By Daniel Reynen Citizen Columnist
When women exercise, they deal with many of the same problems as men, with one significant difference: Most men don't have to put on a bra before they start their workout. Unfortunately up to 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size. That's why my column last week was all about how to choose the proper size. But size isn't the only thing that's important about a bra. There are several style considerations that are critical to proper performance.
A standard bra was designed around something called a "square frame." They're designed to fit a woman who's standing straight, with her arms to her sides. It works perfectly on mannequins. But women don't stand around all day with their arms at their sides. Move around too vigorously and a standard bra is likely to slip. If you lift your arms up, the straps will start to put pressure on the shoulder muscles. Over time it can lead to neck pain, numbness, tingling and headaches.
To deal with strap problems, manufacturers provide alternatives in how they're configured. Simply crossing straps in the back was an easy way to prevent the bra from slipping off during vigorous activity. A variation of that is the racerback, where the straps meet in a "T" shape across the back. Racerback bras not only provide good support, but may help with posture by slightly pulling the shoulders back.
The same bra can be effective for both high and low impact activities, as long as the straps are adjustable. Loosen them during low intensity exercises and tighten them when you kick your workouts into high gear.
Avoid straps that are thin and excessively stretchy. Wider straps can provide more comfort and won't dig into your shoulders. Skip strap material that's too elastic or it won't give the proper support when needed.
How your bra hooks together is another important consideration. It's best to buy one that fits on the loosest hook. Over time bras tend to stretch out. To keep the fit snug, slowly tighten up where you hook it together. If you start out on the tightest hook, you won't be able to tighten it any further when things stretch out.
Inspect all the seams. They should be in places that won't rub or chafe when you're exercising. If you can see a seam sticking out, it's probably going to cause problems over time.
Choose the material as carefully as the fit. You might want to avoid sports bras made entirely out of cotton, because once they get wet from sweat, they'll tend to stay that way. Try moisture wicking fabrics like Coolmax, Drifit and lycra.
When you have the bra on, there are several things you should check for.
• The band between your breasts should be touching your chest on any bra with separate cups.
• Slide a finger under the band, between your breasts. You shouldn't be able to move it more than an inch away from your chest.
• Look in the mirror. Make sure no part of you is spilling out over the top or on the sides. If you are, try the next cup size up.
• Look down. If you see space between the cup and your breasts, try a smaller cup size.
• Look at your back in the mirror. Reach your hands over your head and make sure the back doesn't ride up. When a bra is higher in the back than the front, it's probably too big.
• The final check you should make is the jumping jack test. Put the bra on, secure it properly and start doing jumping jacks, run in place or try touching your toes. If the bra or your breasts move too much, you haven't got a good fit. Watch the band in front. If it creeps up when you put your hands in the air, it's probably too big. Put it back and try another one.
The perfect bra today won't stay perfect. Over time they stretch out and fail to snap back into place. Replace sports bras that have lost elasticity, have frayed fabric or exposed support structures like the underwire. You should also get a new bra if you have a significant change in your weight.
Sizing and testing to make sure your sports bra is a perfect fit can take time, but it's well worth the reward. A few minutes in a dressing room can save hours of pain later.
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