With the weather finally warming up, there's one thing that's been on my mind lately: Sports bras. Or rather, working out in one—minus a shirt. Whenever this time of year rolls around, I watch women bare their stomachs in a Spinning class, or stride through the park sans shirt. And of course they're wearing a ridiculously cute sports bra that perfectly holds their girls in place.
But I've never been one of those women. I haven't really seen the appeal. Sure, I could catch a breeze while striding through the park (which, now that I think about it, probably feels great), but is it actually necessary to go bare? Yes, part of it is a confidence thing. Women should be unafraid to work out however they like, in whatever makes them most comfortable, no matter their shape or size. But does it actually do anything for your fitness? That's what I'm concerned about—getting the most out of my routine.
So I decided to find out.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and claim to be the most confident woman and say I have no problem whipping off my top and letting the public see my midsection on full display without a care in the world. I'm human, and I wonder if I take my top off, will people judge my appearance and dissect every body part that has a little more padding than it should? (Lord, I hope not.) So I leave the shirt on. Even in hot yoga, when the temps soar to over 100 degrees and I'm dripping sweat within minutes of stepping in the room. And yep, I take advantage of bottoms that hold me in in all the right places, and I choose crop top bras that give me a little extra coverage (this one from MPG sport is clutch).
But it's not just a confidence thing. Honestly, most of the time I choose to leave the shirt on because I want to be focused on one thing, and one thing only—my workout. I worry that if I whip my abs out, instead of zeroing in on my form I'll be paying attention to how I look when I'm twisted in a position that makes my skin fold in all sorts of weird ways. Plus, it's one of the few times a week I allow myself time to get out of my own head. (I'm working on integrating meditation into more of my workouts, though.) I always thought taking off my shirt would bring me back into my brain, and I'd be constantly worrying about my appearance rather than allowing myself to bliss out.
That said, I'm a full believer in the "don't knock it 'til you try it" concept. So when Schwinn Bikes brought me out to Austin, Texas, right when the heat and humidity temps were starting to rise, I dared to go bare.
My friends and I hit up a class at CorePower Yoga while we were in town, and I decided this would be the place for me to commit. I donned my cutest crop top bra and shorts (because Austin is humid AF). And as soon as I walked in, I realized this was going to be easier than I thought—everyone was shirtless. The guys had nothing on up top, and the girls were all in varying sports bra styles. And everyone looked different. There was no one-size-fits-all body shape going on, which made things easier. I imagine I would've felt intimidated had it only been women with rock-hard abs in the class. Instead, it felt like everyone in the room knew what my secret mission was, and they were here to help me achieve it. And while I set up my mat, I realized that if I did keep my shirt on, I might have felt out of place. So off it went.
As I moved through the poses, instructor Angel DeSantis regularly reminded us to check in with our core to make sure we were pulling our belly into our spines and keeping our abs engaged throughout each move. But even if she hadn't, I realized that being in just a bra kept that notion—one that I should be enforcing in any workout—at the top of my mind. It wasn't about looking good (OK, it was a little bit), but having my midriff exposed made me aware of when I wasn't engaging those muscles, and therefore not executing a move as strongly as I could. Having that awareness made me confident enough to progress in poses further than I ever have before. Mastering an unassisted headstand is a goal of mine, but I haven't been able to get my pelvis tilted and legs fully extended without using a wall as support. Being shirt-free (and having spotters nearby) reminded me to keep my core engaged throughout, especially as I got closer to extending my legs. Sure enough, I lifted them more than I ever have before (though I still have work to do), and one of my friends was even there to capture it on camera.
That wasn't the only benefit, either. Because I never had to tug a shirt down or back into place, my practice flowed seamlessly from one pose to the next. Moves like standing split and dancer's pose felt, dare I say it, easier. Yeah, my skin did fold in weird ways through certain poses, but you know what? I thought about it for a hot sec, then got over it. I was feeling too damn strong in this class to let a little self-consciousness get in the way (especially knowing that nobody cares about what I look like when their muscles are quivering through camel pose).
By the time I reached Savasana, I felt completely blissed out—mentally, physically, and emotionally. So, clearly, ditching the shirt didn't mess with my brain game. In fact, I'd even say going without it made the class one of my strongest yet. Now that I've realized how successful a workout I can have, I've tossed my tee for other workouts, too. Busting out box jumps and holding planks without a shirt once again kept the focus on my form. And while riding a bike without a top is still a little weird, that breeze really does feel fantastic.