool as possible.
Your Bra Wardrobe
In terms of how many sports bras you need in your wardrobe, you should have one for each day of the week that you exercise, so three days of workouts each week means you need three sports bras. To extend the life of your sports bras, you should follow the same bra care as is recommended for regular bras. See my post on “Bra Care and Maintenance” if you need a refresher.
For the CrossFit athletes – I say alter the sponsor’s compression sports bra, making it loose enough that you can get your preferred sports bra underneath it! Sneaky, yes. But athletic competition is about getting the job done regardless of the obstacle. Contact me if you want some help with this. I am more than happy to help!