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First rule of fighting sag: The stakes get higher when you exercise. With each running stride, breasts move not only up and down but also side to side and in and out, tracing a butterfly pattern. Unsupported, the average A cup travels about an inch and a half in each direction, and a D cup bounces two to three inches.
A good sports bra can cut that movement in half -- by 53 to 59 percent for As and Ds, respectively -- which is key to sparing the support structures in your breast, says Joanna Scurr, PhD, a biomechanist at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom who studies bounce. Because breasts are made of soft tissue -- alas, not muscle -- what holds them up is the surrounding skin and the internal Cooper's ligaments, a web of springy coils that are built to rebound until jumping, genetics, and gravity catch up with them. "Any permanent stretching of these can cause the breasts to droop," Scurr says.
Your breast defense? A good offense. Maximize your lift with these expert sports bra tips.What's Your Bra Type?
When we polled top bra-fitting pros for the number-one mistake women make in choosing a sports bra, they were unanimous: wearing a smaller cup and larger band than you need. Sure enough, nearly every tester whom FITNESS sent to the specialty shops Intimacy and Linda's Bra Salon in New York City for fittings returned with a two-inch-smaller band and a larger cup size -- As and double Ds alike. If you can't get to an expert fitter in your local department store, try websites like championusa.com (click on Bra Finder) and movingcomfort.com (click on Find Your Best Fitting Sports Bra) for sizing how-tos. Then check out the information below to get the skinny on which options work for you.
Compression or encapsulation?
Compression: Shelf bra styles work for smaller cup sizes (A and B) or for low- to moderate-impact workouts.
Encapsulation: Sports bras with individual cups are better for larger-breasted women than compression-style ones, Scurr's research found.
Racerback or wide straps?
Racerback: Because they cinch in back, the straps anchor the bra closer to the body, providing more support.
Wide straps: Shoulder straps help distribute weight better than T-backs (key for bigger cups) and are more likely to be adjustable and padded.
Pullover or back clasp?
Pullover: Tank styles typically cover the back more than clasps, but those with allover stretch lack the rigid front straps, adjustability, and support to anchor large chests.
Back clasp: Clasps let you tighten the band, from which 70 percent of the bra's support comes. This is especially vital for larger breasts, which place more demand on the band.
How do you know that the sports bra you pulled off the rack will hold up your, er, rack? "Support comes from three points on a sports bra: the straps, the cups, and the band, including the side panels," says Susan Sokolowski, senior innovation manager for Nike in Beaverton, Oregon. Here's how to dressing-room test all three.
Follow these dos and don'ts from Joanne Sessler, design director for Champion.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July/August 2011.