December 29, 2009

One New Year's Resolution we can all get behind. Or, as it were, in front of.

I do not think this is a good idea at all.

Inspired by Crabby McSlacker herself, here's one resolution all of us double-X chromosome carriers need to make this year.


Get fitted for bras.

No, seriously.

The Crab left a comment on GFE about how the underwires in her running bras leave welts, which caused me to have a dropped-jaw moment and immediately email her with the words "Dude: Your bras don't fit. Underwires should never leave welts."*

And I'm right. Know how I know? Because I went to the local Dillard's and asked for the ancient woman who's worked in lingerie sales for eight hundred and fifty of her nine-hundred-plus years, and I got fitted for a variety of bras. After that, I wandered through the Title Nine catalog and bought several different styles of bra in varying sizes. When they arrived, I tried them on and sent back the ones that didn't feel good. No chafe, no welts, no red marks--even after an hour-and-a-half marathon with Attila.

Two years later, I had to do the same thing, because I'd lost fifteen pounds. My chest measurement has increased, but my cup size has decreased. Again, I went to find Methusalette and get re-fitted, and again, I ordered various bras from T9 and tried them on, sending back the ones that weren't pitch-perfect.

Why go to all this trouble, you ask? Why not just wear the same 36B you wore in high school?

Because bras are just as important as good running or cross-training shoes. They are pieces of equipment, especially the sports bras. You'd never tolerate downhill mountain biking or rollerblading without the proper safety equipment; why not give your rack the same sort of treatment as your head and wrists?

So what makes a good sports bra, and why are they so dadratted important?

Let me answer the first question second and the second question first.

For those of us who are blessed (ha) with ample boobage, the reason for a good sports bra is obvious: running or hopping about with little to no support is painful. There are ligaments in each of your girls called "Cooper's ligaments" which can actually stretch or tear if you bounce around too much. Never mind that that movement is distracting, both to you and to any onlookers. A good sports bra can even enhance your workouts--like if you're doing heavy weightlifting and don't have to worry about smashing your own breasts with a barbell.

For those of you who are lucky enough not to have to worry about knocking your eye out while running, there are other issues, like nipple chafing (owie owie owie) and even mastitis (an inflammation of the tissue in the breast) if you're not properly supported. Trust Auntie Jo on this one: back in the day, when I was little more than an A cup, I ended up with a jolly case of mastitis because my running bra was too big and chafed like crazy.

Okay, so I've convinced you to wear a good sports bra. Define a "good sports bra", then, you cry. Okay! I will!

For smaller-breasted women, a "good sports bra" is usually a compression-type, cotton-blend thing that has hooks in the back or pulls on over the head. It spreads the breast tissue out over the chest wall, thus preventing movement, pain, and embarassment. Some women of medium boobage swear by bras like Champion's, which have integrated underwires. Bras for the small-chested are usually not the works of engineering that bras for the larger-chested are.

For women like me, who enter a room in stages, "engineering" is not too strong a word to use. Underwires are pretty much mandatory for women with a C cup and up, with or without compression. I wear bras that are "encapsulating" bras, which means that they hold each breast in a nonelastic cup, thus preventing both bounce and the figure-eight wiggle that comes from running. Usually, sports bras for C cups and up have nonelastic straps over the shoulders and minimal stretch, if any, around the bottom of the cup. There are bras out there, like T9's "Last Resort Bra", that combine both a non-stretch fabric and rows of medieval-looking hooks to compress really big boobs, but I find those awfully restrictive.

No matter what size you wear, wicking and coolth are important. Fit, though, is the thing that will make or break your experience.

For fit advice, you can go to places like Nordstrom's, Neiman's, or even Intimacy, which is a solely-bra-based chain store with branches in most large cities. I would advise against going to Victoria's Secret--not because they're bad at bra fitting, but because they size their bras so differently that their sizing only works with their bras. (I do love their cotton bras for everyday wear, though. Cheap and they wear like iron.) Or you can do it yourself, or with the help of a friend, following instructions like these.

