What to Look for When Choosing One


A sports bra can make or break your workout. It’s important to get a sports bra that fits your workout, your body, and your preferences. 

Why Is It Important to Wear a Sports Bra?

The importance of exercise is well known. But for some women, their breasts prevent them from exercising. In a survey of 249 women, 17% said they stopped exercising because they couldn’t find a sports bra that fit or because they were embarrassed by the movement of their breasts.

Minimize breast movement. During vigorous exercise like running and jumping, unsupported breasts may move as much as 12 centimeters. This kind of movement can cause back or breast pain.

Research has shown that there’s less breast movement and discomfort when wearing high-impact sports bras compared to everyday bras. If you have small breasts, you should still wear a sports bra when working out. Researchers found that women with smaller cup sizes also had significant breast movement during exercise.

Prevent breast damage. Working out without a sports bra can strain the skin on your breasts and stretch breast tissues. 

Improve posture. Heavy breasts can pull your body forward and make you slouch.

Types of Sports Bras

There are two main types of sports bras.

  • Compression bras. This type of sports bra presses your breasts to your body. It’s more suited for those with smaller cup sizes.

  • Encapsulation bras. Like a regular bra, this has two cups to keep the breasts separated for individual support. 

How Much Support Do You Need?

The amount of support you need depends on:

Age. The elasticity of your skin decreases with age. Your breasts are mostly supported by the skin covering them. Older women usually need more support from bras compared to younger women. 

Type of exercise. The amount of support your breasts need depends on the exercise you’re doing. If you’re doing more vertical movements, like jumping, this can cause more breast movement. 

Bra size. If you have a larger bra size, you’ll need a more supportive bra. 

If you’re younger, have smaller breasts, and are doing lower-impact exercise, a compression bra might work. If you’re older, have large breasts, and are doing more vigorous exercises, like running, pick a more supportive encapsulation sports bra. You may need different sports bras for different workouts. 


How to Choose the Right Sports Bra

When buying a sports bra, pay attention to the fit. A good sports bra should minimize breast movement, but it shouldn’t be so tight that it affects your breathing. Here are some things to look out for when buying a sports bra:

  • Size. If you’ve never worn a sports bra before, start with your everyday bra size. 

  • Straps. The straps should be padded and at least 1 inch wide so they won’t dig into or slip off your shoulders.

  • Cups. Make sure your breasts are completely covered by the cups. Choose seamless cups that won’t chafe your nipples.

  • Band. The band should be wide and made of strong elastic material. Larger cup sizes may need wider bands. 

  • Underwire. If you prefer a sports bra with underwire, make sure the underwire fits your breasts correctly.  

  • Material. Pick a bra made from synthetic fibers like Lycra. These will breathe and wick moisture. 

  • Comfort. Hooks and closures should be covered with fabric or some kind of cushioning material. Likewise, covered seams won’t rub against your skin. If your skin is sensitive, apply some petroleum jelly to areas prone to chafing, like your ribcage, underarms, and shoulders.

When shopping for a sports bra, try on a few different styles and brands. Jog in place and jump up and down. This will let you see if it’s supportive enough.

How to Take Care of Your Sports Bras

Here’s how to get the best out of your sports bras:

  • Rotate your sports bras. This will allow them to keep their shape and elasticity.
  • If possible, wash your sports bra and other workout wear immediately after your workout. 
  • If you can’t wash it straight away, try not to leave your damp gym clothes bunched up in your hamper or gym bag. Put them where they can dry quickly. This will help prevent bacterial growth and odors. 
  • Follow the washing instructions on the product tag. Some synthetic materials may not be machine washable. 
  • Don’t use fabric softener. This can clog up synthetic fibers and stop its ability to wick sweat.
  • Don’t use hot water or bleach. This can damage the synthetic fibers.
  • Place sports bras in a mesh laundry bag so they won’t get twisted with your other clothes. 
  • Consider air-drying your sports bras. This will help protect their shape and fit.



BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine: “Do static and dynamic activities induce potentially damaging breast skin strain?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Is It Bad to Not Wear a Bra?”

Consumer Reports: “How to Wash Your Lululemon and Other Synthetic Workout Clothes.”

Go Ask Alice!: “Sports bras to help stabilize rocking breasts?”

Journal of Human Sport & Exercise: “Comparison of breast motion at different levels of support during physical activity.”

Journal of Physical Activity and Health: ,“The Influence of the Breast on Physical Activity Participation in Females.”

Sports Medicine Australia: “Exercise and Breast Support.”

© 2010 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


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