How to choose the right sports bra

Sports bra

Sports bras, if you’re anything like me, sometimes you’ll love them and sometimes they’re the bane of your life. But the simple fact is that you cannot live without them. If you do any kind of fitness activity, you’ll know what I mean.

Sports bras have been around for around 40 years now. The first one was apparently invented in the mid-1970s by a company called Glamorise Foundations. It was known as the “Free Swing Tennis Bra” – which is a bit of a mouthful! After a couple of years a general exercise bra was invented by a lady called Lisa Lindahl and it was called a “jockbra” which, in my opinion, was still a terrible name for a bra.

Since then, the sports bra has taken off in a big way (even though it can sometimes be rather difficult to actually take off!)

Now you have a whole host of different sports bras to choose from. There’s light support, high impact, racerback, compression and many, many other different types of sports bra. The sheer amount of choice can be overwhelming, so let me take you through all the different types and how to pick the best sports bra for you.

Sports bra support

First up, let’s talk about support. Take a look at a sports bra in a store and you’ll probably see either ‘light support’, ‘medium support’ or ‘high impact’ listed on the label. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that light support sports bras are going to offer the least support and high impact is going to offer the most. But what do you use each for?

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re going to be doing a very calm activity like yoga or walking, then go for a light support sports bra. You can also wear a light support bra for lifting, however, if your lifting routine is going to involve any high impact activity, then obviously a light support sports bra is not going to work! I usually wear a light support sports bra when doing yoga.

Medium support sports bras can be worn for road cycling, hiking and other activities where you’re not going to be jumping or running around a lot. I usually wear a medium impact sports bra when lifting or doing body pump.

High impact sports bras are for high impact activities. That includes running and anything where you’re going to be jumping around (like HIIT, Les Mills Body Attack or Body Combat, team sports like netball and similar). I wear high impact sports bras the most – for running, netball, HIIT, circuits, spin and bootcamp classes. I usually default to a high impact sports bra when I go to the gym as I usually get bored with just lifting and end up doing a lot of box jumps and burpees!

Sports bra surrounds

Technically speaking, this is about the construction of your sports bra, but I’ve called it surrounds cause that’s basically what it does.

Encapsulation sports bras have separate cups that surround and support each of your breasts individually. These are usually good for low impact workouts.

Compression sports bras are the ones you pull over your head and which properly strap you down. They’re also the ones you’ll struggle to get off after a hard arm day! These sports bras do not have individual cups so they’re best for medium impact workouts.

Compression and encapsulation sports bras combine the best of both sports bra types. They are best of high impact workouts.

Sports bra straps

After you’ve found the right support and construction of your sports bra, you’re suddenly faced with an array of straps.

Straps on your sports bra should always feel secure and have minimal stretch to prevent your breasts from moving too much during your workout. Generally speaking, the thinner the strap, the less support it will offer. Straps shouldn’t fall off or dig into your shoulders when you’re working out.

Tank top straps are similar to the straps on an everyday bra. They can often be adjusted so you can achieve a better fit. Some tank top straps can be criss-crossed for more fitting options.

Criss-cross straps obviously cross at the back so they can hide nicely under a top or make their own little statement. They usually offer good support and the straps are usually adjustable.

Racerback straps come together at the back to form a Y shape. They are great for medium and high impact workouts. They aren’t usually adjustable so you need to get the sizing right straight from the get-go.

A quick tip on sports bra straps – if you’re looking to lose weight, it might be worth looking for adjustable straps. Personally, as I lost weight I found my shoulders did get smaller so having adjustable straps on some of my sports bras meant I was able to wear them for much longer. You will probably need to get some new sports bras at a later date however, especially if you lose a drastic amount of weight.

Perfecting your sports bra fit

Congratulations! You’ve successfully navigated through sports bra support, construction and those pesky straps. Now you have a good idea of your ideal sports bra, but as an extra check you can look at the following:

  • Chafing: you shouldn’t experience any chafing when wearing your new sports bra. Make sure the arm holes, band and any hooks and fastenings do not chafe during your workout.
  • Straps: you should be able to fit two fingers between the strap and your skin. Anymore and it’s too lose and any less and it’s going to dig in.
  • Band: give someone a high five or simply raise your hands above your head. Your band shouldn’t rise up. If it does, either adjust it so it’s smaller or get yourself a smaller band size.
  • Cups: your breasts should be fully contained in the cups. If they aren’t go down a size. Likewise, any puckering of fabric is also an indication that your sports bra is too large.
  • Support: check that the type of support that you have is suitable for the activity you plan to do wearing it. If it’s yoga, check you don’t *ahem* fall out when you downward dog. If it’s HIIT, jump and run around for a bit to check your breasts don’t move an inch.

Saying goodbye to your sports bra

Replacing your sports bra largely depends on how often your wear it and how often it is washed. A good rule of thumb, however, is to review your sports bra fit every year. You should check for signs of wear in the elastic and fabric and replace when worn. To give your sports bra a break, you shouldn’t wear it on two consecutive days. Oh, and if you lose weight, double check your sports bra still fits. I’ve gone from a size M sports bra to an S and now an XS in little over 6 months!

I’d go so far to say that a sports bra can make or break your workout. You want to give it all when you’re working out, so make sure that you’re not distracted by an ill-fitting sports bra.

One Reply to “How to choose the right sports bra”

  1. […] light, medium and high impact. You can find out more about what kind of sports bra you need in this blog post I wrote on the […]

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