Whatever you do, when you go to buy your next workout underpinnings, try on several different styles in sizes that are a little bigger and a little smaller than what you're sized as. Bras vary as much as jeans do in sizing, if not more, and cut and style can make a huge difference.

Share your own tips and favorites in the comments, will ya?

*Don't get me started on the doubling-up-bras thing. If you have to double up on bras, then sizing: Ur Doin It Rong, or you're buying bras with too cheap a fabric. Bras, like condoms, helpings of liver, and habanero peppers, should never be doubled.


  1. The right sports bra is so key. I do the jump up and down test in the fitting room....I finally found a brand that works, doesn't make a uni-boob and supports. The difference is key.

    I do think it is a great idea to get measured. I went to a store and was shocked at the measure - very different from high school!

    Great post - very helpful.

  2. Yeah, that's great for a C or D cup. try getting fitted at a department store for a DDD or higher! They never have anything in your cup size! I had to stop buying bras in department stores when I was in High School.

    I can get one bra in one size (though definitely not the right size) at Lane Bryant's bra shop (Cacique). I double up.

    It would be NICE to be fitted for a bra... and to be able to buy one that fits... but that doesn't seem to be in the cards for me.

  3. Well being one of ample boobage (as you so politely put it), I have to agree that wearing a good bra makes a huge difference. Not only from a black eye and comfort point of view but also because I don't like feeling as if I have eyes fixated on this jelly shelf that moves up and down like a frenetic ship caught in a storm on my chest.

  4. Great post! I have seen plenty of shows like Oprah & What Not to Wear showing the importance of getting fitted for a bra. Yes, most women buy the wrong size!

    I am SMALL & would like more! :-) But, I hate the compression types. I use the Champion ones that have a cup in them. My back is pretty wide so always hard for me with small boobies & wide back!

    Thx for all the info!

  5. Then there's the fabric allergy aspect, about which I have complained so many times before. I haven't worn a bra regularly since 1980, and not at all since about 1996, when cotton/lycra pretty much disappeared. But of course my knees and ankles don't like me to do anything bouncy.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky
    [word verification: chiest. Were they trying for chest?]

  6. I am fairly well-endowed and I found the Enell range of bras to be great for running /aerobics. (No I promise I'm not on commission from them!) They have their own way of referring to sizing so as always you may have to try a couple of get it right.

  7. That is a great idea. You are so right! :)

  8. Yes, Jo is indeed nagging me to do something about my perfectly awesome, supportive Natori sports bra just because it leaves a huge welt on my chest if I don't put a large bandaid underneath.

    So what if I look like I've been in a knife fight? It's worth it to give the girls an easy ride.

    (And now that I'm not running until the f#cking plantar fasciitis gets better, it's not an issue at the moment. No chafing under normal wear conditions, just running).

    And yeah, I do double up because I HATE bouncing and a second bra cuts it way down. I used to wear a snug leotard which helps too but got out of the habit.

    So I totally agree about necessity of great support--I'm just not willing to try a bunch more mail order options. I already went and tried everything on at all the local sporting good stores including Title 9. After finally finding a mostly good bra, I'm willing to finally settle on something, even if it does rip my chest apart if I forget the bandaid. Heck, bandaids are cheap!

  9. Thanks for this. Years ago I relied on fittings to find supportive, comfortable bras but time marched on, I got lazy and fitters are harder to find.

    Great reminder.


  10. The problem I always have is that, once I find one that I like and that fits, the company quits making that style or type.

    Then the search begins all over again.

  11. Messymimi - it's so true! Seems every time I find the one I want disappears. *sigh*

    I'm a C (well, more like D at the moment what with the nursing) that lives by the compression type. Flatten those babies out and don't let them move. I love the Champion ones, but that's probably mostly due to the fact that they're easy to find.

