SPORTS BRA GUIDE:
BEST SPORTS BRAS & SPORTS BRA STYLES
You’re in your workout class, sweaty, out of breath and giving it your all. The last thing you want to think about is whether your breasts are staying put.
That’s where the right sports bra comes into play.
Studies have shown that, when running, breasts can oscillate up to 8 inches! They typically move in a figure-8 formation that pulls them up, down, forward, backward and side-to-side.
As one of the study’s top researchers states, excessive breast movement increases the risk of damaging the fragile Cooper’s ligaments, which are irreparable. No wonder many women find that exercise causes their breasts to feel sore.
This guide will walk you through the many types and features of sports bras to consider based on the activity you’re doing and your cup size:
WHAT IS A SPORTS BRA AND HOW IS IT DIFFERENT THAN A REGULAR BRA?
Sports bras are bras that are designed for exercise. They provide extra support, minimize breast movement and handle moisture well. Sports bras differ from other bras because they’re built to help stop your breasts from moving while performing physical activities. The typical sports bra design prevents your breasts from bouncing in all directions, as opposed to regular bras that only counter gravity.
Sports bras are also made from comfortable materials like moisture-wicking microfiber and terry linings, which handle sweat better than popular bra materials like nylon and satin. There’s no chafing or pain, so you can concentrate fully on those planks and burpees.
HOW SHOULD A SPORTS BRA FIT?
Sports bras should fit like everyday bras, and they should be purchased in the same size you typically wear. The goal is to not have to adjust or pull down your sports bra as you exercise. Your breasts should fit snugly in the cups without spilling over.
Tip: When trying on a sports bra, take a deep breath to test how it will feel as your lungs fill with air during a workout. And of course, make sure to buy a sports bra with features appropriate for your bust size and the activities for which you’ll use it. In other words, don’t wear a sports bra meant for yoga to run a marathon.
Still not sure what size to get? Call a Bra Fit Expert for a complimentary, personalized over-the-phone bra fitting at 877.728.9272 (select option 4).
TYPES OF SPORTS BRAS
Sports bras fall into one of three categories: compression, encapsulation or encapsulation-compression. The best sport bra for you will depend on the sport that you’re playing and the size of your breasts.
COMPRESSION SPORTS BRAS
As the name implies, compression sports bras hold your breasts in place by compressing them, or pushing them against your body. Some might call it “smooshing,” but hey, it works if you wear an A, B or even a C-cup. In fact, these bras can be quite comfortable, as they’re typically wire-free.
Some compression sports bras will work for larger busts, but they can also cause the dreaded “uniboob,” which looks unnatural and can lead to chafing. If you wear size D or larger, consider encapsulation sports bras instead.
ENCAPSULATION SPORTS BRAS
Encapsulation sports bras have a cup for each breast, usually with an underwire, that separates your breasts and holds them in place. If you’re into high-impact workouts, these are ideal because they eliminate bounce and reduce strain. That can help keep breasts perky over time.
ENCAPSULATION-COMPRESSION SPORTS BRAS
A combo of the compression and encapsulation styles, these push your breasts against your body and keep them fixed in the space of the individual cups. Encapsulation-compression bras work well for athletes of all sizes, especially DD+ figures. These bras tend to have underwires, which offer structure and support.
UNDERWIRE VS. WIRE-FREE SPORTS BRAS
Wire-free sports bras are usually compression style, where the bra presses the breasts to your body. Wire-free is incredibly comfortable and appropriate for medium- or low-impact workouts and A-C cup sizes.
Most sports bras are wire-free, so if it isn’t specified in the product description, you can usually assume as much. Check out all of our best-selling sports bras.
Underwire sports bras are the best choice for high-impact activities and C-D+ cup sizes because they offer more support. Underwire usually means the bra is an ENCAPSULATION style, where each breast fits into its own cup.
Finding a comfortable underwire sports bra takes slightly more effort than wire-free; here are some of our favorites:
Best Underwire Sports Bras
Underwire is a must for women with a D-cup or above. Inner slings—curved strips of fabric built into the cup—also add support.
Tip: To ramp up the “lift” factor, choose a style with adjustable straps. When you tighten the straps, you get a more precise fit and gentle lift.
Best Supportive Sports Bras for D+
BEST SPORTS BRA STYLES
Now that you know how to find the best-fitting sports bra, it's time to move on to the fun part: style! There are a number of different sports bra designs to fit your personal aesthetic. Because when you look and feel good, you're even more motivated to work out.
