Evidently, a lot of technology is involved in the restraint of my bosom as I exercise. A lot of expensive technology. And quite a bit of construction. I had no idea that so much was required to lift, separate, support, and harness my girls on those runs. Frankly, it’s a little intimidating.
Buying a First Sports Bra
The first time I ever saw a woman in a jog bra was at a little 5K race out in the suburbs (all my kids would later go to high school there). She was wearing running shorts and this new fangled “sports bra,” with no shirt. Gasp! She moved in a halo of disguised attention; people either openly stared or tried hard to appear not to. I marveled at the contraption and admired her bravery.
At that time, I wasn’t exercising in any special bra (or shorts, or shoes, for that matter). My everyday underwear, Keds, and an old high school gym uniform worked just fine as my new boyfriend introduced me to the world of running.
(Years later, however, I would despair upon realizing I hadn’t packed my running bra for a holiday trip. Without that essential piece of equipment, I just couldn’t run. How times change.)
As my running habit grew, so did the amount of specialty workout wear in my drawer. Because all that stuff was expensive, I diligently cared for my technical fabric (line dry only!). I searched high and low for the right bras, and when they fell apart, stretched out of shape, or became so infused with sweaty stink that no washing could help, I replaced them with exactly the same brand and make. It was easy to pick out the size (large) and type of support needed (high impact). I did jumping jacks in the fitting room to double check the bounce factor. Important to have: sport materials, seamless construction, and no protruding hooks and snaps. I had the drill down pat.
Still, I hated to buy new sports bras. As a result, they aged as I wore the same ones year after year. For some time, I’d been saying to my friends, “Oh, do you like that bra? I need to get new bras.” And then my friend Ginny did just that — she replaced all her elderly sports bras. At our next run, she raved about getting a good fit: “These new bras make all the difference.”
It was time.
I went to the women’s workout apparel store where Ginny had found her wonderful new bras and asked for help.
There were a few shocks.
- The bras were expensive. Yes, it’s an essential piece of equipment but $50 to $75 apiece? I like to have four bras for running in my drawer — you do the math.
- Holy cow, were they big! My boobs had evidently blossomed. Um, I guess some extra pounds headed upstairs because I’m surely not “developing” any more. I knew I’d gotten wider — boxing has given me bigger pecs and back muscles, after all — so the 38 wasn’t a surprise. But put that 38 with a D cup and you get a bigass harness.
- Man, look at that construction. Lots of material, underwires, enclosures, rings to connect straps for extra support, thick cup padding (heaven forbid I run with my headlights on!). I looked askance at one literally standing by itself on the fitting room floor. True, there’s a lot of impact in running but I was beginning to wonder if maybe these bras weren’t a bit of overkill.
I wound up buying three different styles, with the idea that, like Goldilocks, I’d test before investing more in the one that was just right. Here’s what I discovered.
Too Much Bra: Standing Alone
The bra that was able to support itself provided an interesting element I’d never considered. With its underwire construction, stiffly seamed cups, and thicker material, the forward projection of my bust meant that many of my running shirts simply didn’t fit anymore. My separated and encapsulated bosom projected forth like Madonna’s in her “Blonde Ambition” tour or Austin Power’s lethally armed FemBots. Yeah, baby.
Well, I can live with an enhanced bust in exchange for comfort and support…except it chafed the bejeezus out of my inner arms. That doesn’t work. In the hopes that perhaps the new material was just a little stiff, I’m retesting after a few washings. In the meantime, it’s eating up a lot of drawer room.
Too Little Bra: There’s the Rub
The saleswoman talked me into trying the next one, which has an interesting construction. This bra has a thick back, high neck line, and wide shoulder straps. Though soft, it’s like a corset, fastening in the front via a row of hook and eye closures. At the beginning of my test run, it felt like a dream: no chafing, little bounce, long on comfort, and I liked the way I slipped into it, like a vest. And then about midway out (why, oh why, do problems always show up at the farthest point on an out-and-back run?), I became aware of a painful rubbing against my diaphragm. Oh, great. Was my skin going to be scraped raw by a bra in a completely new place? Quick — adapt, improvise: I tucked my shirt up under the band. Though this solved the problem, it’s not an acceptable or sustainable long-term correction. Though there is a backing flap, it’s just not thick enough to protect against that bottom piece of projecting metal. At least, not thick enough for my body.
Just Right Bra: The Old Familiar
Not surprisingly, the bra I liked best was the smallest, with the least amount of construction. I’d been warned it would be less supportive but, hey — it felt good when I ran. Call me provocative, but I believe the world can live with some bounce as long as I’m comfortable. Got a problem? The solution is simple: avert your eyes.
It was also the bra most like those old standbys, the ones I’d been buying for years. Lightweight, with soft, seamless construction, made of technical material, its only “new and advanced” features were the adjustable nature of the straps and an option to hook them together to form a T-back for additional support. Yes, I’ll go buy another one of these and, yes, it’s better than my old bra.
But it begs the question…if a basic running bra can do the trick, are stores just reinventing the wheel to provide new reasons to purchase? Am I being a sucker for the latest, greatest marketing? Are retailers looking for any opportunity to milk an eager consumer?
Or is it a good thing to have so many options to help each of us find just the right fit?