Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sports Bra Details

No piece of gear is more important for a woman runner than a sports bra. Running a mile everyday barefoot may lead to a few callouses, but that same run in a bad bra can cause chafing and tearing of pectoral muscles.

When shopping, talk with the salesperson (or read the catalog) to find the right support for you. Once you have a few options that meet your support, color and cut criteria, make your final choice based on these crucial details:

I have a small build, so 1/2- to 3/4-inch straps are perfect for me. If you want more support, look for a wider strap but be aware of where it hits your shoulder.

I've circled my ideal zone for the straps to pass over the shoulders. Higher up and they press uncomfortably against the neck muscles. Any lower down the shoulder and support can suffer. The bra above rides slightly too high up my neck and I often catch myself adjusting it.

I love the look of this Nike sports bra and the straps are comfortable going over the shoulder. I also like the way they come together in the back - they don't rub against my shoulder blades as I swing my arms and the wide scoop gives more support than a narrow racer back.

The straps on this Moving Comfort bra are wider than most of my bras, but if you need support, wider is better. Plus, as you can see by the red circle, they are reinforced on the inside. My issue with this particular bra is the front. The material is thin and the design unstructured so there are some high beam issues.

This Lululemon bra is great for yoga but not running because, while the narrow straps leave you free to move, they provide little support and can dig into the shoulder muscles. The black circle emphasizes the very narrow racer back, which doesn't create enough tension for an impact sport. The black arrow gets to my next topic...

They are small things, but the placement of the seams along the edge of your sports bra is important. A badly placed seam can chafe the arm, sternum or shoulder. I like where Lululemon placed their edge seams because, no matter what I'm doing, I never rub against them.

Brooks also gets it right by combining the edging seam with the racer back meeting point - basically one seam doing double duty. Again, it's completely out of the way, so no chafing. Because I'm prone to painful rubbing under my arms, I picked this bra for my last marathon and finished without issues.

If you like more coverage, Puma has built a moderately supportive bra into its tank-style Run Top. I checked out several Puma sports bras and the Run Top was the only one with an offset seam.

Unfortunately, most Nike bras have a seam directly under the armpit, as is marked here by the black box. This is an almost perfect sports bra: low key but stylish; good support; breathable mesh along the sides; and comfortable fabric covering the elastic along the rib cage. BUT, the armpit seam means I never wear it for long runs.

Poke Through
Unless you like looking like you're freezing or on high alert, look for a bra that either has some padding or is so constricting, nothing is getting out (I usually go for option 1).

I own several of this Champion bra for three reasons:
- The cups are slightly padded, preventing high beaming
- The front also is molded to separate and hold, giving the wearer a more feminine shape
- The seam for the trim is slightly offset, behind the armpit (see circle)

Caveat: the elastic trim on this bra is exposed on the inside and can become rough with use. The black bra recently chafed a red ring around my rib cage.

As we head into summer, fabric replaces layers in importance. Look for wicking materials that are cooler, stay fresh looking longer and dry quickly. Avoid cotton and thick, spongy padding; both will soak up sweat, chafe and weigh you down.

A few of my sports bras are a tank style, which is great if you want more coverage. The tank is also a great core layering piece in the winter.

Tanks come in all sorts of cuts and styles. The one on the left, above, is longer and form fitting but, as you can see by the post-wearing wrinkles, is made of Lycra and cotton, which means 10 minutes out the door on a hot day, I've sweated through it and am burning up. The tank on the right is a little too short when worn with low-rise shorts or tights but is made of Nike's Dri-fit fabric, which removes moisture from the skin, allowing it to cool.

Puma's Run Top is a tank style that pays attention to the details. The under layer, aside from the bra, is a cooling mesh and the top is soft nylon. It's a good length and the small pleats around the neckline hide poke through (I swear, I'm not obsessed, just aware!). The bra is not very supportive, so it may be best for small frames and mid-distance runs.

Hi Tech: My Puma and Lululemon bras are the only ones I own that use silver thread in the bra to help fight odor. If you really use and abuse your gear, details like this make a big difference.

Good luck shopping and happy running!