Athletic women often select ill-fitting bras

OK, so you’ve resolved to start working out this year – again. You’ve spent all your cash on those cute stretchy capri pants, a few cool new tops and an awesome new Walkman.

But the most important item women buy is the one that no one else sees.

Next to your shoes, a good, supportive sports bra is key to any workout program. The bra not only makes your routine more comfortable, some doctors say not wearing one can lead to sagging later on.

Lisa Sorrentino, owner and anointed “head boob” at, a Chicago-based Web site that carries a variety of sports bras, said – that more than 70 percent of women are wearing the wrong size bras.

“Women just aren’t familiar with how a bra should fit,” she said, adding that a lot of women will buy bras in the size they’d like to be rather than the size they actually are.

Troy Sexton sees evidence of ill-fitting bras all the time. The manager of Strictly Running in Columbia, S.C., works the finish line at races and often sees women “flopping around.”

While not every female customer is comfortable with Sexton giving them advice, this is a man who really knows bras.

These vital garments come in two styles, Sexton said. The compression bra is a pullover model (think Brandi Chastain in the World Cup finals) that flattens the breasts to the body, leading to the unpopular “uniboob” look. Then there’s the encapsulation bra, which works more like a regular bra, separating the breasts into two cups.

Then there are what Sorrentino refers to as “jewelry bras,” cute to look at but impractical for doing any actual exercise. Few of these models provide adequate support for strenuous workouts, so unless you’re just going to the gym to pick up men, you might want to look for something with a bit more substance.

“You have to put function before fashion,” agreed Stephanie Corley, an aerobics teacher in Columbia, S.C.

So how do you choose the right one for you?

Generally, compression bras are best for women with smaller chests; encapsulation bras, which usually have adjustable straps, work better for larger busts.

It’s also good to keep in mind your activity level when selecting a bra. Someone who does a lot of running needs more support than someone who takes Yoga classes. Lots of bras indicate the activity level they’re made for on the tag.

When shopping for a sports bra, give yourself plenty of time. After all, the average bra costs around $40 – you don’t want to buy one that will end up stuffed in a drawer forever.

Sexton cautions against buying sports bras simply because they’re on sale. If it doesn’t fit you, don’t buy it. But, he adds, smaller-busted women can get away with wearing bras that aren’t the highest quality.

Sorrentino said the main thing to look for when trying on bras is the fit of the band that goes across the ribcage and underneath the breasts. This is where the support comes from. You’ll want the band to be as snug around your ribs as you can stand, but not restrictive to breathing.

Sexton says the more adjustable the bra is, the better the fit. When you’re fixing your straps, – Sorrentino says to adjust the band first and then do the shoulders. If you do it the other way, you’ll make the straps too tight and the band too loose and your shoulder straps will dig into your skin.

Next, check out the fit. If you’re spilling out of the bra, it’s too small. If the material wrinkles, it’s too big. If you’re buying an encapsulation bra, make sure the cup fully holds the breast. Also, check the straps to see if they lay flat against your skin. Just like shoes that are the wrong size can cause blisters, wearing a bra that’s the wrong size can cause chafing, Sorrentino said.

Sexton adds you’ll want to look at yourself from behind to make sure the strap across the back doesn’t ride up, which will help determine how supportive the bra is.

Once you’ve got the bra on, jump around. See how much movement you’ve got going on. You shouldn’t see much bounce if – it’s the right bra for you. If you do, keep looking.

When you finally find the perfect bra, it’s up to you how long it will last. You can prolong the life of your new bra by hand-washing and air-drying it. If you do this, the bra will probably last you at least a year. If you wear it a lot and put it through the washer and dryer, it might only last four or five months.

Just as athletic shoes often change styles, so do sports bras. If you find one you absolutely love, you might want to pick up a few just in case that style is discontinued. Sexton suggests checking with a knowledgeable salesperson about whether the style will change and what other styles are coming soon.

And now that you’ve got your new bra, all you have to do is find the motivation to get yourself to the gym.