How To Find The Right Sports Bra And Take Care Of It Correctly

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Whether you're wearing a sports bra for a fashion statement, as your everyday bra, or you're using it for a high-impact workout or a yoga class to nourish your body and mind, you want it to be both comfortable and functional. This piece of clothing wasn't even invented until 1977, but it's come a long way since then. Sports bras are generally used for exercise to help keep the breasts from moving around in a way that is uncomfortable, and if you're someone who frequently does a workout like running, you know they can be very helpful. 

They come in all different styles, sizes, colors, and fits. They also vary in terms of support and features like covered zippers and adjustable straps. However, as with regular bras, very few of us have been taught how to find the right one for our bodies and our needs. Let's talk about fit, support, how to care for them, and our wish list for the perfect sports bra. 

How to size it for you (and what to look for with small and large busts)

There are two types of sports bras. There is the compression style which compresses the breasts so they don't move around. The encapsulated spots bra cups the breasts so they don't move but also aren't smushed down. (Some styles are a combination of both.) Smaller breasts will be held in well with a compression sports bra, while larger-breasted women might find them uncomfortable and prefer the encapsulated ones. You also might not love being compressed if you're dealing with breast tenderness. It's worth trying both types to see what feels best to you. 

It can be frustrating to look for a sports bra because they often only come in small, medium, and large. If you're doing an activity that is lower impact or you're wearing it for the look, that's probably fine. However, if you're using this for high-impact activity, you should look for something with specific cup sizes. There are a few out there, like SheFit, that also have an adjustable band around the ribs.

Another thing you have to take into consideration is the closure. A front zip will make it much easier to take on and off. A back closure can be helpful as well. There are ones that you pull over your head that have no adjustments at all, and if you're flexible, that's fine. If not, you could end up stuck in it. 

What sort of support should you look for?

Which support level should you choose? Light support is great for things like yoga or Pilates, and even walking if you're more of a stroller. Moderate support is good for activities where you're moving a lot but not jumping a whole bunch, like hiking up and down hills, tennis, that sort of thing. If you're running or doing anything that involves jumping, firm control is the way to go.

It's imperative that you don't go too tight with the band around the ribcage because you still have to breathe. Purchasing the correct support level is more important than it just being so tight that nothing can move a millimeter. HealthShots explained that while a snug fit is important, there should be about a half inch of room in the band.

If you're not sure about the fit, you can attempt a few movements when you try your bra on to simulate the exercise you'll be using it for. Does everything feel contained? Is there some uncomfortable shifting? Is anything pinching? This is really important because if you're, say, running a marathon, a small scratchy spot in the dressing room could end up being a bleeding scrape after 26.2 miles. 

Hacks to fix material issues

Besides the issue of BPA levels in your workout clothes, one of the biggest things to consider when choosing a sports bra is how it feels against your skin. If you're choosing one with a zipper, for instance, you want to make sure that the part that rests against your body is covered by fabric that isn't going to fray quickly. There is nothing more painful than getting sweat in an open scratch. If you find a perfect bra that you love but it has an exposed zipper backing, you can stitch a piece of soft fabric over it.

For bras with removable padding, there is a very particular issue to consider called "boob hot dogs" (okay, fine, we made it up, but it's what they look like). That's when you wash your sports bra, and the padding rolls up into tubes inside the cup. Trying to fix them is more frustrating than attempting to argue on Twitter. Then sometimes, one side of the padding slides into the other cup, and you only have that tiny little hole at the side of the cup to adjust it. Why companies don't find a way to fix this is beyond us. You can take the padding out when you wash them and launder them separately, or you can put a stitch or two at the top, bottom, and sides of the padding. Don't over-stitch them in case you want to take them out to wash.

How to take care of your sports bra

Washing your bra after every use is imperative. The fabric you've just sweat in can build up bacteria (which can cause skin irritation), and if you're using one with moisture-wicking material (which you'll find in most of them), it can hold onto scent. If you can't wash it right away, try looping the straps over a hanger and hang it up to air dry.

Nike reports that hand washing your bras is the way to go if you want them to last for a long time. They also suggest using shampoo or hand soap instead of regular detergent. We'll add that you should avoid super moisturizing shampoo, which can add oils that break down that special fabric. Nike says to soak the bra for about 20-30 minutes, give it a soft scrub with your hands, and then rinse it with cold water.

If you just don't have time, you can wash it in the machine, but keep the clasps closed and take out the pads. You should absolutely use a lingerie bag. Use the delicate setting along with warm water, according to Nike. Skip the fabric softener, which can reduce the moisture-wicking properties, and be sure to air dry. It sounds like a lot of work, but sports bras aren't cheap. It's worth it. 

Things we wish for in the ultimate sports bra

We have a wishlist of things we'd like in a sports bra, and we're holding out hope that some magical engineer will bring us the perfect one. First, we'd like waterproof padding so that it can be washed with the bra. If we could get that, those pads should be sewn into place so we're not digging through the wash to find the ones that have attempted an escape. 

There are some sports bras out there with a velcro back adjustment and over-the-shoulder velcro straps as well. Sure, those little clips like the ones on regular bras can be adjusted, but if you're jumping up and down or running, that's not going to hold well. (You can try a few stitches there as well, but it's probably a losing battle.) Some of the ones that do have adjustable straps have the sharp part of the velcro facing the skin, which is pretty itchy. Definitely keep an eye out for that when you're shopping. 

What we dream about is a sports bra that can be put on and taken off easily without dislocating your shoulders, holds your breasts in place without irritation, and padding that stays where it's supposed to. Hey, we can dream, right?