Y’all, I have tried me some sports bras.
Lest you run away with an inflated sense of my athletic prowess, picture, if you will, a 5’10” 13-year-old who made it onto the middle school basketball team and would cheerfully pass the ball to the opposing team, lest she seemed too mean or aggressive. She also came to two practices a week with her leotard and tights on under her basketball clothes, so she wouldn’t have to change when her mom picked her up to drive her to ballet class.
Meanwhile, over in ballet class, she had big boobs and flat feet. She was also still 5’10”, and thus never invited to take partnering classes.
So (back to the present), in spite of the fact that I tend to flail from one physical activity to another and have a soft little belly like a bowl full of jelly, it’s still rare that I exercise less than a few times a week. I’ve done dance classes at the gym, sessions on the elliptical, a New Year’s Day yoga class with friends that was both soul-opening and body-breaking, and I once helped a friend train to hike Mount Kilimanjaro, but for the last 9 months or so I’ve been running.
BRAG AHEAD: I can now run 5-6 miles at a time with some regularity, and my furthest distance so far is 9 miles. I’m starting to consider training for a half-marathon. WHO AM I? But also bear in mind I can only run faster than 6 miles/hour if I’m on the treadmill under a fan watching a precisely calibrated medley of CW shows and superhero movies on my phone, so slow your roll and don’t sign me up for the Olympics yet.
All THAT is to bring me to the point that once I started hitting the 4+ mile mark several times a week, all of a sudden things started hurting. My feet blistered, my knees ached, my shirts chafed my arms, and my sports bras started trying to kill me.
Not because of the bounce, though! Honestly most of the sports bras I’ve tried that fit correctly (and are the right shape for me) have done a fantastic job of giving me support and stability (seriously, there are so many great full-bust sports bras out there now (although not in every size range (more on this shortly))). No, what’s getting me now is The Chafing. Good gravy, the chafing. The straps on one bra, the seams on another, the underwires on this one, the back clasp on that one: they’re having trouble going the distance. Let’s break it down! (Each picture takes you to a retailer with the product in stock.)
The Ones I’ve Tried:
In terms of looks and comfort, this is my favorite D+ sports bra on the market.
Original: The original bra is an underwired encapsulation-style sports bra with an adjustable racer-back clip (also called a J-hook) and astoundingly flattering molded cups. Seriously, my boobs look phenomenal. It offers great support without making you feel like your boobs are being squished to your chest. The band starts out pretty firm, but I find it stretches within a few workouts. I loved it for hiking and pole dancing, and it served me well when my runs were 2 miles and under, but for longer-distance running? Yowza. Sore, angry red patches of skin at the center gore from the underwires, sore, angry red patch of skin on my back from the back clasp. Fortunately, the lovely Lisa of Le Piège des Boobies (“the booby trap” in French) in Brooklyn recommended a bra liner, which wicks sweat and provides a protective barrier between the bra and your skin. I can’t wait to try this out!
Sports Top: Second verse, much like the first (review here), but this time it’s built into a sports top. As I mentioned in my review, I found the top a little narrow through the body, with the result that it kept riding up on me, but for those of you who are not shaped like me, you might love it! I wasn’t nuts about this colorway, but there’s a great black version in the Fall/Winter collection that’s still available at a few retailers.
Wire-Free Sports Bra: I sought this out hoping to get some relief from the chafing problem I was getting with the original bra. For a wire-free bra it works very well, although there’s still something going on at the back clasp that’s rubbing and irritating my skin while I run (hopefully a bra liner will solve that problem). With no wires and a smooth molded cup, it’s very comfortable, but I wouldn’t wear it for running without the racerback hooks clipped, and I’ll give it a miss for activities like yoga or dance that involve a lot of inversions or upper body movement. The cups seem to kind of tip my boobs up and towards the center, so whenever I bend over I have to readjust when I stand up.
Freya Active: I’ve only tried the classic version (D-K cups) and the sports top (D-H cups) (reviewed here), but wow: this does not work for me at all, and I’ve tried it at pretty much every size I’ve worn. The shape is so, so odd on me: the gore doesn’t tack, the top of the cup is shallow, the underwire slides down my ribcage, creating lots of extra room in the bottom of the cup, and the wires spread way too wide at the sides of my body. However, my body is not every body, and this bra has some extremely loyal fans. Check out Busts 4 Justice’s reviews of the bra here: she loves it!
Royce: Royce specializes in wire-free bras, and their Impact Free Sports Bra is available in back sizes from 28-40 and cup sizes from D-K (UK) (depending on band size). I haven’t worn this bra in several years, but I remembering appreciating the high neckline when I wore it for dance classes and yoga. The last thing I want to worry about when I’m stretching and bending is my boobs falling out, and with this bra, there’s no chance of that! I remember the band being nice and firm, but for whatever reason I haven’t felt like revisiting it– maybe now that I’m running more I should try it again!
Shock Absorber: When my Panache bras started to chafe, I turned to Shock Absorber’s D+ Max Sports bra as a wire-free alternative (I’ve also worn the Max Sports Bra by the same company, and while it’s a slightly different cut, the support is equally good). It’s not the loveliest of bras, and while there are separate cups, it still kind of mashes your boobs down. The band is also QUITE firm: both Linda’s in NYC and the fitter at Bravissimo recommend taking your sister size (one band larger and one cup smaller than your regular size). I have a few of these now, and they’re great for running longer distances– or at least they were, until one of the seams in the cup’s internal side sling began chafing my breast tissue. Ouch. Between this bra, the regular Panache bra, and the wire-free Panache bra I’m able to rotate styles often enough to avoid really roughing up one part of my body too much, but I’m still holding out hope for a bra that gives me support and comfort without chafing my skin.
The Ones I Haven’t Tried Yet:
Freya Active Molded (B-H cups): This appears to be Freya’s response to the Panache sports bra, with molded (instead of seamed) cups and a racer back clip, in bold as well as neutral continuity colors. While the traditional Active shape is a no-go for me, I’m curious to see how this one would work!
Freya Active Crop Top (B-H cups): This appears to be a hybrid between the seamed traditional Freya Active bras and the newer molded-cup models. With more coverage and thicker, seamed molded cups, this bra can be worn under a top or on its own. This is one I really, really want to try.
Enell (approximately FF-H cups): While not the loveliest of bras, I’ve heard good things about this front-closing compression sports bra, particularly for activities like yoga or Pilates, where a back clasp could irritate the skin in the center of your back. The sizing is a bit unusual, so I refer you to Butterfly Collection for sizing advice.
Elomi Energise (34-46 bands, D-J cups (depending on band size)): One of the few DD+ sports bras available in band sizes over 40, I’ve heard rave reviews about this sports bra. Check out Fuller Figure Fuller Bust for more details!
Bravissimo Inspire (DD-K cups): Really the only alternative to Freya Active if you’re looking for a sports bra in sizes over an H or HH-cup, Bravissimo’s sports bra is slowly running out of stock. The Bravissimo team reports that they hope to reintroduce it in the full size range some time in 2016, after they’ve had time to make some pattern and fit adjustments.
Shock Absorber Gym Bra (B-H cups): I’m intrigued by this shape, which looks a little like a regular sports bra with surplice-style external side slings.
Have you tried any of these sports bras? Any favorites? Is there a sports bra you love that I missed?