    Right now they're leaving me with some nice after images. But that's because I've been working at growing a kid and not at my muscles for the last year... it just adds to the motivation to drop a few pounds.

  12. Thank you so much for addressing this. As a 38F (yeah- you read right) I am somewhat of a bra afficianado. I consider a good bra (sports bras especially) to be like good fitting jeans. When you find one you like and fits well - buy several because they will inevitably quit making that particular style about 6 months before you need a replacement.

  13. I agree, the right bra can make you look thinner and feel better. However, I being of the "ample" size in the bust area, I still double up when I work out - a hook-type sports bra, with a compression bra over it. I just don't want to bounce!

    That said, I ordered my current (and now, nearly a year later, too big) sports bra from Title Nine and I will never order anything from them again...I did the "order several sizes and styles" thing and when I returned the bras that didn't fit, I waited and waited...and waited for the credit to show on my account. Finally called them and was told by a snotty-sounding CSR "we take three weeks before we process returns" - which is crazy in this day and age! I've since found that my local Academy carries most of the T9 bras in their store, so I can actually try them on. Now I just need to force myself to do so...

    And I would love to try the Enell bra, but dang, it's expensive, and again, I'd have to deal with mail order (although to be fair, it's not the same company as T9 so they might be much quicker processing returns).

  14. Great post! And most important topic.

    My fave at the moment is a Champion. But it's one I have buy online -not one found in stores. It's highly supportive and it zips up the front. Because after a hard workout (and at the moment with a tweeked shoulder) I do not want to wrestle off my sweaty, sticky bra to take a shower.

  15. Here's a mighty mighty second for Enell! Oh my god, I love my Enell. Yes, they're $65 each. They are worth every penny. For one thing, they will last FOREVER. The things are almost impossible to destroy. For another, I'm a 40DD, and I wear a size in the middle of their range (a 3), so you know they go from about C cup to GREAT BIG HUGE BAZOOMS. Sorry, smaller ladies, but you don't need to spend this much on a sports bra. Honest to god, this thing is magnificent, amazing, incredible work of engineering...WITH NO UNDERWIRES. I don't know how they do it, but my boobs don't move when I'm hopping and jogging and shaking.

    You can buy from their website, or look on their website for retailers and go try them on there. They are hard to get hooked until you get used to how snugly they fit, but they really don't squeeze you in two or anything - they fit perfectly (but make sure you use their size chart to get the right size). Their return policy for items bought on the website is very clearly stated under Customer Service > Returns and Exchanges, too.

    I have two of them, and I wear them for pretty much all workouts. One I've had for about 3 years (and it still looks almost like it did the day I got it), and one I got just a couple of months ago (I got the pink one, for the purchase of which Enell donates money to a breast cancer nonprofit), and the fit is identical to the first one. I seriously love this bra. And no, I'm not a paid sponsor either - just trying to help others, because I've been there.

  16. I never really thought that hard about a sports bra. When you're an A (a onetime AA until The Pill gave me a boost) you can pretty much wear anything. That said, I'm much more picky about my regular bras. They have to be the right amount padded while still being thin. My biggest complaint: itchy lace or fabric where the underwire is sewn in. But that's mostly with cheapo bras.

  17. Superb post! I did a post recently about being refitted for bras because I had lost about 40 pounds and I went down from a C to a B. It was kind a shock to my system, I have NEVER been a B, even when I first started wearing bras! I had to get used to not automatically going to the section where the straps are 3 inches wide and they look like medieval armor. I wasn't sure I could trust a bra that was cute!

  18. the minute someone finds a sports bra in my size (DD/DDD depending on who you ask)that is a) not beige or white; b) doesn't require doubling up; c) isn't Enell (gah! ugly AND expensive? no thanks) I am there. But for running or other high impact activities, I'm just more comfortable with two. But I do agree that you shouldn't end up w/ too much chafing if it fits (I do occasionally if my bras are getting old, or I'm running 20 miles in the hot & am sweating a lot).

