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In defense of working out in a regular bra

Photo: Stocksy/Helen Rushbrook
Photo: Stocksy/Helen Rushbrook

A couple of years ago, I had a life-changing experience buying a bra. I walked into Iris Lingerie in Brooklyn wearing a brassiere that, while a couple of years old, was doing a great job (I thought). Turns out I was wrong, and after a few minutes of mild groping, things were looking up, and lifting up—way up.

Why was this life-changing? For the first time in years, I didn’t have anything pressing against the top of my ribs, as part of a minimizing, ta-ta-taming effort. (Yep, I got them heavy boobs that Rachel Bloom raps about on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.) But now everything was up, up, and away—and cupped firmly in a nude PrimaDonna t-shirt bra that felt as strong and impenetrable as a Helga-like breast plate.

So when it came time to work out, I reconsidered the smash-’em-down, squeeze-it-all-in strategy that had ruled my adult athletic life and thought: nah. After years of wearing alarmingly tight sports bras—or a regular bra-sports bra combo, or two kinda-supportive sports bras at once (uniboob racerbacks, I’m looking at you)—I tried just wearing my new regular bra.

And what I discovered was: It worked better than a sports bra ever had.

I reconsidered the smash-’em-down, squeeze-it-all-in strategy that had ruled my adult athletic life and thought: nah.

Why? With the size-34 band my bra whisperer gave me (instead of the size-36 band with the too-small cup size I was previously wearing), it turns out that Spanx-style compression wasn’t necessary. The band created a solid “shelf,” and the super-strong fabric in the cups held everything firmly in place without cutting off my circulation. Plus, the smooth, stretchy Lycra was non-irritating, even on flushed, sweaty skin (although if you’re looking for fancy sweat-wicking, you’re not going to get it in a regular bra).

And, admittedly, there is some upper-chest jiggling with my regular bra. But! Nothing hurts, even during intense cardio, even on my most premenstrual of days.

Plus, when I read about Gabrielle Bernstein’s trick for getting unstuck—by jumping on a mini-trampoline (sans bra) to get your lymphatic system, and stagnant energy, moving—I realized that circulation through my breasts could be an important way to keep them healthy. So, a little movement: not so bad? (Though I admit, I haven’t yet logged any braless trampoline time.)

The only problem—besides the number of cute muscle tees and tanks that were not made to have regular-bra straps sticking out of them—is that after three years, the Helga-strong fabric has slackened a bit.

And while I will definitely be re-upping on my beloved old reliable, I think I may start to use it the way it was intended (under t-shirts)—because the choices in the sports bra world have gotten a lot better recently.

Serena Williams Berlei bras
Photo: Berlei

To start with, take a look at the Berlei bra that  Serena Williams is wearing these days.

Williams has no time for uniboob-induced agita—she’s too busy being the greatest athlete ever—and the collection that she has thrown her support (no pun intended) behind is positively regular-bra-esque in its construction. Plus, it is made for sweating and intense movement, with sporty must-haves like bounce-reduction and a Coolmax terry lining.

Chic British chain Sweaty Betty is also making cute, majorly supportive sports bras in specific sizes, up to an F cup—and Brooks‘ Moving Comfort bras, always a favorite for athletes whose cups runneth over, caught my eye recently with the Brooks Women’s Embody Sports Bra ($68). I’ve been jumping for juggy joy ever since I got one—and I’m sporting statement tanks whenever I please. Thanks to the bra’s cross-straps, I don’t have to try to make Carrie Bradshaw-style strap sightings seem intentional. (Emphasis on try.)

Fingers crossed that I’ve officially put my torture-chamber, compression sports bra days behind me. But if all else fails, I can always rely on my trusty t-shirt bra for sturdy style for miles (and miles).

What to wear when you’ve found the perfect bra? First, figure out which fitness tribe you want to join, and then check out the cool new, high-fashion activewear collections from Prabal Gurung and Alexander Wang.