December 2, 2011
Question of the Week: “Help! I’m confused! I was shopping online, and saw some sports bras described as either supporting with ‘compression’ (which sounds uncomfortable!) or ‘encapsulation’ (reminds me of something they do to vitamin pills!). It was way too technical for me—can you make it simple?”
For a starter, how about some much friendlier terms? Instead of compression and encapsulation, I’ll bet “Snug ‘Em Down” and “Divide & Conquer” are a lot easier to understand and remember when you’re thinking about your ideal sports bra design!
Here’s a quick intro to the bounce-busting capabilities of each of them so you can pick which kind will give you the personal comfort and support you need for a tough workout.
“Snug ‘Em Down!”
Compression bras are the least like ‘everyday bras’. In fact, the snuggy racerback styles that most people think of when they hear the words ‘sports bra’ didn’t even exist before 1977, when the original Jogbra was invented.
Compression styles are made of strong, spandex-rich stretch fabrics that restrict bounce by hugging your breasts close to your body. You’ll find them in ‘alpha’ (S/M/L/XL) sizes rather than traditional band/cup sizing like 34C. That’s because all that stretch means a single size can do a great job of fitting multiple body sizes/types.
Your two top reasons to pick a compression bra can be summed up in two words: freedom and flexibility. A mostly stretchy bra moves more easily with your body and is non-constricting during bendy-flexy mat workouts such as yoga and Pilates.
So, when should you choose a ‘snug-‘em-down’ compression sports bra? They’re best at busting bounce during high impact activities if you’re a small to medium cup size, OR in lower-impact activities if you’re fuller figured. They can also be a great problem solver if your ‘girls’ are less conventional in their shape and placement (that’s me!). 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. They look the most like your everyday bras and often come in the same familiar cup/band sizing (such as 38D). Features like molded cups, underwires and contouring help separate and support each of 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’s easier to engineer curves and non-stretch support ‘zones’ into your sports bra. In addition to individual cup/band sizes, there’s often more adjustability in the straps and bottom band to let you customize fit for even greater comfort and support.
If banning the bounce is at the top of your wish list, you’ll want to know that when we take sports bras to the lab and film them on real running bodies, ‘divide and conquer’ bras are generally more supportive than ‘snug ‘em down’ styles, especially if you’re a C cup or larger. And one more perk—no uniboob! Even if you’re an A /B cup and don’t need the extra support, you may totally love the way an encapsulation bra preserves your curves instead of flattening.
The Best of Both Worlds!
If you’re torn between compression and encapsulation, check out ‘hybrid’ styles that combine the best of both worlds. Champion’s Seamless Underwire and Powersleek sports bras steal great ideas from both sides. You’ll find encapsulation features such as separate molded cups 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? Can you barely wait to rip off your sports bra after a workout, or have you found your ideal combo of comfort and support? Gripes? Kudos? We’d love you to share them!