Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Zaftig Sisters, Dress Your Curves (And Then RUN)

Coming Downhill at the Nanthala Hilly Half Marathon-Photo by Martin Kratzer  Nike Long Sleeved Top, UA Compression Capris, RRS Drymas Socks, Altra Olympus Shoes, Nathan Vapor Cloud Hydration Pack, MC Maia Bra     

Many of us larger ladies have some issues finding workout clothing that is 1) comfortable and 2) does not make us feel (or look) like a link of brats that is about to explode, or a bear in a big, ugly tent.  This is a major conundrum that must be dealt with or it might cause us to have an excuse to not get out there and be badass as we should be doing everyday.

I have had constant issues with finding comfortable, non-pinching and cinching outfits that make me feel and look good. When you can wear something that feels awesome on you, you kind of exude awesomeness. Although compared to say, 10 years ago, the offerings have increased a hundred-fold, but there are still not enough retailers and designers who keep us curvy folks in mind when creating beautiful, functional, and sport-specific lines of clothing. I would love to be able to pop into Lululemon (you know, the brand that isn't made for our bodies) and magically fit into some oh-so-beautiful-sleek-and-form-fitting-compression-tights and jackets but apparently that is not going to happen anytime soon, or ever.

Some companies have made a concerted effort to provide affordable and flattering sports clothing for us-Old Navy, Champion and some big name brands like Adidas and Nike are the first that come to mind--but I have found that the durability of those products is not on par with their contemporaries. Do they expect us not to jump up and down, or move? Do they know that things jiggle and cause pants and shirts and to bunch up, fall down, get stuck under my tummy, and/or cause wedgies? DON'T THEY KNOW?

I made the decision a while back to embrace my curves, wear form-fitting workout clothing that actually fits, and to look at myself in the mirror every single day and think at least one positive thought. This has made me appreciate my body in clothes. But it takes the right clothes--you know, pieces that don't look like you're in a parachute, or hot air balloon....or in jail--to achieve this.

So the point of this post is--

Do yourself a huge favor and go out and get yourself some high quality workout gear. You'll be thanking yourself forever when you invest in yourself. You are already running, spinning, walking, lifting weights, skipping, doing bootcamp, lifting your kids, having sex (definitely an athletic endeavor!), working, etc...

Here's what I wear these days, both on runs and during plyometrics, lifting weights, and yoga. I hope that this will help you think about how making the right-for-you athletic clothing choices will contritbute to you feeling sexy, say when you're doing three sets of a hundred jumping jacks in a room full of chiseled bootcampers...

Bras: The absolute most important piece of attire. You may NOT buy a crappy bra. So, Champion and Ulta are out ladies, unless maybe you're an A cup, or the type that doesn't really need a heavy duty bra.  Do you like wearing two or three bras all at once? I certainly don't. After three years of wearing two bras plus a tank with a shelf bra, I made the move to Moving Comfort Bras. If you have bigger hooters like I do (I fluctuate between a D and DD), go out and buy one RIGHT NOW! Depending on the intensity of movement I'm anticipating, I wear either the Juno, Maia, or Jubralee models. They have them both in normal colors and in more, er, fun colors. These are the only sports bras I will wear, until Nike or Under Armour make really amazing bras that will last more than 20 washes.

Bottoms: I love compression shorts and compression tights. I love that they are form-fitting. I love my thighs and my calves (on most days) and I show them the love by showing them off. Perhaps this is a bit narcissistic, but I'm OK with that. Compression bottoms are pretty much all I wear during all of the seasons. There is one caveat, however. Because my thighs are thick, I have to simply accept that the shorts or tights will, at some point, RUB OUT. This is sad for several reasons. When I find a pair that I love and that I feel good in, I wear them frequently, and then they rub out. When they rub out, say during a race, there will be some nasty and painful chafing. Also, the good ones may be pricey. So these (and shoes) will likely be the most expensive pieces in your running outfits.

I've had tremendous success with Brooks Infiniti tights (even though you may have to reinforce the inner-thigh seams with another seam of your own) and Under Armour Coldgear and Hotgear. In the summer, I usually wear some version of Road Runner Sports compression shorts, but these items tend to lose shape rather quickly, and can feel somewhat loose compared to other brands. However, they don't ride up unless they're past their prime, and the waist isn't overly tight and pinching. These items are made specifically for runners.  

