How to buy the right sports bra
For female runners, a sports bra and shoes are the most important pieces of gear. Fortunately, since the first JogBra hit the ground running in 1977, women’s essential apparel has come a long way. From a contraption made with two reconfigured jock straps to an entire population of high-performance support tops, the sports bra has (thankfully) advanced.
Whether you’re barely there or bountiful, think of buying the right sports bra like finding your favorite pair of running shoes: there are loads of great models out there, but the more you run the more you’ll appreciate the one that fits your body best.
But how do you decide among the plethora of tata-tamers? (I mean, even Goldilocks only had three choices!) Use this step-by-step guide to find one that fits you just right.
1. Size Matters: How to determine your bra size
Statistics indicate that most American women wear the wrong size bra, which has two components, brand size (an even number such as 38) and cup size (letters). So, if you have any doubt about what size you are, start here.
Step 1: Find your band size
Put on your best-fitting, non-padded lingerie bra. With a cloth dress-maker’s tape measure in hand, stand in a relaxed posture with your shirt off. Exhale and measure around your rib cage, just under your breasts, at or just below the band of the everyday (lingerie) bra. The tape measure should be snug, but not interfere with normal breathing, and lay flat and straight around your torso. Take this rib cage measurement in inches.
For measurements up to 32 inches, add 5 inches and round up to the nearest even number. For rib cage measurements of 33 inches or higher, add 3 inches and round up to the nearest even number. The sum is your band size.
Step 2: Find your bust size
Stay relaxed. Then, keeping the tape measure straight around your bust, measure loosely around the fullest part of your bust with your breath exhaled. For women with larger breasts that sag, take your measurement with your breasts in a non-padded bra that supports them fully so you can accurately measure them. Be sure the tape stays straight across your back.
Round up to the nearest whole number. This is your bust size.
Step 3: Find your cup size
Subtract your band size (Step 1) from your bust measurement (Step 2). The resulting number determines your estimated cup size based on the chart below.
0 = AA
1 = A
2 = B
3 = C
4 = D
5 = DD
6 = DDD
Or try this automatic bra size calculator. Please note that this chart and online bra size calculators are an estimation of your size. They are not one size fits all. Additionally, standard bra-fitting methods are only accurate up to about size 38D. And because manufacturers don’t use standardized sizes, there may be variations in how each brand’s size fits you, as well.
2. Structural Engineering 101: How to choose a bra style
Wearing the right sports bra protects your breast tissue from damage, in addition to preventing discomfort like chafing. The type of bra you need depends on your size, and your activity level-the intensity and duration of your runs.
For runners, next-to-skin synthetic fabrics that wick moisture away from your skin are the most comfortable material for a sports bra. Especially over long distances and in hot or cold conditions, runners deem materials that transfer moisture away from the skin to the outside of the fabric (where it evaporates) as essential. Many brands have their own name for climate-control fabrics such as CoolMax, Dri-Fit, and DriLayer. These nylon, polyester, and spandex synthetic materials are the key to reducing chafing and keeping you dry . If you sweat heavily or run in hot weather, look for bras with open mesh fabric to help ventilate your core in addition to wicking fabrics. If you run in cold temps, wicking fabric keeps the chills at bay, and keep you from getting clammy.
Because running is a high-impact sport, leave your yoga tank with your mat, with the exception of a few A-cup runners. Virtually every brand now offers better support than ever for all shapes and sizes, especially larger busts and voluptuous figures. For the less-endowed, seamless construction provides liberation. And because we all have a bit of Goldilocks in us, fit options include adjustable straps and bands, wider shoulder straps, pullovers with X, Y, and U-back shapes, multiple-hook back clasps, front clasps, and even nursing styles.
To find your ideal sports bra, find your size below and choose from the high-impact desgins we outline to identify your style preferences.
If you’re an A or B cup:
The ancient Greco-Romans banded women’s breast to flatten their chests, and you can too, if you’re an A- or B-cup runner. A compression bra does just that by pressing your breast tissue against your chest to reduce motion. Factor in strap configuration to amplify support: wider straps and X- or Y-shaped backs boost support compared to skinny and scoop-backed styles. Smaller-breasted women may find a shimmel (a tank with an integrated sports bra) offers enough support for running, but it’s not advised for anyone bigger than a B cup.
