How to Find the Right Sports Bra for You
When I finished my first 100 mile race, my feet were in great condition. I’d changed my socks throughout the race, and I walked away with just a single, tiny blister on my toe. However, I’d spent 28 hours running in sports bra that, come to find out, was two sizes too big. Across my torso was a bloody stripe of chafing where the band of the bra had moved against my skin, and that resulted in one of the worst showers of my life.
When it comes to running gear, shoes are the hot topic for most people. What brand is best, how they should fit, what innovative features they have, how long you should have them… the discussion is endless, as is the information available. We all know our shoe size and most runners have several pairs in their regular rotation. However, sports bras often get neglected in the gear conversation and many people are embarrassed to talk about them. At best, ill-fitting bras are uncomfortable. At worst, they make running miserable.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a bra. Within the different brands, bras come in several categories, and are sorted by level of impact. Think of “impact” as how much movement they allow. When choosing a bra, cup size and activity level play a huge part in what is most comfortable for the wearer. You should consider what you’ll be wearing the bra for (running, cycling, day-to-day), and how comfortable you are with chest movement: is a little okay, or do you often find yourself in pain or uncomfortable because of it?
Low impact bras are going to allow a lot of movement, and are designed for low impact activities such as daily wear, gentle yoga, or some cycling. These are the least compressive, and for most people, the most comfortable to wear on a day-to-day basis. Low-impact bras will offer little support or structure.
Medium impact bras are going to be a step up from that. They will allow a little less movement, but are not fully compressive. A medium impact bra is suitable for more strenuous activities, such as intense yoga or hiking. Medium impact bras may be sufficient for smaller cup sizes to run in, but not provide enough stability for larger cup sizes. They are often more structured, and some may include underwire.
High impact bras are the most compressive and allow the least movement. Smaller cup sizes may find high impact bras uncomfortable or unnecessary, but larger sizes will find that even while running, high impact provides the most security.
Once you narrow down the type of bra that you need, you should consider different features. Adjustable straps offer the benefit of customization. Velcro straps are easier to adjust on the go, and sliders work more like traditional lingerie bras. Lower impact bras are often pull-over and do not offer size adjustment. Some medium and high impact bras are pull over, but due to their higher compression, may be more difficult to put on if your shoulder or upper-body mobility is limited. Front-closure bras, such as Enell and Shefit, may be a better option in this instance.
Bra size, like shoe size, can change over time. Many people find that their daily-use bras are a different size than their sports bras. Likewise, many people guess about their bra size and aren’t sure at all!
Many stores are happy to measure for you. But to measure your bra size at home, you will need two numbers: your band size, and bust size. To find your band size, wrap a measuring tape around your chest, just below the breast. It should be snug, but not uncomfortable. Round to the closest whole number, and this will give you your band size–the number component of a bra. To find the cup size, you will need your bust measurement. This is the the measurement across the fullest part of your breast. To find your cup size, subtract your band measurement from bust measurement. The difference between the two equates your cup size.
(sizes increase linearly from there)
For example, a 40 inch bust with a 36 inch band would be a 36D.
If possible, try bras on at a store as some do not fit true to size. When you put a bra on, you should be able to hook it on the middle hook. You should be able to slide two fingers underneath the band and straps, but both should be snug. It should feel secure, and the fabric should not bunch, sag, or pull anywhere. A running bra should be tighter than a daily wear or lingerie bra, but should not be painful or inhibit breathing. You should not be spilling out the sides or top, and the band on the back should lay flat and not pull up.
If you find that bras in your size are not fitting quite right, consider trying the sister sizes. Think about bra sizes as a ratio of band to cup: if you change one number, the other should shift proportionately. So, if you measure a 32D but the band is too tight, you shouldn’t go up to a 34D because the cup is increasing in size as well. Instead, you should go to a 34C, then the cup-to-band ratio stays the same. In other words, if you need to increase band size, decrease cup size, and vice versa.
If the bra fits, get it in at least three colors! If financially feasible, you should have three great bras in your inventory: one that you’re wearing, one that you’re washing, and one in the drawer ready for use. When you do wash your bra, be sure to put it in a lingerie bag and to secure the velcro and hooks. Hang drying will prolong the life of your bras. Bras don’t last forever, though. Haylei Banister of Brooks says “Your bra should never celebrate a birthday! Replacing your sports bra when you replace your running shoes is a good practice to utilize the suggested lifespan.” Bras lose their elasticity and loosen over time.
It’s a good idea to re-measure every time you go to purchase a new bra. Pregnancy, fluctuations in weight, and time can change chest measurement, just as it can change your shoe size. Finding a great bra should be just as important as finding a great pair of shoes!