Other items require a bit more research, particularly if you fall into a hard-to-fit category. You guessed it—I’m talking bras, ladies. Part of the problem, especially if you have a large bust, can come from simple sizing issues. A size large isn’t only going to be large in the cups; it will also be larger everywhere else, like the band, which might not suit a petite frame. Conversely, someone with a larger frame but smaller bust isn’t going to get proper support from a bra that’s not designed with her humps in mind.
To get some insight into the best ways to find a properly fitting sports bra, I talked to a couple of experts. Katie Vogt-Saladucha has been a 34D bra fit model for the past 23 years, working with virtually every American bra manufacturer including Victoria’s Secret (stores and catalog), Gap Body, Wacoal, Bali, Playtex, Maidenform, Warners and Under Armor. As a fit model, her job is to give the designers the necessary feedback to create a well-balanced, well-fitting garment, and as an avid athlete, she’s very aware of just how important those two elements are.
I also talked to Linda “The Bra Lady” Becker of Linda’s Bra Salon in New York City and LindasOnline.com, both of which offer bras in sizes AA-N, along with expert advice and tools to help you select the right bra.
Both experts stress the importance of a proper fit. Before you ever set foot in the dressing room, you need to make sure you know what size you need. “No sports bra will be effective if it’s too big or too small,” Vogt-Saladucha says.
To figure out the size you should be wearing, you can always go to a bra specialty store to be fitted, but if you don’t live near a shop that can fit you, don’t worry—Linda has you (and your boobs!) covered.
“Linda’s Online has a bra fitting calculator that will help you determine your size,” she says. “We also provide a ton of information about proper fitting as well as solutions to any bra problems a woman might face. If you are still having problems, call our bra hotline (USA: 888-262-4887) and an expert bra fitter will walk you through measuring yourself. It is important to have a cloth measuring tape to obtain your accurate size. Metal tape measures won’t measure the circumference of your body, so forget about using one! Once measured, the bra fitter will recommend bras she feels would work best for the client.”
Next, you need to determine just how much support you need for your desired activity. If you’re going to be jumping around a lot, you need a high-impact garment, and Vogt-Saladucha knows how to make sure the garment is up to snuff.
“One of the easiest and quickest ways to determine if a bra will be supportive is to check the straps to see how much stretch they have. The more stretch, the more bounce the garment will have. Look for straps that are reinforced or padded—especially for bigger busts—and have little to no stretch. This is also true for the cups and the back as well. The best high-impact bras have little or no stretch in the cups and minimal stretch in the band.”
In addition, Vogt-Saladucha recommends a bra with a moisture-wicking material, which will make women with breasts of any size a bit more comfortable.
Now, you’ve picked out a couple of bras and you’re in the dressing room. What kind of tests would a bra fit model put them through? Vogt-Saladucha has five steps.
5 Steps to See If a Sports Bra Is Right for You
- Make sure that the band is snug to tight around the body. The band is what holds the cups in place and is integral in preventing bounce. A back that is riding up—a sign of a band that is too big—will never prevent bounce.
- Make sure that the breast is completely contained in the garment and if the bra has an underwire, that it is flat against the body. If the breasts are spilling out of the cups, or the wire is standing away from the body, the bra can’t do its job to properly prevent bounce. The same goes for cups that are wrinkled or too big. (Even worse, as there is no support whatsoever for the breast!)
- Make sure that the straps are adjusted correctly (if the bra has adjustments on the straps). So many women fail to do this. The strap should feel comfortable on the body, but there should not be any slack, and you should not be able to slip the strap off your shoulder when properly adjusted.
- Do the bounce test! Jump up and down in the garment, and notice how much bounce you are getting. If you have bounce, especially for runners, move on to a garment with less. Also make sure to move your arms around to mimic the activity you might use the bra to participate in. If you play tennis, make sure that there is enough clearance under the arm for unrestricted movement while playing. If you are doing aerobics, is there enough clearance in the back so that your shoulder blades are free from restriction?
- Put a shirt on over the garment. Do you like your appearance relative to the support that the garment is giving you? Most sports bras work by compressing the breast and the shape is usually much flatter than traditional bras, but the uni-boob look is never appealing. Make sure that the bra is flattering and supportive.
Once you know what you’re looking for and how to determine the best fit for you, you’re ready to shop. The helpful team at Linda’s is happy to help you make a selection, either in person, online or over the phone (and they have a solid 30-day return policy to make trial and error a bit easier).
Vogt-Saladucha has a few favorites of her own, too (although she admits her very favorite, made by Gap, was discontinued but will be back in a revamped design next year).
Best Sports Bras for High-Impact Activity
- Enell Maximum Control Full Figure Wire-Free Sports Bra. One of, if not, the best sports bra when it comes to full figures. I wore this while doing a triathlon and had absolutely ZERO bounce while wearing it. Some people are put off by how much coverage it has—I dislike the back as I found it to have too much coverage and my movement was restricted somewhat—but for bounce control and availability in really large sizes, there is nothing better.
- CW-X Ultra Sports Bra. This sports bra has great bounce control as well, and the back has less coverage than the Enell garment but still provides great support.
- Under Armour Endure Sports Bra. This one provides great bounce support while delivering a great seamless shape for a wireless cup.
- Champion Powerback Underwire Sports Bra. A true workhorse of a bra. Again, great at reducing any bounce and is very comfortable. One must make sure that the breasts are fully contained in the cups and that the wires are not standing away from the body for maximum comfort.
Best Sports Bras for Medium-Impact Activity
- Wacoal: Medium Control Convertible No Wire Sports Bra. Great garment—really nice bounce control—they call it medium-impact but for smaller sizes, it could be high impact. Great feature of having straps that are convertible, and it looks great under clothing.
- Nike Dedication Women’s Sports Bra. This has a pull-over style without the uni-boob look. With sleek fabric, it offers comfortable support throughout the garment.
- Under Armour UA Duplicity A/B Sports Bra. A really nice-looking garment and very comfortable and supportive for mid-impact sports.
- Champion Double Dry Full Support. Super soft and sleek fabric combined with built-in thin foam cups makes this sports bra a really nice choice for a medium-impact garment.
So there you have it—a sports bra for every activity and size! If you’re a smaller chested gal, be sure to check our our sports bra guide just for you! —Kristen