January 21, 2011
If you’re a sports bra shopper, you’ve probably noticed that most of them come in one of two basic designs: “compression” and “encapsulation,” as we refer to them in the sports bra world. But I think the phrases “snug ‘em down” and “divide & conquer” are a lot easier to understand!
It’s important to understand the differences (which go way beyond looks), especially since the one you pick can determine whether or not you get the comfort and support you need for your workout.
“Snug ‘Em Down!”
Compression bras are the least like your conventional everyday bra. In fact, the racerback compression styles we know and love did not even exist until the original Jogbra was invented in 1977.
Compression styles are made of strong, spandex-rich stretch fabrics that snug your breasts close to the body as a single unit to restrict bounce. You’ll usually find them in “alpha” (S/M/L/XL) sizing, since all that stretch means a single size can fit a lot of different body types.
When you’re bra shopping, your two top reasons to pick a compression bra can be summed up in two words: freedom and flexibility. All that stretch means the bra moves more freely with your body and is non-constricting in bendy-flexy mat workouts such as yoga and Pilates.
How to know if you’re a good candidate for compression designs? They’re best at busting bounce during high impact activities if you’re a small to medium cup sizes, or in lower-impact activities if you’re full figured. They can also be a great problem solver if your girls are unique in their shape and placement. For example, mine are broader and shallower than average and it can be hard to find a structured cup that really fits. If one breast is a little different size than another (that’s me too!), they will stretch to fit both nicely.
“Divide & Conquer!”
Encapsulation styles have an individual cup for each breast and are the most like your everyday bra in design and construction. They often come in the same familiar cup/band sizing(such as 38D). You’ll find features like molded cups, underwires and contouring to separate and support the “girls” individually. Which leads to the two top reasons to pick encapsulation: support and shaping.
Because encapsulation bras are made of many smaller pieces of fabric sewn together, it is easier to engineer curves and supportive non-stretch ‘zones’ into your sports bra. In addition to individual cup/band sizing, there’s often more adjustability in the straps and rib band, which lets you customize fit for greater comfort and support.
Speaking of support, when we take sports bras to the lab and film them on real running bodies, “divide and conquer” bras are more supportive than “snug ‘em down” styles, especially if you’re a C cup or larger. One more perk—no uniboob! Even if you’re an A or B cup and don’t need the extra support, you may appreciate the way an encapsulation bra enhances rather than flattens.
The Best of Both Worlds!
So, what to do if you’re torn between compression and encapsulation? First, if you do both high and low impact activities, you probably need some of each. And do check out “hybrid“ styles that combine the best of both worlds. Innovative sports bra styles like Champion’s Seamless Underwire Sports Bra steal great ideas from each system. You’ll find encapsulation features such as separate molded cups and/or underwires on the inside to lift and support, and an outside layer of firm compression fabric to further snug down the ‘girls’ and restrict bounce.
Do you have a love/hate experience with compression or encapsulation? Ever felt like you’ve been running with a boa constrictor around your chest? Or an iron corset? Or have you found your perfect comfort and support? Gripes? Kudos? I’d love to hear them!
Here’s to fun and fitness!