Is a sports bra necessary for women or is this a marketing ploy?
February 21, 2015 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Do I really need to wear a sports bra when I exercise or is it fine to wear a regular bra with medium support /underwire? More inside...

I've begun working out a few months ago and am pleased with the results (except the shrinking breasts), however sportswear is not in my budget. Google suggests I will end up with stretching and sagging of the breasts if I don't specifically use a sports bra, but much of the information is linked to generic fitness or magazine sites that are probably trying to sell me something. All I currently notice is my chest getting smaller while still remaining perky, but will this change as my workouts become more intense? My science knowledge is not strong enough to evaluate whether this is a realistic concern or just something to scare me into spending money. Can any one clarify this for me? Thank you for your help!
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It really depends on your bra size. At my largest I'm a C, and I wear non-sports bras to exercise. I normally wear non-underwire bras, that are a bit sporty to start with. I'm 43, and haven't had sagging issues. I've jogged semi regularly for the last 25 years or so...
posted by shrabster at 1:46 PM on February 21, 2015

If the jiggling isn't bothering you, you're probably fine. I'm a G cup and sometimes if I even go up and down the stairs too fast it feels like my boobs are gonna wobble right off my chest and onto the floor.

Let your titties be your guide.

That said you can purchase a basic cotton sports bra at walmart/target for around 5 bucks. Don't let the sportswear industrial complex trick you into performance fabric you don't need.
posted by phunniemee at 1:55 PM on February 21, 2015 [29 favorites]

Cup size, but also the ability to wash/dry with regularity and ease. Sports bras are cotton(ish) and can be thrown in to the wash with other exercise clothes. I guess YMMV, but I hand wash my everyday underwire bras, and I don't have the time to do that every time I exercise ---plus, they're way more expensive than sports bras, and I think would wear out faster with more washing.
posted by stellaluna at 1:56 PM on February 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

Yeah, it totally depends on your chest size. I'm an A cup and usually wear pullover yoga-style bras for exercising, or tanks with a built-in shelf bra--these are super cheap at Kohls, and wash up more easily than normal bras.
posted by serelliya at 1:56 PM on February 21, 2015

It depends on what kind of exercise you're doing. If you aren't doing anything that makes your breasts bounce around you can wear a regular bra if you want to; however, working out in a regular bra means I need to wash them more often and I feel like it's worth it to buy a cheap sports bra just for that reason. Target has good workout clothes, or you can find good deals on stuff like that at discount retailers like TJ Maxx.
posted by something something at 1:56 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I wear sports bras not because I have some fear of sagging breasts, but because bouncing breasts are uncomfortable and sports bras reduce bouncing. If you are not having that problem, then you are fine, but as your workouts become more intense, you may change your mind. Inexpensive sports bras can be found at Target or Walmart for around $15. You really only need one.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:57 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for your answers. I am a small C / large B cup. 34B most of the month currently... In case this is also relevant, I'm small framed, 5 foot 1 and at a healthy weight for my height. I am exercising to build muscle and not lose pounds, but am doing quite a lot of hateful jumping around for cardio in addition to the enjoyable strength training.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 1:57 PM on February 21, 2015

I would think that the wear and tear on your normal bras would be a lot more expensive than buying a few cheap Target sports bras. I wear sports bras religiously, myself, but not because of fear of sagging. I wear them because they hurt if I'm doing long runs and they don't get proper support.
posted by frumiousb at 2:08 PM on February 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

Sports bras, and bras in general, are very much a YMMV thing. Women who wear sports bras generally do so to prevent uncomfortable jiggling and bouncing during their workout, rather than as a preventative measure against future droopiness. If you're comfortable working out in a regular bra, then keep doing what you're doing.

On the other hand, I thought I was okay running in a stretchy light-support sports bra until I tried a heavy-duty high-impact one, and now I can't go back. It just feels better to have things locked down when you're jumping and moving around. That said, I don't really need any extra support for weightlifting, and I've lifted in a regular bra with no problem.

Another thing to think about: most sports bras are made with sweat-wicking fabric, so if you sweat a lot you might appreciate one. They're also often much sturdier and won't wear out as quickly as a regular bra.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:13 PM on February 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

You will know if you need a sports bra. They do two things your regular bra can't do: prevent jiggling and stay in place (i.e. straps can't fall down.) (They can't prevent your boobs from sagging over time, that's nonsense.) If you don't have those problems exercising in your regular bra then God bless, enjoy your good luck.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:15 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Not a marketing ploy - regular bras are intended (usually) to make your breasts look nice under your clothes and to support them to some degree - varies bra to bra. Sports bras are more about support and less about appearance.

You can probably get one on sale at Target or TJMaxx. If you decide to go that route, try it on in the dressing room. Jump up and down - your chest should hardly move. It might feel somewhat more compressed than usual, but pretty comfortable. That's been my experience, anyway.