Seamless bras offer the obvious benefit of no seam chaffing with some bounce control, but they’ve traditionally not afforded adequate support for bust sizes larger than a B cup. Developments in seamless interiors of bra cup molds have extended some of this comfort into larger-sized bras. Vibrant colors, less lingerie-looking styles, and the ability to incorporate graphics into the garment without printing add to seamless’s street appeal, particularly for runners who wear the same bra in gym classes, dance classes, yoga, and Pilates. Seamless construction also works well for women with large back and rib cage dimensions but smaller cup sizes, such as a 38A.
If you’re a C or D cup:
Compression and encapsulation
Sports bra styles that combine compression and encapsulation are best for C and D cups. These models offer the personalized fit of individual band and cup sizes with secure, formed pockets for each breast, in addition to materials that press breast tissue close to the body to reduce vertical, horizontal, and circular movement. The two-fold tactic combines comfort and support for high-impact activities. To customize your comfort, look for seam-free interior molded cups, adjustable straps and clasps, removable padding, cushioned underwire, and padded straps.
Sports bras with underwires provide added support, separation, and support. Improved design prevents pointy ends and jabbing, but pay attention to where any dense materials fall.
If you’re a D, DD or larger:
Because larger breasts generate more momentum in motion, this force can cause damage to the breast tissue and ligaments, causing pain, discomfort, and premature sagging. Encapsulation bras are your best friend if you wear a D cup or larger. The semi-rigid individual-cup structure of an encapsulation bra reduces vertical, horizontal, and circular motion, plus the personalized fit of individual band and cups sized with formed pockets for each breast holds bigger breasts in place better than compression does. Underwire support can benefit D+ cups as well. If you’re a runner beyond the DDD range, a custom-fit bra may be worth looking into.
3. Fit It: How to get a great fit
Once you have the right size and style, use these tips to enhance your overall comfort and performance.
The band of a sports bra should be snug, but allow for easy deep breathing without straining or resistance from your bra. The two-finger rule suggests you should be able to fit your index and middle finger-no more, no less-under the band. Here are some guidelines:
- If the band doesn’t stay flat against your breastbone, the cups might be too small.
- If the band rides up in back rather than resting level all the way around, it may be too loose, or your straps may be too snug.
- If the band chafes your skin, rolls, or doesn’t stay in place, it’s too loose.
Breasts should sit fully in your bra, centered and level, and, if there are encapsulated cups, be held within them.
- Wrinkled fabric, puckering, or gaping within the bra means the cup size is too big.
- Breast tissue spilling out over the edges of your bra means you need to step it up in cup size.
Straps should stay in place throughout your workout to provide vertical stability for breasts by dispersing weight off the shoulders. A good rule of thumb is being able to slide two fingers under each strap.
- If your straps still slip, try a racer back or adjustable straps.
- Snug straps carve ruts. If your straps dig into your shoulders, try wider straps or a more structured cup and band.
4. Yeah, but it still irks the girls: Common complaints resolved
Working out these final few kinks will help focus on hitting your stride.
Band rolling or chafing under the band
The elastic in your band may simply have lost its elasticity and its ability to snugly support you. Bands that are too loose shift and rub. This is most likely the case if your bra is more than a year old. If your bra is still new and sprightly, fit may be the culprit. Be sure your straps aren’t so tight that they pull up on your band and move it out of place. Rolling or ill-fitting underwires may be guilty of band woes. In this case, try a padded underwire, or a softer encapsulated or compression style.
Grooves belong on the dance floor, not your shoulders. Cinching straps too tightly is the main cause of indents where straps sit on your shoulders. If you are cinching your straps that tight, you probably need a smaller band size for support and to help relieve the strap pressure. Also be sure you have the proper cup size rather than expecting your straps to do all the work to stabilize your breasts.
If your cup runneth over, you need a larger cup size. This includes the front of your bra as well as the sides, near your armholes. If breast tissue is visible outside any edge of the bra, work your way up the alphabet.
First, determine if you have a good fit. If the bra is too big, or the straps, cup, and band aren’t properly adjusted to fit you well, your straps may slip. If you find your straps sliding down even with a proper fit, consider racer-back X- or Y- style straps.
Many women have breasts that aren’t exactly the same size, particularly after nursing. If you do, a bra with straps that adjust in multiple directions and cups with removable pads could offer the customization you need. Aim to fit the smaller breast.
Sports Bra Care
Most sports bras last about a year, depending on how often you wear them and how you wash them. Although most sports bras are machine washable (use a gentle cycle), this does tend to shorten their usable life. Fasten any hooks before putting your bra into a washer or use a lingerie bag to prevent entanglements that can misshape your bra. To maximize the lifespan of your bra, hang it dry rather than machine dry.