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Sports bras and the pursuit of happiness

I like to run, but I hate how difficult it is to find the right sports bra to support my breasts when I do. Recently I bought a sports bra, the exact one I've worn before, only to bring it home and realize just how much I still hated how it fit. This time, I returned it, determined to find a better fitting one. 

For me, my sports bra determines what type of activity I'm willing to do. If my breast tissue is painful from too much movement or my shoulders and back hurt from too much strain, I'm not likely to want to go for a run again anytime soon. 

Whatever your cup size, you need good support so you can focus on your sport. In my pursuit to find the right sports bra, I did a lot of research. Here is what I learned about finding the right sports bra.

  1. Pick the right type of sports bra

    There are three basic types of sports bras designed to support different cup sizes.
    • Compression bra. This style compresses the breasts to restrict movement, think unaboob. These are best for women with smaller cup sizes, A or B.
    • Encapsulation bra. Individual cups support each breast separately, like most everyday bras. This style is best for women with cup sizes D and DD.
    • Encapsulation/compression bra. This combination bra uses both individual cups and compression to support the breasts. This style is best for women with C and D cups.
  2. Look for the impact level.

    Most sports bras are rated for different activity levels and are indicated on the tag.
    • Low-impact is good for activities like walking, yoga, weight training and cycling.
    • Medium-impact is good for skiing, skating and moderate hiking.
    • High-impact is good for running, aerobics and mountain biking.
  3. Consider a sports bra support features.

    Consider the supportive features that will help keep you comfortable and active.
    • Bottom band. This is the bra's foundation which provides most of its support. The wider the bottom band, the more support it will provide.
    • Shoulder straps. The straps hold up the cups but are not the main support. The wider the straps the better they will disperse weight and more comfortable the bra will feel. Look for adjustable straps to customize your fit and minimize up-and-down movement.
    • Underwire. This reinforcing material (usually flexible metal or plastic) provides extra support and shape to the bra.
  4. Try it on, try it out.

    When you are in the dressing room (or at home) take time to make adjustments to the straps and the back clasp. Then try it out – bounce, jump, jog in place and stretch. Watch for chaffing, straps that dig into your shoulders, wrinkles or puckers, bulge's at the top or underarm and any up-or-down movement of the elastic band. A properly fitting sports bra should do none of these. 

  5. Mental comfort.

    Usually the physical comfort of a supportive sports bra will lead to your mental comfort with your choice. But to make sure, try out the sports bra wearing your favorite workout gear. If you like what you see reflected back you're more likely to wear the bra and be active.

A sports bra won't last forever, but caring for it properly can extend its supportive life. Depending on the frequency of use, a sports bra should last somewhere between six to 12 months. You can maximize the lifespan by avoiding fabric softeners (which inhibit moisture wicking properties,) hand-washing and hang-drying your bra. 

It is time to replace your sports bra if vertical movement has increased, the fit seems too loose or you can't read the care label anymore. 

If you are involved in many activities, it's smart to have several different styles of sports bras in your closet—more supportive ones for activities like running and some less constrictive ones for yoga or weight training.

It took a while, but I eventually found the right sports bra for running. I equate it to finding the right pair of shoes; you have to try on multiple fits, styles and brands in order to find the right one for your shape and activity. Taking the time to find the right sports bra will be worth it, especially if it keeps you active.

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