By Cynthia Kinyera

For any woman that works out or is thinking about working out, sports bras are probably part of your obvious wardrobe requirements. But you may be thinking, are they really that necessary? Can’t a regular bra work just as well? The short answer is yes, they are necessary, and no, regular bras do not work just as well. Even if, like me, you’re a proud member of the itty-bitty tittie committee, sports bras can be a necessity.

Now let me tell you why.

First, A Little History

Sports bras haven’t been around for as long as traditional bras, but women around the world have come to love them. The “Free Swing Tennis Bra” was the first commercially available sports bra, put on the market in 1975 by Glamorise Foundations Inc.  It was designed to reduce breast movement, discomfort, and offer more support than the regular bras of the era. It was nothing as efficient as what we have today, though, and honestly wasn’t very different from the regular bra. Fast-forward 45 years and the technology has greatly improved, giving us the sports bra we know and love today.

Sports bras have a big structural difference from regular bras. They usually fall into two categories according to function; those which encapsulate breasts and those which compress breasts. Encapsulating types have cups that surround (encapsulate) the majority of each individual breast and are best for reducing discomfort. The compression types are those that press against your chest; they restrict movement and are good for activities that involve intense movement. There are also encapsulating-compression bras that give you the best of both worlds.

On the outside, most tend to look like a vest/ tank top/ wife-beater that is cut in half. The modern sports bra has stretchable, absorbent fabric that moulds to your skin and absorbs sweat to reduce irritation. Most also tend to have wider straps that don’t dig into your skin and don’t require constant adjustment. Instead of an underwire or a flimsy strip of lace, they usually have a firm band of elastic fabric under the breasts for support.

The question you probably have by now is; why wear it?

1. Comfort

Speaking from experience, a sports bra is one of the most comfortable types of women’s underwear. No straps digging into your skin, no need to constantly adjust it over time, no underwire poking you in the rib, no chafing and unnecessary tightness. Additionally, many (though not all) sports bras can simply be slipped over your head because they don’t have the tiny intricate clips of a regular bra, so are easier to put on. But hey, if clips make your life easier (they are more practical if you have a disability), you can also get sports bras which open at the front or back.

That’s what makes them great for everyday use. Even if, like me, you aren’t exactly the sporty type, sports bras are great if you spend most of your day even doing even only semi-active activities like walking. If your sports bra is uncomfortable, it’s usually just a matter of finding the right sports bra for you.

2. To Prevent Pain

Using the wrong bra can give you back pain (especially for bigger breasted people), neck pain, shoulder pain and inflamed skin from chafing. Wearing no bra at all isn’t the solution either, because that means even more movement. The restriction of breast movement is what cuts down on pain.  

Breasts are basically sacks of fat and fluid supported by nothing but skin and connective tissues called Cooper’s ligaments. When a person moves, so do the ligaments – up, down, and sideways. Over time, movement of unsupported breasts cause strain on the ligaments, especially if you have an active lifestyle. If you have ever experienced breast pain after exercising, your ligaments may be experiencing such strain.

In a study by the University of Potsmouth’s Breast Health Research Group, Dr Joanna Scurr said, “When the breast is not supported correctly and there is tension on the ligaments and skin of the breast, it can result in strain and over time this may lead to a stretching of the breasts natural support, which could lead to permanent breast damage.”

Basically, everyone needs some support, including my fellow small-breasted women. Those with bigger breasts should consider sports bras that aren’t overly elastic, and therefore restrict movement the most.

3. To Reduce Sagging

As mentioned above, skin and ligaments hold breasts in place. Skin thins with age, and the ligaments tend to disintegrate due to years of strain from your breasts constantly bouncing around. It is normal for breasts to sag with age, however wearing a sports bra can slow down this process by taking some of the burden off your ligaments and giving your breasts that extra support.

4. Reduce bouncing

Nobody likes to go running and feel like they’re going to have an eye poked out by their own boob. Most women face this issue if they do any intense exercise – yes, even me with my lil’ B cup tits. Apart from the discomfort of having your breasts bounce in all directions, it also may attract unwanted attention.

Don’t get me wrong, any person who leers at a jogging woman is a perv and should seriously have a good hard look at their life. Regardless, it would be nice to remove the bouncing if you don’t like it.

5. Post-surgery

If you undergo surgery on your breast, such as a mastectomy or breast augmentation, you probably won’t be able to wear a regular bra for a while. As part of the recovery process, doctors usually require you to wear medical post-surgery bras. These will help prevent an array of complications like seromas or lymphedema.  As an alternative, sports bras that open in the front can also be used during your recovery.

6. Style         

In the past (and unfortunately in many places today as well), you couldn’t be seen with even a single bra strap visible outside your clothes without being ridiculed. Luckily, things are slowly changing.

Increasingly, some sports bras are being designed as outerwear. With the rise of athleisure trends, many people are using sports bras to show their sense of style and fashion. There are a huge array of colours and styles available, so you could add it to your list of fashion favourites.

The Bottom Line

If you’re going to take part in sports, exercise, or just regularly like to take a stroll in your free time; you probably need a sports bra. However, at the end of the day, the choice is yours. If you prefer regular bras or no bras at all, wear whatever makes you comfortable and confident.