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Sports Bras for Walkers

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Updated April 19, 2004

Women of all sizes struggle to be comfortable while walking or jogging. Whether the problem is support, chafing, or slipping straps, using the right bra is the key to the solution.

The Jogbra was invented in 1977 by Hinda Miller and a friend, who went to their campus bookstore, bought two jockstraps and sewed them together. Champion Jogbra continues to be the most often-mentioned sports bra by my readers. Champion's website includes a self-test to see how much motion-control you want and what other features you prefer in a sports bra. Their MCR Fit Center guides you to the best bra for your activity. They give special attention to classic compression, natural shaping, strap comfort, underwire support and moisture control.

Why is the average bra a problem when walking?

1. Strap attack: Straps that don't stay on the shoulders when you are in motion. Straps that don't work well with your backpack, resulting in double-rubbing. Most manufacturers offer T-back or racer-back designs that keep the straps from slipping off the shoulders. Wider straps can help distribute the weight, resulting in less digging-in.
2. Staying hooked: Motion can cause hooks to unhook, especially if wearing a backpack with a back-hooking bra. One solution commonly seen are racer-back bras without hooks, they just slip on over the head. The problem then becomes how to get the wet, sweat-soaked bra off after a good walk.
3. Moisture control: All-cotton bras are sweat mops. Many sports bras/tops designed for aerobic workouts are mostly cotton. If you are prone to sweating while walking, look for a wicking fabric such as CoolMax or polypropylene in a sports bra.
4. Appearance: You may want a sports bra that can be worn as your only top in public rather than one which says "underwear." This gives you the versatility to take your shirt off if you overheat. Most sports bras come in a variety of colors and patterns. Check for whether the fabric is opaque even when wet and if the fabric pattern or texture hides the nipples enough for your personal modesty.
5. Motion Control without Compression: "Most bras didn't prevent bounce (a major problem) or squished me like a tourniquet -- making breathing and therefore exercise impossible," bemoaned one reader. It takes more than spandex to control motion for larger cup sizes. Motion control is evolving but many readers still could not find the perfect motion control bra.
6. Chafing: Where there is sweat and motion, there is chafing. A sports bra can prevent chafing by reducing the rubbing. Some sports bras put the seams on the outside to prevent chafing. Two readers complained about the scratchy labels inside bras, which they remove. Going braless altogether is not an option unless you take steps to tape your nipples to prevent chafing and bleeding, a problem also encountered by male runners.
7. Support: Many women require a well-constructed, underwire bra even when on the trail. Light spandex tops are not enough.

Which bra and style a woman chooses depends on which problems she needs to solve. The worst problem is among those of larger cup size trying to find a bra that supports and controls motion without too much constriction. One woman wrote that she gave up running because of the motion control problem.

A company dedicated to activewear for larger women won kudos for their sports bras, Junonia: activewear for women size 14 and up.

For the smaller-breasted woman, the constriction of the average cotton/spandex sports bra can produce flattening rather than flattering results. Comfort vs. appearance can be a real tradeoff. Some exercise tops are now coming with Wonderbra-like inserts and underwires to provide more shape. Women who have had mastectomies have special needs. Whether to wear a prosthesis, especially to provide balance, is a consideration, as well as choosing a sports bra that will accommodate the prosthesis.

There have been days I didn't walk because I didn't bring a sports bra with me and my usual bra would annoy me with slipping straps. Whatever sports bra you choose, be sure to buy enough to allow for laundry without interrupting your walking routine.

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