And here's a little secret: as a bigger lady with a little bit of a shelf-butt, I usually buy the male versions. They tend not be be low-rise or that other version of low-rise which is "mid-rise", they cover up my bum, and my legs, tummy, and everything else that needs not to be jiggling about when I'm running is held in place. Sure, there may be a little bit more fabric in the front than I'm used to in my normal clothing, but hey, a little air-conditioning never hurt anybody... The truth is, no one notices unless they're looking at your crotch. If it feels good on you, and helps you to achieve your goal, then it's worth it.

I have not yet found a comfortable, durable, pair of women's compression bottoms besides the above (maybe except for Moving Comfort's 7.5-inch compression shorts that run up to a 2X) that don't pinch my waist severely and display a hideous super-sized banana nut muffin-top, show the crack, or start inching down when I start to walk or run and then get stuck under my front love handle. This may not be the case for you, but is worth experimenting with clothes that fit, feel comfortable, and do the job whether they are marketed to men or women. Make sure that when you try anything on in a store, jump up and down, run, stretch, and contort your body in various ways to ensure that the fit works for you and your activities. No one ever wants to be surprised that the awesome deal you got on clearance at Kohl's actually is extra-low cut and see-through...that is, unless that's what you were going for.

Tops: I haven't bought a top in a MINUTE. If you do enough cool races (and you should, especially trail-races) you will probably never have to "buy" a shirt again. I have accrued enough short and long-sleeved technical tees to last several lifetimes. Some are better than others, though. If you must purchase, I'm partial to The North Face tees, just because they look AWESOME and make you feel like you're training to summit Everest, feel great on the skin, and wick away moisture as if sweat were a fleeting thought.  If you can, avoid pure cotton at all costs. Just do.

If you haven't collected dozens of t-shirts yet (and you will), Under Armour, New Balance, Gap Body, Nike, Adidas, and many other retailers make wonderful tops for the Rubenesque consumer. I personally don't like to look like a military tank or football player, so I usually go with something form-fitting or just slightly looser so I don't feel as though I'm suffocating while trying to catch my breath during a bear crawl. Remember shoulder pads? Nuff said. I also don't want all my stuff falling out and getting in the way.

Shoes: You must get fitted for a good shoe. If you are able, get yourself to a running store (and I'm not speaking of a regular athletic goods store whose employees are trying to get you to buy the most expensive pair of KDs and skater shoes.) Get a gait analysis, and then buy what's comfortable and affordable, perhaps the same or similar model on Zappos, Amazon, or Road Runner Sports, Running Warehouse or The Clymb. If you have big feet like I do (depending on the make of the shoe, I might wear an 11 or 12 women's) there are many clearance outlets and discount places like Marshalls and Nordstrom Rack that will carry our sizes. All it takes is some research. 

Another confession: I usually buy men's shoes. They just seem to fit better and last longer. That may not be what works for you, so find something that does. I currently alternate the following shoes on a daily basis: Mizuno Wave Inspire, Mizuno Wave Ascend, and Altra Olympus. Also, if you only have one pair of running shoes, it's important to save them for running. Try to stay away from wearing them to work (unless you're a cross-country/track coach, Shalane or Meb.)

Socks: Stay away from cotton and cheap polyester. Period. Unless you want blisters or extra smelly feet, invest in some quality running socks. I like the ones that have a little extra padding on the heel, arch snugness, and no bells and whistles. That's my personal preference. My current favorite running socks are Feetures. They have the right amount of everything and when you put them on, you will exhale. Promise. The other socks that I wear are Road Runner Sports Dry Max socks.

Caps and visors: I wear both, particularly when it's sunny and warm. Running caps typically have a sweat band on the inside of them and have breathable tops. I haven't found a pair of sports shades that I like hanging out on the bridge of my sweaty nose for hours on end, so until then it's a cap or a visor.

Underwear: No cotton. I've found that Gap Body, Hanes and Bali make really good stretchy but firm underwear that doesn't chafe your private areas during a long, sweaty workout. There's no need to go out and buy a special workout or activity panty unless you don't mind shelling out a wad of cash for one pair. Again, stay away from cotton if you can. Because chafing. That's all.

Most Important: Find what works for you. All of the above has worked for me over the past 5 years or so. I've been able to enjoy the journey so much more being comfortable with what I'm wearing. If jeans and high-heels are your thing on a 6 mile leisurely run, then GO FOR IT! If you dig baggy sweats and pasties on a trail run, DO IT. Get out there and feel fabulous in your own skin and be a superstar no matter what you have on!


  1. I agree with everything in this post! The first time I started seriously running/working out, I was wearing just whatever crappy workout gear I could get on sale at Burlington. The "workout gear" in the plus size section of these stores is most definitely NOT made for do any working out that includes actual movement. I was miserable in those (mostly cotton) clothes.