I wear one to exercise because otherwise I am very uncomfortable - both with the physical sensation / pain and with the knowledge that my chest is flopping around and anyone near me is probably noticing that.
posted by bunderful at 2:16 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with the others - this isn't about sagging or whatever, but about bounce and also the washing situation. I cannot do anything but the most gentle glide without a bra, and in my normal bras I hold myself if I jog up stairs. A sportsbra is 100% necessary for any form of exercise - even yoga because I just fall out of a normal bra during inversions, and have bruised my ribcage because of differences in padding.

So yeah, be guided by your comfort.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:20 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

The consensus seems to be that bras don't help prevent future sagging and may even encourage it.
posted by Redstart at 2:27 PM on February 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm a 34G and pretty active. A sports bra is an absolute must. Today I wore my Freya sports bra and that thing is a bloody tank. Everything stays in place, even if I'm running or jumping.

So yeah, if you're busty, there are some really amazing ones. And even if I were a lot smaller, I'd still wear one.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:39 PM on February 21, 2015

I run and do HIIT workouts with jumping, and I can't exercise without a high quality exercise bra. It's not to prevent sagging but it's for comfort when running and jumping without pain. And everyone's results may vary, but the really high quality sports bras I've bought over the years from Title Nine have lasted far longer than all the ones I got from Target.

When working up a serious sweat, I'm always glad I have the hi-tech anti-wicking support, because soggy cotton bras feel like crap.
posted by kinetic at 2:39 PM on February 21, 2015

I'm closer to your size- 36D British, which I think translates to around an American C-cup. I used to wear regular bras to exercise, but then I made the switch to sports bras (not super fancy ones, either- Nike ones I got for $30 at TJ Maxx) and now I'd never go back.

I'm small enough that jiggling isn't that much of an issue, but I find that the wider straps of a sports bra means that the girls are just so much more comfortable, not to mention much better supported, since the point of a sports bra isn't aesthetics as much as function. And I don't cheap out on my regular bras, either- they're all Marks and Spencer, and properly fitted. It's just a matter of wearing the appropriate gear. You wouldn't wear heels to the gym, would you? Same deal with regular bras.

And yes, it is so much easier to just chuck the damned things in the washing machine. I'd never bother with regular bras for that alone.
posted by Tamanna at 2:52 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't just wear sports bras because of the jiggling. They're more comfortable during exercise (wider straps, less pinchy, less rubbing) and I don't want my normal bras to get gross and sweaty and stained from working out in them.
posted by Anonymous at 3:19 PM on February 21, 2015

All of the above - especially sweaty bra feelings.

But also, if you've never had costochondritis, where the cartilage holding your body to your sternum gets irritated/pulled/torn, it is incredibly painful and can be caused/exacerbated by bouncing. (And if you get it, you'll want a very smashy sports bra just to do things like pick something up off the floor or roll over in bed.)
posted by Lyn Never at 3:26 PM on February 21, 2015

I'm a 32FF and my bras cost $50+ each on sale. I wear two cheap sports bras to work out, regardless of jiggling or sweat wicking or what have you. I can only buy so many $50+ bras in a year.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:28 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

My former high-school athlete daughter votes strongly for the sports bra option. It keeps the girls better in-place than a regular bra would during exercise, it breathes a bit better than a normal bra, and it's made to handle the sweating that would quickly destroy a normal bra.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:55 PM on February 21, 2015

Agree that it's different for everyone/YMMV, but these are my reasons for using a sports bra:

1. It's distracting to have your breasts bouncing around when you run. Really, it is.

2. My regular bras do not deserve to be (and are not meant to be) drenched in that kind of sweat, or to be subject to that kind of wear and tear. It's just not the way you treat your underwires. All bras have a limited shelf life, but you will cut a regular bra's life in half if you use it while running/similar heightened activity.

3. The right sports bra, with sweat-wicking technology, keeps me dry. I consider this invaluable.

I work out on my lunch break every day, and it's those days that I forget my sports bra that I am most miserable. (Forgetting your gym socks is worse, but I consider being without a sports bra a close second.)

A quality sports bra can be $$$, but you don't have to go to Lululemon to find one. There are other more affordable stores, Target included. Of course, I recognize that cup size is a factor here, and Target doesn't exactly carry bras (regular or sport) for every cup size.
posted by nightrecordings at 3:56 PM on February 21, 2015

I'm around your size and I have found a type of bra that I think of as my "compromise bra" and that I wear all the time, for sports or not. (I like this because I cycle and jog and do other jiggly sweaty things throughout the day and don't want to have to change bras all the time).