  19. A well fitting bra can make the girls look so much better too-take it from someone with very little to work with.

  20. Fab Kate, I was just at Nordstrom's yesterday getting fitted. They sized me at a 40DDD and brought me at least 10 bras to try on. At Macy's (which is having a buy 2 get a 3rd free sale right now, btw!) I tried on at least 15 different ones in that size. Granted, most were minimizers, but they still fit and were comfortable. Maybe size ranges have increased since you last tried? I don't know what size you're looking for.

    Having a good bra makes such a difference. I'd forgotten how nice it was to not be chafed around the bra line by the combination of too small cup and too big of band, ever since I wore my last well-fitting bras until the underwires snapped. My fiance (love him!) gave me a shopping trip for two bras for Christmas, and now I'm wishing I'd gone sooner.

  21. I totally agree, but I also used to work at an intimates department. I'd argue that at any size (except for those annoying people that never have these problems! lol) you need a good bra that fits.
    The problem though is being on a budget and changing sizes. I know better, but I keep using the uni-boob ones.

  22. Fab Kate, Nordstrom's. Seriously. That's the only place that can fit my 32 DDDD boobs with a bra - and one that doesn't look like something my grandma would have worn!! :) They had several options in that size, too: even some really cute ones!

  23. I got properly fitted for bras earlier this year. HUGE difference! I couldn't afford to replace all my bras at once, but I'm slowly getting there.

    If you live in the UK and have a larger bust, get thee to a Bravissimo shop. They're in most major cities.

    Another good place for bra shopping online is They have reviews where folks give feedback on the bras and how they fit. Much more selection than you'll get at a department store.

  24. First things first. That is one smokin' hot picture.

    I know my bra is wrong, not only is the underwire poking me, it is sticking right out.

    Note to self-go get fitted for the right bra ASAP.

  25. Solarity: have you looked at Vermont Country Store? I seem to remember seeing some all-cotton bras there recently. They're online:

    Fab Kate: check out They have a huge, huge selection of bras. Also, see what you can find online as far as self-fitting goes; it's worth it to at least give it a shot.

    Shelley: T9 has always credited my returns within 72 hours. Hm. I wonder why your experience was so different?

    Also, thanks to everybody who mentioned Bravissimo and Herroom. I have a 40C chest at the moment, down from a 38DD, and I've had great luck with both places having cute, sexy, lacy things (obviously not to work out in) as well as workoutable bras.

  26. I was just telling my boyfriend about how I need new sports bras. I worry that my boobs will go really low because of the stretched Cooper's ligaments. I will try to find a store here that sells good sports bras. I don't care how expensive. I will buy at least 3 pairs.

    Thanks for these tips.

  27. OK. I'm going to get properly fitted. I totally double up. The one sports bra I have gives me Jean-Paul Gaultier coneage and the Nike on top straps those puppies in and makes it a uniboob.

    Definitely, definitely in January. Like, Saturday.

  28. You are so right!
    Free Fittings at VS. VS, seamless, underwire sports bra is my fave.

  29. Great post about an issue that's a thorn in my side. I double up most of the time especially when doing plyometrics but of course I feel restricted. The whole sports bra issue has cut short any sort of serious running. Thanks for reminding me there is help for the problem! Cranky Fitness is the best!

  30. I have never seen sport bras in plus sizes before in this backward country... Will have to keep my eyes peeled!

  31. My goodness. I can't agree with this post more. After yearsss of wearing a 38 DD i went to a local nordstrom's to get fitted. Low and behold.. I'm a 32F! I was VERY off.. and constantly pained with welts and snapping underwire. I broke 5 bras in 3 months before I finally went to get measured. Why are most women so uninformed about bra size? Thanks for spreading the good word!

    - Sarah


Thanks for commenting, Cranky Fitness readers are the BEST!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

(Note: Older Comment Threads Are Moderated)