Support and Comfort Equal Confidence in the Gym: The Sports Bra

You’ve invested in great shoes, sweats, socks and several sweet tops—your gym gear is dialed in. Forgetting something? Are you supporting the girls as much as you should?

Having fun in the gym is a function of how comfortable you are: See my previous post on Gearing Up: Shoes and The Girls. As a follow-up, we asked a local expert for some more detailed info about sports bras. Here’s what Holly at NE Portland’s The Pencil Test shared with us.

Q&A With Holly Powell, Owner of The Pencil Test

Go Well PDX: What advice would you have for a woman who wants to exercise but has had challenges finding a sports bra that fits, is comfortable, and offers the support she needs?  

The Pencil Test: If the sports bra fits, comfort and support should follow. Keep in mind that sports bras are engineered and sized differently than everyday bras, so the size you wear every day may not be the size you wear to the gym. Look in as many places as possible. I have been told that my size doesn’t exist in sports bras, but in reality, it was only that the shop didn’t carry that size. My local running specialty store doesn’t carry my size, and neither does the local Target or even Nordstrom (although they do carry my size online). When you can’t find what you need at a sports specialty shop, try for a shop like mine that knows all about boobs. My shop carries over 50 different sizes of sports bras. (Compare that to only 20 sizes period at Victoria’s Secret.) Ask the ladies at the gym where they got their bras.

Go Well PDX: What should she look for?

The Pencil Test: A good sports bra is built for your body and for the task.

  • Band: The elastic band—the bottom part of the bra that wraps around the rib cage—should fit firmly, sitting under the breasts and staying parallel to the floor. Put two fingers under the band in the back and pull back—there should be about one-half to an inch of give. If you can get your fist under the band, it is too big to do you any good.
  • Straps: The straps should ideally be adjustable to account for different heights. The straps should not be so tight that they are digging into the shoulders—they are not there for support, but rather to keep the bra stable and the cups in place.
  • Cups: The cup part of the bra should cover the entire breast, even the top. Many women like the cup to be slightly too small to increase compression, but be aware of going overboard—too tight in the cup can cause just as many problems as too loose.

One of the things NOT to look for is a sports bra that will match your outfit, or not show under your gym clothes. Everybody hopes you’re wearing a sports bra, who cares if they can see it?

Go Well PDX: Is it okay to workout in a non-sports bra?

The Pencil Test: Absolutely. You should do what is comfortable for your body and your sport. For yoga and hiking, I don’t need a lot of compression, but I do need a lot of coverage, and I have plenty of everyday bras that are up to the task. When doing very bouncy or sweaty activities, though, I certainly prefer a sports bra. That kind of “workout” for an average bra, plus the additional cleaning it would be subjected to, can take a toll on the bra. Bear in mind that sports bras are built to take that extra punishment. Listen to what your body is telling you, though. When I thought wearing two regular bras would be sufficient support for me to go running, my mind was changed after my first jog when the tops of my breasts were covered with broken blood vessels.

Go Well PDX: Is it in their best interest for women who pass the pencil test to wear sports bras anyways?

The Pencil Test: While it is only my opinion, I certainly think so. Boobs are basically bouncy bags of fat attached to your chest with skin and ligaments. Particularly during strenuous exercise, even small breasts can cover some vertical and lateral distance, pulling and stretching those ligaments and skin. This can create pain or discomfort that radiates to the shoulders, neck and upper arms, and affects posture and your ability to complete a full range of motion.

Go Well PDX: In a perfect world, how many bras do you recommend a woman own/use/rotate?

The Pencil Test: In addition to a sports bra or two for working out, a woman should own enough bras so that she is not wearing any one bra more than twice per week. This is about five to seven bras.

There you have it. Information is power. Power is support. Support is comfort. Comfort means more fun in the gym. Win-win-win.

Any questions? Go see Holly at The Pencil Test. She will provide you with the support you need. Thanks, Holly!

The Pencil Test
2407 NE Alberta St.
Portland, OR 97211

Go Well!