Two years ago I came across the sports bra of my dreams. It was May, and I had ducked into REI on a whim because of a monsoon-like rainstorm when I came across a Moving Comfort sports bra. The fabric was thick but breathable, it had Velcro straps, four bra hooks, and racerback straps. (It really does sound magical, doesn't it?) After that discovery, I was in sports bra heaven; it was the only one I trusted. Recently, though, my athletic unicorn broke and I went back to sobbing over how I was now relegated to attending water aerobics classes at the local geriatric center.
If this seems like a bizarre overstatement, you’re either a stronger person than I am, or you don’t know the pain of finding a good supportive sports bra when you're in the D+ range. For years, getting myself to a workout class has been exhausting. Other than the usual internal “do I really need to go the gym” argument that I assume everyone goes through, there’s the whole issue of getting dressed I have to deal with. As a full-figured woman, sports clothes are the bane of my existence. The rise of athleisure and trendy sports clothes has been cool, but it has done little for women who need sports clothes that prioritize function over form.
My frustration can feel so isolating, that I often forget how many other women go through the pain of wildly perusing the racks of sportswear at Equinox and wondering, Can anyone actually wear this? While lamenting this issue with Nicole Winhoffer, former personal trainer to Madonna and the woman behind the always impossibly booked NW Method, she expressed similar frustrations: “Fashionable, functional, and urban workout clothing lines don't exist! I’m a 32DD, so it's always tough to find good support. I need good thick fabric that absorbs sweat, and I prefer racerback straps. When I don't look or feel good, then I'm not comfortable and I don't feel confident.” Hearing someone in the fitness world share my problems was reassuring but also concerning. If someone like Winhoffer has a hard time, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Women with big breasts have often gotten the short end of the stick: hyper-sexualization and simultaneous exclusion from mainstream fashion and clothing brands. This has extended into the sports arena where big-chested women literally need the most support. For years I had chosen my workouts based on my sports bras and clothes. While those flimsy and super-strappy things might be cute in theory, the reality is that they are a pipe dream for busty women. But I’m not here just to complain; I’m here to offer you solace, empathy, and understanding. And even better than all that, information and a solution.
So when my previously mentioned mystical sports bra broke, I was heartbroken; not because I’m dramatic, but because it took me a month to figure that Moving Comfort had been rebranded into Brooks Running. Once I figured this out, the stars aligned and I was able to finally get my hands on something that strapped me in and kept me in place. Since Brooks Running seem to be some sort of magical sports bra collective of soothsayers, I asked their director of global apparel merchandising, Heather Cvitkovic, about the specific features to look for in a supportive sports bra. She says this:
There are several factors that should be taken into consideration. First, you should ensure that the bottom band is secure as this is truly the foundation of support. Next, you should look at the cup shape. There shouldn’t be any spilling at the neckline or armhole, as this is often a sign that the cups are too small and can lead to discomfort and irritation. Lastly, your straps should be at a comfortable tension that stays in place on the shoulder without digging in or sliding off.
Not having proper support when you’re exercising isn’t just a trivial thing. Other than making it uncomfortable and difficult (or even impossible) to work out, it can create or aggravate existing back problems. So, using Cvitkovic’s advice, these are the sports bras you should consider if you’ve had issues finding the right amount of support. First up is the sports bra I’ve been pining over for the last two hundred words or so, the gravity-defying Juno Sports Bra. Brooks Running has three other models that I’ve also found to be extremely supportive and breathable: the Rebound Racer (very similar to the Juno), the Fiona, and the Embody which has underwire for maximum support.
If you're anywhere between D and H cups, specialty and high-end bra companies are also a good bet. For one, they’re more likely to carry your specific cup size (seriously when has S, M, L ever worked for bra sizes?!); two, they tend to be built specifically for women in need of some serious support. That being the said, some other great options come from Chantelle. Their High Impact Convertible Sports Bra has a winning trifecta of wide convertible straps, underwire and foam cups.
If you’re shopping in person, make sure to do a fit test, try it on, and see how it feels. Beyond being about any sort of vanity, finding proper support can make the difference between working out and staying at home, between muscle building and muscle strains. So go out and get the support you need; your body will thank you for it.