Maybe you’ve had the same sports bra for years or you bought a new one when it was on sale and something just feels off. Whatever the case may be, it may be time to replace your sports bra. But how can you be sure? Why does it always feel like such a guessing game?
“Bras are one of the most difficult garments to find the perfect fit,” explains Abby Wittstadt, technical designer: body, underwear and swimwear at Under Armour. “This goes the same for sports bras. Every women’s body type is so different, making it difficult when it comes to finding the perfect-fitting bra.”
It’s because of this that you should always try on a sports bra before you make it “the one.” We asked Wittstadt to break down what you need to know about fit and function so you know when it’s time to replace your bra.
It is most common to see two types of sizing in sports bras: alpha or numeric. Wittstadt explains that with alpha sizing, you’ll see sizes sizes ranging from XXS–XXL (with 1X–3X if plus is offered) and numeric sizing follows the more traditional bra size range of 32A–38DDD. You should regularly be fit for a bra to find your proper size — Wittstadt recommends doing so every six months — to know your current size or be able to refer quickly to size charts if you’re trying to match your numeric size to an alpha tag.
It’s key to know that getting the right support is more than just the cup and band size; you should also consider the straps. It may seem like the cups are where you get the most support but actually, it comes from the bottom band.
“This support can best be described or compared to a cantilever bridge,” Wittstadt elaborates. “A cantilever bridge creates its support through two horizontal structures that run along the bottom of the bridge, which holds up the mass of the bridge. The bottom band on a bra takes the same approach using the bottom band as the horizontal structure that holds and supports that rest of the bra.”
Wittstadt summarizes that you should make sure your bottom band is parallel to the floor, that your straps lift and hold the breast tissue in place and that you have your preferred type of cup (compression, which presses your breasts to your body or encapsulation, which surrounds and separates each breast). Also, be sure to match the support type — low, medium or high — to your activity. “Low impact is for your less intense workouts like yoga and spin class, while high impact supports for more bouncing actives like HITT class and running,” she adds.
As previously mentioned, you should always try on a sports bra before you purchase it. However, if you shop online, Wittstadt recommends ordering two sizes and returning the one that offers less support. So what exactly should you be looking for? “Consumers should be checking for the right strap length, bust capacity, support level and overall comfort when trying on a sports bra,” she notes. If you are unable to be fit by a professional, Under Armour has developed a Bra Fit Guide that takes you step-by-step through doing your own measurements at home.
Now that you have found the right bra, how long should you actually wear it? According to Wittstadt, the biggest indicator that it’s time to replace your sports bra is when it no longer offers the same level of support as when you first began to wear it.
“Loss of support could be caused by the stretch and strength in the elastic becoming weak or the consumer’s weight has fluctuated and their bra size has changed,” explains Wittstadt. “This is the reason women should be continually getting measured. If you’re working out a ton, you might have dropped a size.”
The rule of thumb for knowing if the elastic lost its stretch is the same for all bras, including sports bras. Wittstadt explains that when you are buying a bra with the hook-and-eye closure, it should be worn on the loosest setting, so over time you are able to tighten it to the next hook. When you can no longer tighten the bra — or the elastic on your sports bra can be easily pinched between your fingers — it is time for a new bra.
A good way to keep your support sturdy is to make sure you always launder the sports bra as suggested on its care instructions. Wittstadt shares that sometimes, design features or technologies are built in that may require a certain type of laundering. “Anything from a graphic, bonding, pads, zippers could change the way you should launder your sports bra,” she concludes.