The sports bra is at the heart of every female athlete’s workout. It’s often the first thing she puts on and is arguably the most important.
More so than any other part of the workout wardrobe, sports bras make it clear no two women are the same. Different physiques and different needs across a wide range of activities require a heightened focus on narrowly tailored personalization.
In this regard, fit and support are paramount. A sports bra that doesn’t fit right is motivation not to work out.
“We have a saying here, ‘No bra, no workout, no run’,” says Julie Igarashi, Vice President of Global Design for Nike Women’s Training. “The majority of women are wearing the wrong-sized bra. This is something we needed to fix.”
This insight inspired Nike to devote more than two years of research, testing, design and development to creating a new sports bra solution. The result of that work is the Nike Pro Bra Collection, an innovative line of sports bras designed for the body in motion to provide the right fit and right support for every female athlete.
The Nike Pro Bra Collection features five bras designed for each athlete’s desired level of support. The centerpiece of the collection is the Nike Pro Rival Bra, which delivers the highest level of support and is offered in 25 sizes to help the female athlete find the right fit. The collection also features the new Nike Pro Fierce Bra, as well as the updated Nike Pro Classic and Nike Pro Indy Bras. The Nike Pro Classic Bra is also available in a padded version.
The bras are complemented by the new Nike Pro 360 Fit System, which employs a Nike-created calculator to help female athletes find their precise size.
Together, the bras and fit system represent the culmination of a global design journey in which every detail was obsessed, all the way down to the fibers found in the fabrics.
Athlete Insights and Early Research
Athlete insights are the lifeblood of Nike design. In the early stages of its sports bra research, Nike interviewed a number of athletes. An important theme emerged: the higher the support, the lower the comfort.
“Our mission was clear,” Nike Innovation Designer Stephy Scott says. “We needed to develop bras offering a continuum of support without sacrificing comfort. The need for a high support bra that wouldn’t compromise fit for function was especially critical.”
To build a bra up, Nike needed to break it down, work that would require an entire team. This team, spanning research, design and development, embarked on a global journey of innovation. It met with some of the world’s leading bra specialists and studied bra manufacturing best practices. Particular focus was placed on lingerie construction.
The journey also brought the Nike team to the United Kingdom, where it partnered with Loughborough University, one of only a handful of universities in the world that conducts sports bra research.
At Loughborough, both Nike and university researchers worked together to conduct biomechanical testing of female athletes in motion. By using a motion analysis system that captures video at an ultra-slow rate of 200 frames per second, researchers were able to track the breast motion of athletes wearing the bras while running on treadmills. Among other outputs, this testing recorded displacement, a measure of how much the breast moves. It was clear that managing displacement with an appropriate level of sports bra support would be vital.
In total, more than 600 hours of biomechanical testing were conducted, both at Loughborough and in the Nike Explore Team Sport Research Lab.
“In addition to measuring displacement, our testing also revealed that in most sports a female athlete plays, breasts tend to move in the shape of a butterfly—up and left, down, up and right, down,” says Martine Mientjes, Nike Apparel Innovation Project Research Director. “With a scientific understanding of how the breast moves, our designers were able to be extremely precise in where to emphasize added support in the bras.”
The sports bra is the true sum of its parts. Every component has the potential to either hurt or help its performance. The materials that comprise a sports bra are prime examples of this. For instance, two of the same fabrics can have significantly different stretch properties if they originate from different batches. If the fabrics stretch differently, they will fit differently.
To maintain consistent fit, as well as soft-hand feel and support, Nike obsessed materials. Researchers analyzed and tested a number of fabrics for stretch, recovery, moisture management and modulus. Modulus, which reveals how difficult or easy it is to stretch a fabric, was an integral consideration. Modulus not only delivers support, but also is the best measure for the consistency of stretch fabrics from batch to batch.
“We continue to look at innovative ways to maintain high standards for our fabrics,” says Richa Maheshwari, a Nike Innovation Materials Researcher. “Our discoveries pushed us to create a new threshold for how we evaluate stretch fabrics.”