    I'm much happier now in proper running apparel that keeps all my jiggly bits in place (sooooo many jiggly bits) with a proper sports bra (yeah, I did the two bra thing before), and better socks. It's so nice now to focus on my running instead of how horridly uncomfortable I feel. Great post!

    And another shout-out for Moving Comfort. I did not know what a sports bra could be until I found them.

  2. yet another reason I make my own clothes.

  3. LOL at the baggy sweats and pasties! I love your blog. Your sense of humor is awesome, your advice is rock solid, and you're out there committing feats of badassery. So cool! Thanks for the post!

  4. Thank you for your post! I have been struggling with finding a hydration pack that fits-and remembered that I may need to delve into the men's line- as they will be larger. I adore bra. I currently own quite a few of them, and they are priceless.

  5. Can we talk about how lululemon talks about 10 and 12 as their "plus sizes". You've got to be kidding me!

    Also, I've had really good luck recently with the Target Champion brand for capris. I was really nervous about trying them since I want good quality stuff, but I have been very pleasantly surprised! My favorite running capris are from there and they have held up wonderfully. Other than them, I love nike and under armour. I feel like they fit well for larger hips and bust.

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

  6. Amen! and thanks for the leads! ;)

  7. I love Athleta gear for both workouts and everyday. Being a L/XL it can be a challenge to find flattering, quality stuff. I notice they also offer Plus sizes in quite a few of their styles. Thanks for tackling this important topic...

  8. Hey folks! Thanks for all of your comments. I think I'll do a follow-up with links of all the other brands that you have recommended. It's so important to have a wide range of options. Thanks again!

  9. Guuuurlll, I just picked out 3 bras from Moving Comfort. I'll direct Steve to you when he flips out about the price. The way I see it, the less my boobies jiggle, the less they'll hang - and that's something both he AND I will appreciate. Am I right or AM I RIGHT?!

    I hope I got the right size. How awkward would it be if I came to your house and looked at your bras? Me = creepy. I'm cool wit' it.

  10. Um not awkward at all--shoot! Come on over! Be prepared, they're so awesome I use them all the time, so they're a bit, say, dingy.

  11. 5 weeks ago I ran my first half marathon. I ran it in 2 very tight sports bras. By the end of the race, my neck, shoulders and back were killing me. My rib cage was also sore and tender from being so compressed. After that race, a friend and trainer asked me what kind of sports bras I wore. I was embarrassed to tell her that I just would put on 2 compression type bras in order to keep things in place. She gave me a few recommendations. I tried out UA and Moving Comfort. I LOVE the Moving Comfort Maia. I went back and bought another one. I then ran my 2nd half marathon 3 weeks ago, what a difference! I could breathe, and nothing really moved! How did I not know these sports bras existed? I will be running my 3rd half tomorrow and I am so thankful I found these sports bras! I enjoy keeping up with your blog and progress!

  12. I'm working on a story about weight and running for as part of our Marathon coverage. I'd love to include your story.
    I'm on a tight deadline. Would you able to speak Monday morning?
    Look forward to learning more!
    Sarah Richards

  13. Great post! As another DD runner, I have had success recently with the Moving Comfort Fiona model (no underwire, great support, minimal chafing)... got crazy colors on sale!... and believe it or not: Victoria's Secret VSX line has some GREAT bras for bigger gals. The Knockout is my go-to bra for long races... a bit of chafing at the under-bust band, but I don't notice that until AFTER the race; literally during the race I don't ever think about my bra (and that's saying A LOT). I have both the back-close and front-close models, and the double-layer construction keeps everything in place and looking fine (if I do say so myself)...

    Great description of the benefits and challenges of compression bottoms. I love my underarmor, and appreciate Champion for making their "Large" size as comfy as most makers "XL" (at least for me) for both bottoms and jackets (for those of us dealing with chilly winter runs).

    Indeed, jackets are another issue to address: adding layers adds bulk to an already bulky body, making me have to loosen my fuelbelt (hey, you forgot to address hydration on the run)... In sub-20 degree weather I wear several layers and don't worry about having to remove any... it's in the 30-50 degree weather area that it's challenging, you have to be warm enough to get out there, but flexible enough to remove (and tie around your waist) any extra layers. I have some soft polyester jackets, some fleece-lined long-sleeve thumbie shirts, some fleece jackets, a windbreaker, a fleece vest, and a rainjacket (with zips under the arms to reduce interior moisture and heat in warmer weather)... these all have to be extra-large to fit the underlayers (long-sleeve tech shirts, maybe a short-sleeve one on top, possibly a base layer)...

