How To Choose The Best Sports Bra For Every Type of Exercise

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May 3, 2021

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Ever bought a sports bra only to find it’s too tight for you to move properly during your HIIT workouts? Or the common compression-style bra gives you the dreaded “uniboob”? 

With so many styles and fabrics to choose from, shopping for the best sports bra can be a minefield. Before you splash out on a new sports bra, it helps to know the benefits of wearing one, what the differences are between each fit and how to choose the best sports bra for your favourite training style — so that it both looks AND feels good while you exercise.

The benefits of wearing a sports bra

A sports bra should make you feel good when you wear it, and at the same time provide support and minimise bounce. 

Every woman has individual preferences when it comes to the best sports bra — but feeling comfortable and pain-free is not something you should compromise on.

Keeping your breasts in good shape

A study from the University of Portsmouth showed that breasts move up to 21 centimetres (about 8 ¼ inches) during medium and high impact exercise, such as HIIT. Breasts will typically move in a figure-8 formation — up, down, forward, back and side-to-side. 

While many of us have exercised in worn out and old sports bras we can’t bear to part with, wearing an ill-fitting sports bra can lead to back, neck and breast pain and even cause permanent damage to the ligaments that go through and around your breast. When this connective tissue is strained, it can damage the elasticity, or the perkiness, of your breasts.

Not only does a good sports bra reduce the force that exercise may have on your breasts, it helps prevent soreness, chafing, pain and protects them from any long-term damage.

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Demystifying the different sports bra options

Before you hit the shops, it’s important to be clued up on the different kinds of bras on the market.

Compression sports bras

These sports bras “compress” your breasts against your chest, rather than having individual cups to separate the breasts. 

You might know this type of sports bra as a tank top or crop top bra.

Encapsulation sports bras

Encapsulation bras separate and support each breast individually to give a more natural shape when worn underneath a t-shirt. They offer higher protection from movement in all directions and are often favoured by women with larger cup sizes or for higher-impact exercise.

Encapsulation/compression sports bras

Some sports bras offer a combination of functional design features, which can make them a more comfortable choice that offers better movement control. These are suitable for all breast sizes.

Underwire vs wire-free sports bras

Many sports bras are wire-free which can be just as supportive as underwire bras — but it really comes down to personal preference. Some women prefer the shape and breast separation that underwire bras give. Other women might prefer the overall feel of wire-free bras as they are softer and there’s no wire moving or digging into the ribcage — you should choose the bra that feels right for you.

How to tell if your sports bra fits

Fit is everything when it comes to choosing the best sports bra, so it’s important to get professionally fitted if you can. 

As a guide, aim for your regular bra size and make sure your bra stays in place when you lift your arms and jump up and down. There should be no bulging at the back or near your armpits, and the under band should fit snugly to your skin, but not be restrictive – you should be able to slide two fingers underneath. 

Adjustable straps on the arms and band also mean you can alter the fit to your body.

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How to choose a sports bra to withstand any workout

Sports bra labels should indicate whether they provide low, medium or high support. 

Here’s a guide to bringing the right bras to the fitting room:

The best sports bras for low-impact exercise

For low-impact workouts like yoga, Pilates and Barre, the most comfortable options are compression sports bras because they’re lightweight and move with your body. This sports bra looks more like a tank top with stylish strappy backs. 

To keep your breasts from spilling out when you do downward dog, look for sports bras with higher necklines and zip-up fronts.

The best sports bras for medium-impact exercise

For low-intensity cardio training and dance-based workouts, choose a bra with more coverage and thicker straps. 

You still need support to minimise bounce when you maintain faster-paced movement such as jogging, (especially if you have a bigger bust) but compression or encapsulation sports bras may also be suitable, depending on your preference.

The best sports bras for high-impact exercise

For running, circuit training and any exercise that pushes you into high-intensity heart rate zones, look for encapsulation or encapsulation-compression sports bras, which give your breasts more support. 

Your bra should have wide straps — those that cross at the back will give you extra stability if you need it — and moisture-wicking materials, which will keep your bra from slipping during sweaty workouts.

If you have a larger bust or prefer extra-supportive sports bras but find straps that cross at the back too difficult to get on and off, look for a sports bra with a zipper at the front.

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Choosing the right sports bra can improve your workout performance

Similar to your regular bras, you’ll probably own several sports bras that you use for different types of exercise. When you feel comfortable, it will be the difference between a frustrating workout and one where you can give it everything you’ve got.

Do you have helpful tips for choosing the best sports bra? Share them in the comments below!

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* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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