A sports bra is a bra that provides additional support to female breasts during physical exercise. Sturdier than typical bras, they minimize breast movement, alleviate discomfort, and reduce potential damage to chest ligaments.
A number of women, particularly those with larger breasts, wear sports bras to reduce pain, discomfort, and potential embarrassment resulting from breast movement during exercise, which may have prevented them from participating in sports activities. Some sports bras are designed to be worn as outerwear during exercise like jogging.
Sports bras may also be worn by women following breast surgical procedures. In those situations, a front closing sports bra with a compression, seamless cup is recommended for healing and comfort. Fabrics like Lycra have been recognized to help reduce swelling and help "even-out" a bustline that has been altered by a surgical procedure.
Sport bras are also manufactured for men with large breasts to enable them to take part in physical activity.
During exercise, unrestrained breasts move about freely with the movement of the body. The potential motion is reflected in the bobbing of a woman's ponytail during an activity, such as jogging. Some women, particularly those with large breasts, may find such excessive movement painful and embarrassing. The greatest consequences of the movement is related to the size of a woman's breasts (more correctly their weight) and the amount of motion in the activity.
If breasts were unrestrained, the weight of the breasts may cause damage to the ligaments of the chest during high-impact exercises, such as jogging.
Another problem arises from the shoulder straps of standard bras. Standard well-fitting bras are constructed in the form of a "square frame", with all dimensions adjusted for each woman in a normal standing position, with arms to the sides. When a woman performs an activity which requires her to lift her arms above the shoulders, the frame is strained because it is anchored by the chest band, putting direct pressure on the shoulder trapezius muscles. This may result in neck and shoulder pain, numbness and tingling in the arm and headaches. To avoid such problems the bra's shoulder straps are usually crossed at the back, or the bra is worn halter-style.
The exercise bra, initially called a "jockbra", was invented in 1977 by Lisa Lindahl. Her sister, Victoria Woodrow, called to complain about her bad experience exercising in every-day bras. She was frustrated by runaway bra straps, chafing skin, and sore breasts after running. Hinda Miller and Lisa Lindahl cut up a pair of jockstraps and sewed them together into a bra; and marketed the garment as the Jogbra.
In 1990 Playtex purchased Jogbra from Lisa and her partners. This was followed by research by Christine Haycock, associate professor of surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She measured breast movement of women running on treadmills. Sought out by bra manufacturers for her expertise, she advocated wide bottom bands for extra support and firm straps that minimized breasts bounce. Renelle Braaten, a Montana hairdresser, struggled to contain her double-Ds while playing racquetball and volleyball. Unable to interest mainstream bra manufacturers, she collaborated with freelance apparel designer Heidi Fisk, and founded Enell Incorporated. After considerable lobbying, she persuaded Oprah Winfrey in 2001 to try her bra. This led to very positive reviews in O: The Oprah Magazine, a 2001 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and a huge surge in orders.
Sports bras can either encapsulate or compress breasts. Bras that encapsulate breasts have molded cups, while compression-type bras restrict movement by flattening the breasts. Encapsulation-type bras generally are more effective at reducing discomfort, but some women prefer compression designs that enhance their perception of modesty.
The most common sports bra is basically designed like a tank top with the bottom half cut off. Other designs use gel and water pads, silver fibres, and air bags. A stitchless bra was made by Wacoal, was molded, compressed, and shaped. A compressed bra is designed to push the breasts against the chest to reduce movement and bounce. Other bras are knitted in circular patterns, giving varying stretch and support. A common design uses a stretchable, absorbent fabric like Lycra designed to reduce irritation by drawing perspiration away from the skin.
Different physical activities require different levels of breast control. Yoga, walking and gardening require only "light" control; bicycling, power walking and hiking require "moderate" control; tennis, soccer and jogging requires "firm" control; and running, intense workouts, boxing and horseback riding requires "maximum" control.
About 50 percent of women report some pain or discomfort in their breasts during exercise. This varies considerably in intensity and may depend on what they are wearing. In an Australian study 3 women (17-21, cup sizes B and C) were photographed exercising bare breasted, with two models of a bra, and with a particular sports bra. As expected, breast motion was reduced by bras, and the sports bra was the most effective. The women reported less discomfort with bras and especially with the sports bra. However not all sports bras are created equally and should be properly fitted.
A 2007 study found that breasts move in three planes of motion during exercise. This study concluded that encapsulation bras are more effective than compression bras at reducing total breast motion during exercise because encapsulation bras reduce motion in two of the three planes, while compression bras reduce motion in only one plane. Although some female athletes are concerned that a sports bra may interfere with breathing, and increased pressure on the rib cage has been demonstrated, no significant effect on breathing can be shown.
Most bra research has concentrated on sports bras, where discomfort is directly related to the degree of nipple movement. While sports bras are more effective in this regard than standard bras, they also vary considerably in their effectiveness.
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