    Let's start a line of RUNderwear for men and women, Mirna... I think it's an under-served area and very important! I generally use the Victoria's Secret Body by Victoria hi-cut panty (enough tummy and butt coverage while leaving the legs free to do their thing, minimal cutting/chafing at elastic)... recently discovered some New Balance panties on sale at Marshalls and they are comfy, stretchy, perfect runderwear.

    Socks: feetures are fun, I like thorlo experia too for the cushion... I often wear them over compression socks (helps with my recovery after long runs) or with compression calf sleeves...

    Shoes: Brooks Adrenaline are best for me, size 9.5 for runs under 6 miles, size 10 for longer runs (yes, my feet swell that much on the long runs). I have a pair in basic black that I wear around for life, and BRIGHT colors for running on pavement and trails! I can always look down and get some energy from the zing. I like their ASR for trail, more support than the Cascadia (which I also have in 9.5 and 10)... some success with Asics as well...

    Visors are best for me, seem to stay on better than caps... earbands in the wintertime... I love having the top of my head open to vent steam!! (Though in really chilly weather I will wear a full running beanie... with ponytail hole)

    Thanks for addressing this important area for ALL runners, just a bit more challenging who are far outside of the "12-is-plus-size" sizing model!!! : )

    1. Hello Denise! Thanks so much for your very thoughtful response. This is an ongoing issue for me. I wish there were some really awesome and very well-fitting clothing that LOOKS GOOD and is made from high quality fabrics. For example I was really excited when Oiselle became a bigger presence among the various brands. But then I started really looking at their sizing availability and was disappointed to discover that the largest size was 12. I personally have a preference for high end clothing (in sports clothing, anyway) and am having trouble not having to buy men's clothing. We totally need to investigate ways to broaden the market!

  14. My normal Bra Size is 38HH and I wear Enell sports bras as well.

    Really good for holding the girls and bounce control.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. I must check Enell bras out! I think they are the ones used in Biggest Loser, right?

  15. I think so. I stopped watching that show so long ago.

  16. For the workouts yes. for the weigh ins they apparently wear this one Which has no support

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  18. Third time lucky trying to post this ...

    Thanks for the excellent post. I hate visiting sports stores and finding NOTHING in xxl, thinking of you, Sports Authority. Maybe this is why I appreciate Walmart and Target, which do have these sizes in proper technical material. By trial and error I've found my go to capris are by Avia and Danskin at Wally World, and tops, especially those with mesh inserts, at Target. Fit perfectly, ate comfortable and no chafing so far. I am a beginnner, so not doing the distances you do - hopefully yet - so that will be the real test. Also love Moving Comfort, which for some reason I call Moving Target ... Will try Mizumi shoes. I also take large men's sizes!

    At the other end of the price scale I also love stuff. I have a longer length Happy girl skort from them - no chafing so far, and have just ordered some tops. We'll see how they compare to my fave race shirt from Walmart at $6! Happy running - love your blog, which I found after reading the Runner's World article.

  19. In the summer, my go-to bottoms are actually bike shorts with remove-able liners. I have a pair of capris from REI and a set of shorts from Performance Bike. Both are in their house-brand lines. Under those I wear comfortable wicking underwear from RRS. This reduces chaff for me but doesn't add the heat I experience in tights.

  20. I know this post is super old, but I'm really in dire need of some way to carry my cellphone while I run (carrying it in my hands is not doable in Brazil for safety reasons), but all the regular suspects are impossible with my body type. Armband and waist pouches are super uncomfortable even if they make it in larger sizes, nothing feels and looks nice, I don't know what to do! Suggestions?

    1. It depends on how big your phone is, but I've had good luck just tucking mine into my sports bra before. I also have a tech shirt with a little zipper pouch right around the small of the back that holds a phone nicely.

    2. There are a couple of bras that have two stash layers in the front for you to hold stuff. Although stuffing your phone in your bra is not ideal, I get that you need to be safe. The newest version of the the Moving Comfort Maia bra and one of the models of The North Face sports bras also has a generous pocket.

      Skirts Sports (full disclosure: I am an ambassador) has large and compressed pockets on almost all of their skirt-capri combos. There are also pockets at the back of their skirt-less capris.

      You could also invest in a Flipbelt. It lies close to your body, almost imperceptibly so, and you can stash all sorts of things in the front of your body.

      Good luck!