My bras have underwire, but they are otherwise an easy-care stretchy cotton material, with mesh inserts around the sides for breathability and wide comfortable straps. They provide tons of support but are also comfortable no matter what I do, and they seem to last around 2 to 3 years each (I have about three on rotation at any time). I don't know what they are called, but they cost about $30 from Target (Australia).
posted by lollusc at 4:16 PM on February 21, 2015

Sports bras LAST, and are addictive. Back in 2008, I went to Title Nine and bought several Moving Comfort bras. (Incidentally, this was my best bra-purchasing experience ever. The sales assistant was brilliant.) Then I ordered more of the same item, maybe a year later. They are worn all the time and washed all the time and still going strong.
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:42 PM on February 21, 2015

If you do any kind of twisting motion (which you should, because obliques!), even the best underwire will poke the hell out of you. Also, sports bras are just way more comfortable for a lot of casual weekend tasks, too, like grocery shopping and whatnot. It's not like something that's going to be wasted if you stop exercising tomorrow.
posted by anaelith at 7:11 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you feel comfortable working out in a regular bra, it's fine to do that. If your regular bras let your breasts bounce in a way that's painful, or if they're generally not comfortable while you're really active, get sports bras. This may all depend on what kind of regular bras you wear.

Personally, I find most non-underwire sports bras incredibly uncomfortable because they seem to provide support by squishing my breasts together and toward my chest. I have underwire sports bras that separate my breasts and provide support without so much squishing, but if I didn't have those, I would probably wear some other kind of stretchy supportive full-coverage underwire that's not considered a sports bra. YMMV.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:31 PM on February 21, 2015

Wear whatever works. I will say that I've snapped the band on several regular bras wrking out and stabbed myself in the opposite boob with an underwire twice, once quite painfully. I stopped wearing them. If you're lifting big, or doing anything that you might sharphly expand your chest or take a hard fall, it can happen! Sports bras are a lot sturdier.
posted by fshgrl at 8:10 PM on February 21, 2015

Oh right. You sweat when you exercise - sports bras can be washed with your other workout clothes.

Sweat like that on a nice bra, then you have the fuss of washing it by hand (I do anyway) and air drying it before you can wear it again. Bah.
posted by bunderful at 8:16 PM on February 21, 2015

Would definitely (as others have mentioned) considered the cost of replacing a more expensive regular underwire bra (due to strain and/or frequent washings) vs. springing $10 for a sports bra. I am a small C and couldn't imagine working out in a normal bra simply for reasons of comfort, sweatiness, but of course YMMV.
posted by ista at 10:44 PM on February 21, 2015

The last pack of sports bras I bought was 3 for $20 on Amazon. I think they are fruit of the loom or something. However I don't need anything special. I wouldn't want to ruin my good bras more quickly by working out in them. That's really the primary reason I wear them. I think you will spend way more money in the long run with wear and tear on your normal bras than buying cheapish sports bras.
posted by whoaali at 8:36 AM on February 22, 2015

If cost is a consideration, I think you will be best off picking up a cheap sports bra at Target. I love the Champion brand, which you can typically find for $10-$15. I also love my Coobie sports bra, which can be had for around $20 on Amazon. The reason I say this is more cost effective is that either of these options is likely to be cheaper than a good-quality underwire bra that you might be wearing on a day-to-day basis. Using a more expensive bra during high intensity workouts is likely to cause them to wear out quite a bit more quickly, both because you'll be putting more stress on the the bra and because you'll need to wash it more frequently to keep the sweat/smelly quotient managable. In contrast, a sports bra is built to survive the intense workouts/sweat/frequent washings/etc....I find even the cheap ones last a long time.

That said, if buying a $10 sports bra is truly not in your budget, and the alternative is, say, stopping your exercise routine, then please carry on with what you're doing! I don't think the sagging thing is a huge concern, especially at your breast size. If what you're doing is working and making you happy, go for it.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:37 AM on February 22, 2015

Try on a sports bra and see if it feels good. If it does - buy it, because nothing sucks more than washing your expensive daytime bra into the ground because it's so full of sweat every day.
posted by boobjob at 9:43 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

(for context: I'm a 34 C) I don't like bras at all and I've tried to get away with exercising without one. It's often fine (for ex, biking braless? totally okay). However, I once went climbing without one and after rappelling down the wall I regretted it.

That's mostly about soreness from bouncing around for me though, any claims that they'll get saggy or whatever are probably marketing bs.
posted by lisp witch at 1:15 PM on February 22, 2015

I'm a 36DD. I am deliberately wearing an underwire today, because I am a nurse who does yoga and sporadic gym visits. My life is lived in cheap sports bras from Old Navy and Target. No individual sports bra cost more than $15. Sagging is not my concern here. Sweat, jiggling, and pain are what I am looking to control. I wear it for a twelve-hour shift or a hot yoga session and toss them in the washer.
posted by RainyJay at 1:33 PM on February 22, 2015

I wear a 38H, and you will have to pry my Enell sports bra from my cold dead hands before I give it up. It was some of the best money I have ever spent in my life. Seriously, it's worth making room in your budget for a sports bra, and luckily, you're a cup size where you can get cheap ones that work.
posted by culfinglin at 10:29 AM on February 23, 2015

For me, it depends hugely on what I'm doing. So, try out your workout in a regular bra and see if it's annoying.
posted by Kurichina at 10:43 AM on February 24, 2015

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