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Finding a Good Athletic Bra Shouldn't Take an Olympian Effort

Sportswear: Many women experience chafing and other woes but are too embarrassed to seek help.

January 12, 1998|C.K. BINSWANGER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's right up there with getting a wedgy in the middle of a workout. Or a toe blister. Actually, it's worse. Because when your sports bra is digging into one shoulder like a toddler on a piggyback ride or sliding off the other like a prom dress, there's really nothing you can do about it but mutter, move on and--if you're like most women--go home and put the same one on again tomorrow.

Sports bras are a source of far more athletic agitation than most women would care to admit--and not just for the large-breasted. According to a recent study by Dr. Julia Alleyne, medical director of the Sport C.A.R.E. clinic at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, an overwhelming majority of active women suffer breast discomfort. Worse, they have absolutely no idea whom to ask for advice. Some are so embarrassed by the subject that they'd sooner hang up their sneakers than seek help.

"There's a real stigma surrounding this whole area," Alleyne says. "You'd think we were talking about a drug problem."

Why so shy? Consider the complaints: chafing, bruising, squeezing, abrasions, breast displacement, skin irritation, trapped sweat.

Gross, respondents said. Who wants to bring up any of that with the high school kid part-timing in the sporting-goods store?

Eventually, sportswear makers may come around. Even before presenting her study at the recent American College of Sports Medicine conference, Alleyne applied for patent approval on her very own prototype: a bra she hopes will solve many of the problems that she ("I'm a C cup," she concedes) and the 400 women surveyed now suffer. She's also been advising sports-bra designers. "All of a sudden I'm going down in history as the boob doctor," Alleyne says.

Among her suggestions: bras for impact, contact and endurance sports, each in various torso, cup and frame sizes, and in fabrics designed for different levels of perspiration and support.

While women wait for sportswear makers to heed their cries, here are a few solutions for the most common complaints.

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Problem: Shoulder straps that chafe or slide off

Solution: Buy a bra with the widest straps you can find. To stop slippage, switch to a T-strap style. Or, if you need less support, substitute one or two sport tops--the tight cotton shirts dancers wear.

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Problem: The squash factor

Solution: When a bra is too snug, it squeezes the breasts so tightly that they seem to pour out from under the armpits. Women often attempt to compensate by wearing a bra that's even smaller. Jump up a size instead.

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Problem: Lack of support for larger cup sizes

Solution: Don't wear a one-piece swimsuit over a regular bra, as some desperate D cups do. Try layering a low-backed leotard over a sports bra for extra support, or try a maternity bra.

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Problem: Premenstrual sensitivity and swelling

Solution: More than half the women in the survey complained of premenstrual breast pain with exercise. Start by treating your body especially well during these times: Get more sleep, have less caffeine and more vitamin B-12 complex. For your workout, wear a sports bra that operates on the principle of suspension rather than compression. These are the wide-strapped styles that cover more of the torso. Seamless cups are a must.

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Problem: Nipple irritation

Solution: Opt for a sports bra with seamless cups. If your favorite does have seams, be sure they don't cross the nipple. Another possibility: a lubricant like Body Glide, or a lanolin-based lotion.

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Problem: Itchy skin

Solution: This is usually caused by trapped perspiration. If you can't hit the shower right after your workout, wear a bra with a mesh layer between the breasts or around the armpits (not in the cups, which irritates). Bring a spare to change into. If your back itches, buy a style with a lower-cut back.

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