BEST SPORTS BRA BACK STYLES
Racerback: This silhouette goes well with T-back tank tops. Straps stay in place but are typically not adjustable, meaning it's a good idea to make sure the fit is right from the get-go.
Featured style: Absolute Comfort Wire-Free Sports Bra by Champion
Crisscross: The two straps provide maximum flexibility—and we all know that ease of motion equals comfort. These are typically pullovers rather than clasp designs, and they look stylish, too.
Featured style: Active DynamixStar Sports Bra by Anita
Tank Top: Exactly as it sounds, this style is a tank top with a built-in bra. It's ideal for low-impact activity, as support tends to be light. It also makes getting dressed and undressed easier, as there are fewer layers—a good thing when you're sweaty.
Featured style: Tear Drop Shelf Bra Knit Tank by Hard Tail
BEST SPORTS BRA FRONT STYLES
Low-Cut: This style is super breathable, since it facilitates the circulation of air between the breasts as you sweat. It pairs well with V-neck workout shirts. Just make sure you’re not spilling out, or else you’ll lose some support.
Featured style: Zen High Impact Convertible Sports Bra by Natori
Seamless: This usually means wire-free, which reduces the chance of chafing caused by protruding wires and thick seams. Seamless designs are typically best suited for medium- and low-impact activities.
Featured style: Jubralee Maximum Control Wire-Free Sports Bra by Brooks
Push-Up: Push-up sports bras will give smaller cup sizes a boost. These sports bras use padding to provide support instead of an underwire while maintaining comfort.
Featured style: Workout to Waves Wire-Free Sports Bra by SPANX
BEST FRONT CLOSE SPORTS BRAS
Having trouble putting on or taking off your sports bra? You’re not alone. Opting for a front-close sports bra eliminates the “You vs. Bra” wrestling match when you put it on or take it off. Front-close sports bras usually have a zipper or a clasp between the breasts.
Zip-Front: Zip-fronts are great for average-size breasts. Zippers lock to stay secure during workouts, and fabric-backed designs ensure the hardware won’t chafe.
Featured style: Pro Zip Medium Impact Sports Bra by Nike
Clasp-Front: Clasp-front sports bras are easy to get on and off. The clasp in the front also means there are no bulges in the back. The one downside of clasp-front sports bras is that they’re not adjustable.
Featured style: Maximum Control Wire-Free Sports Bra by Enell
PADDED SPORTS BRAS
Sports bras typically aren’t padded, but some push-up styles may contain a bump pad. They can be contoured or molded, which means they have inner foam cups to provide additional shape and a more comfortable form, but are less supportive and structured than underwire bras. Padded styles also help prevent nipples from showing through a shirt.
SPORTS BRA FAQs
Here are answers to the most common questions we get about sports bras:
WHAT’S THE BEST SPORTS BRA FOR RUNNING?
DO YOU WEAR A BRA UNDER A SPORTS BRA?
There’s no need to double up if you’re wearing the proper sports bra to begin with. Many women don’t even realize that there are underwire sports bras in their size. A sports bra should fit just like your everyday bra, but it’ll give you that extra anti-bounce support.
HOW CAN I MAKE PUTTING ON A SPORTS BRA EASIER?
Putting on a pullover-style sports bra can contort your body more than yoga poses. First, hold it upside-down by the band and slide your arms through. Swing the band over your head, stretching your arms so the bra can be lowered. Pull it down over your breasts and straighten the straps. Lift your breasts so they fit in the cups snugly.
Front-closure and back-closure styles can be put on the same way as an everyday bra. To make the process easier, consider a sports bra with a clasp or closure, such as a front-close sports bra.
HOW CAN I MAKE TAKING OFF A SPORTS BRA EASIER?
Taking off a sports bra can be as frustrating as getting it on, especially now that you’re sweaty. If this is particularly exasperating for you, keep in mind that clasp- and zip-styles make removal super simple. With a pullover style, first pull the band gently above your breasts, taking care not to stretch the band. Cross your arms, grabbing the opposite side of the band with each hand. Pull the bra over your head, removing it inside-out.
SO WHAT’S THE BEST SPORTS BRA FOR YOU?
When you’re working out, you want a workhorse of a bra—one that will provide the right kind of support so that your breasts stay healthy for years to come. Luckily, we have the top sports bra brands—no matter your figure and exercise routine—that are as stylish as you are.
Shop all sports bras.
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