The Nike Pro Rival Bra is the pinnacle example of this high standard. It features a fabric constructed from fine nylon yarns for a soft-hand feel, which is a staple of lingerie construction. State of the art knitting machines were employed to knit the fabric nearly twice as tightly as fabric found in typical apparel. The result is an ultra-soft performance fabric that provides the appropriate amount of stretch and modulus to help deliver support and a consistent fit.
Researchers also devoted significant thought to the chest band, the architectural foundation of the bra. The chest band, which helps provide comfort and support with a better fit, has historically been a lightning rod for criticism.
“We searched for the softest elastics for a zero distraction feel,” Maheshwari says. “We also ensured that the materials used included the appropriate amount of stretch and modulus for a consistent and supportive fit.”
The design journey not only starts with the athlete, but ends with the athlete as well. More than 300 wear tests to assess support and fit were performed worldwide. In addition, the bras were put through more than 1,800 hours of wash testing to assess shrinkage, durability, hand feel and visual appearance.
To ensure the power of finding the perfect fit can be in the athlete’s hands, Nike developed the Nike Pro 360 Fit System. Born out of two years of development, the system requires the female athlete to enter her ribcage circumference and cup size into a Nike-created calculator. The calculator will then produce a recommended bra size. Initial testing on 100 athletes showed the system to be approximately 80 percent accurate.
“While we find this percentage incredibly exciting, it’s just a starting point,” Nike Women’s Training Technical Development Director Kerryn Foster says. “We look forward to continuing to improve the accuracy of this new fit system.”
Female athletes will be able to use the Nike Pro 360 Fit System both at select Nike retailers and on Nike.com.
The Nike Pro Bra Collection and calculator will be available beginning July 14. A breakdown of each bra in the collection, from highest to lightest support, follows below.
Nike Pro Rival Bra
Inspired by traditional lingerie construction and employing lingerie and sport-appropriate materials, the Nike Pro Rival Bra achieves the highest level of support in the collection. The bra features tightly-knit nylon fabric with appropriate stretch and modulus for increased support and a consistent, compression fit. It is the only part-encapsulation style bra in the collection, with separate fully-molded cups to help deliver shaping and support where the female athlete needs it most. The contoured foam inserts in the cups and racerback design provide additional support.
The Nike Pro Rival Bra is available in 25 sizes, ranging from 30B to 38E. This helps the female athlete find the fit that’s best for her. Despite its lingerie inspiration, the bra achieves a sporty look with its matte finish. Still, it’s designed to be versatile enough to handle any run or workout in the gym and any look outside of it.
Nike Pro Fierce Bra
The lightweight Nike Pro Fierce Bra offers medium-to-high support through a blend of compression and part-molded construction. The slight molding in the cups provides shaping and support, and the stretch power mesh in the racerback design enhances ventilation in a key sweat zone. The polyester compression materials that comprise the bra were held to new testing standards for enhanced support and a more consistent fit.
Nike Dri-FIT material in the bra’s cups helps provide one-way moisture transport. As the female athlete sweats, the resulting moisture is designed to move from inside the bra to outside of it to help keep her dry and comfortable. The chest band is brushed for an ultra-soft feel, while also featuring the appropriate amount of stretch and recovery.
Nike Pro Classic Bra
Evolving from the popular Nike Pro Bra, the Nike Pro Classic Bra features a new racerback design for increased support. Also updated is the chest band, which is brushed for a soft feel. The Nike Pro Classic Bra is positioned as a medium support bra and is offered in a padded version for modest coverage.
Nike Pro Indy Bra
Offering light support, the Nike Pro Indy Bra employs adjustable elastic straps to help provide the right fit. Removable pads help with shaping, modesty and support. Stretch power mesh enhances ventilation in the racerback design, and nylon fabric delivers appropriate stretch and a soft feel.