If there’s any piece of activewear that will seriously impact your workout, it’s a sports bra. More than ill-fitting running shoes or see-through workout leggings, a bad sports bra can stop your workout in its tracks. And like any gear purchased online, sports bras run the risk of not living up to their advertised claims.
After months of research and testing over a dozen top-rated high-impact sports bras, we can tell you that the Lululemon Energy (available at Lululemon) is the best sports bra you can buy for intense workouts. Available in a wide range of sizes, it’s easy to get on and off, adjustable for a secure fit, and compresses well to be supportive and comfortable.
Other Sports Bras We Tested
How We Tested Sports Bras
My name is Rebecca Boniface and, as a curvy plus-sized woman, I often joke that I’m built for comfort not speed. As athletic brands become more inclusive with a wider size range, I’m excited to see women that look more like me in their advertisements. With my clothing size ranging from 12 to 16, what I need from my activewear differs from those of my straight-size sisters. Sports bras are one of those items that I don’t feel I have as much flexibility as someone who has less chest. Not enough compression or support becomes a problem quickly when I’m doing higher intensity movements. Because sports bras are often one of the more expensive workout items I wear, I feel strongly that the dollars I spend on them should translate to a highly supportive experience. Like many folks, when I’m more active, my shape changes, so having bras that fit well and can adjust to my body (or the bra fabric aging) is also important.
To offer a second perspective, Reviewed editor Amy Roberts also contributed to the testing. She’s a former competitive runner and personal trainer with a slim, athletic build who historically has found it hard to find sports bras that offer enough support for her bust in a 30- to 32-inch band size. (She also goes through a lot of activewear, so price weighs heavily into her decision-making process.)
The tests focused on qualitative and quantitative aspects of over a dozen sports bras, covering the experience of ordering online, initial trying-on experience, and wear during high-impact exercise. The bras selected represent the largest brands in activewear and are all marketed for “high impact” as—let’s face it—a bra that holds the girls firmly in place is the hardest bill to fill. We also made sure each option comes in a wide size range, from at least 32- to 38-inch band size and at least B to D cups (with praise and points given for greater size inclusivity).
We ordered all the bras online, focusing on the clarity and accuracy of the shopping experience in terms of finding the right size. When the bras arrived, our testers assessed them for fit and initial support by doing 30 seconds of jumping jacks. If the bra was able to give reasonable compression and fit, our testers took them out for a run or other high-impact workout.
Part of the assessment covered visual appeal, including if the bra looked good on its own and if it offered lining or padding for shape as well as modesty in chilly conditions. The bras selected for testing were also rated on their care instructions and assessed for fit after a machine wash and line dry, even if they were described as “hand-wash only” (because, really, who follows that instruction?).
Like any other intimate clothing product, we expect personal experience is going to vary. We hope that this testing will steer you towards bras that might not have been on your radar and save you money on ones that don’t really support your girl-bits.
What You Should Know When Buying a Sports Bra
If you’ve ever purchased a bra for working out, you know these things can be complicated. Here are some aspects that you might want to consider.
Style: Sports bras typically come in pullover or back- or front-close styles, or a hybrid of both pullover and back-close. For our test, we focused on bands that offered a rear hook-and-eye closure, as these are typically easier to get on and off than a pullover style and offer some level of adjustment for the band size. Adjustable straps are a bonus for a more precise fit, though shouldn’t be relied upon for support: The bra’s band should hold approximately 80% of breast weight with the straps only accounting for the remaining 20%.
Size: In regular bras, band and cup sizes are generally standard, but that’s not always the case with sports bras, especially when brands create their own sizing scales or opt for the generic S, M, L to encompass a range of sizes.
Still, the two most common measurements used in the size charts are the band size and the cup size. Band size is the circumference around your rib cage (where the bra band sits) with a couple of inches added, depending on the brand. Cup size is calculated by finding the difference between the circumference around the fullest part of your breasts and your band size. If the difference is one inch, the cup is often an A cup. Two inches, a B cup, and so on.
Some sports bra brands simply suggest you order your regular bra size, no additional measuring needed. Because sports bras arguably need to fit even better to offer the support needed, you may also consider using a “sister size” that has a different number and letter to dial in your fit. If the cups fit well but you’re on the first or last hook on your bra, that’s a sign you may be happier with a sister size to dial in your fit. For example, if you typically wear a 36C clipped at the furthest-out setting, consider a 38B to have more band space but a similar cup volume. If your 36C is fitting you on the tightest notch, switch to 34D to keep the cup volume consistent but give you more options for your band. And if you want more compression in general, consider going down one size in band or cup (but probably not both) from your usual.
Support type: From a physiological standpoint, there’s not a lot supporting your breasts. Generally, breast tissue is supported by ligaments and, to a certain extent, your pectoral muscles, but mostly just the skin—which stretches, especially with movement. By properly supporting your breasts, workouts can be more comfortable and allow you to fully push your fitness limits without pain in your chest or even your breasts getting in the way.
Sports bras are constructed using one of two methods to control movement of the breasts (or a combo of both): compression and encapsulation. Bras that rely on compression flatten down the breasts and press them against the ribcage to inhibit bouncing. Many pullover bras use mainly compression, which is generally more effective for smaller breasts, but can result in a “uniboob” look. Bras that “encapsulate” offer structures— typically molded or sewn cups—that separate the breasts and control motion for each on its own. This design is often more successful for larger breasts or for anyone who can’t stand any bounce in their workouts. (Nearly all of the bras on our list use encapsulation to some extent.)
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