How To Buy A Sports Bra For Running
When female friends start running, I advise them to invest in two things…shoes and a sports bra.
I remember years ago playing sports as a teenager at school and into University, I used to wear two sports bras things under control. When I started running in 2012, I knew I had to get a decent sports bra that didn’t involve layering up, and so I went to Sweaty Betty and found the Shock Absorber RUN bra. It certainly kept things in place, with double clips, a tight chest band and adjustable straps. However, it did come with a lot of chafing issues. But I thought that it was just part and parcel of running.
I would cry getting in the shower after long runs and marathons. I had to go to a pharmacy after the Chicago marathon to get the Sudocrem equivalent to treat the ‘burns’ I got during the race. It wasn’t until I found Triumph Triaction bras in 2016 that I ran my first marathon chafe free (despite always layering on the body glide).
Aside from the comfort factor, there’s another physical reason why you need a properly fitted sports bra, and that’s about avoiding damage to the very delicate ligaments in our chest. Wearing the wrong bra puts the Cooper’s ligaments, the thin connective tissues that help support your boobs, under a huge amount of strain. This can cause long term damage, as well as pain to your chest area.
Do you need a specific sports bra for running?
Yes …and no.
Regardless of the size of your chest, you need a high impact sports bra for running. Of course you can use the sports bras for other high impact activities (HIIT workouts, spinning, I even wear mine for skiing and other impact sports).
There is a common misconception that it is only those with larger cup sizes that need high impact bras and that smaller breasted women don’t need supportive bras. Yes, there might be less movement in smaller chests compared to big chests, but even a small reduction in bounce still reduces the stretch in the ligaments in your breast (which ones they’re stretched, don’t go back!). Every woman should have a good fitting sports bra, whether you’re an A or G cup.
This study by the University of Portsmouth showed that low and medium impact sports bras help to reduce bounce, however they were not effective enough in reducing side to side movement that happens when we run. Running specific high impact sports bras offer both the forward and side to side support to limit overall breast movement.
How to Buy a Sports Bra for Running
If you thought it was hard to get the right pair of running shoes, then try finding the perfect sports bra…. it’s a minefield. When shops re-open I would highly recommend getting a professional fitting done to help you find the perfect fit. In the meantime, you can order online and try at home until you find the right one.
The band around your chest should be snug.
It should be tight enough that it doesn’t ride up but not so tight you can’t breathe! They do get looser over time though. It’s actually bands that are too big that are more likely to chafe (speaking from painful experience!) Adjustable bands are best to avoid this as you can tighten them as they start to loosen, you want to look for a bra that you can attach the clasps on the end or middle clasps to start with. You should be able to fit two fingers underneath the strap of the bra. If you can’t, the strap is too tight. If you can fit more fingers, then it’s a poor fit and probably too loose.
Check the cup size.
It shouldn’t have any wrinkles in the cup while you’re wearing it. I would order your normal bra size and a size smaller to try on at home and see which works best. Personally I think the bras with cup sizes for running are best rather than bra sizing with more generic small, medium and large bras. You can check your bust measurement with a tape measure and using the online fitting advice (Brooks have a good one as do Boobydoo!)
Choose between underwired and non-underwired.
This is personal preference when it comes to supporting your breasts, but I like non-underwired!
I’ve always thought you were supposed to jump up and down in the changing room to check the levels of support, however Rach (who works at a specialist running shop) told me that this doesn’t replicate the experience as you also propel yourself forward when you run. Her advice was to try and run a little bit to test it out. You’re still going to get a bit of bounce, (they aren’t and shouldn’t be a strait jacket according to Rach!) but you should get a significant reduction in bounce.
The straps on a sports bra shouldn’t dig into your body or cause pain.
Look for padded straps if you have a larger chest or crossover straps for extra support without putting pressure on your shoulders. I cross my straps over and have found this to be more comfortable, however I do know if I wear my sports bra for too long it can be a bit painful on my tight shoulders!
Types of Sports Bra
Encapsulation – encapsulation sports bras have a defined cup structure for each boob, giving maximum support without that shelf like monoboob.
Compression – compression bras compress the breast tissue close to the body. This is a classic support method providing maximum support and minimises unwanted movement.
Front Fastening – ever struggle to put your sports bra on by yourself? This style of sports bra could be perfect for you by making it easier to get your sports bra on and off.
Racerback – these sports bras reduce shoulder pressure so are ideal for running and rowing. You can choose a sports bra that you adjust into a racerback for more versatility.
The Best Sports Bras for Running
This is very personal, as is shopping for shoes, and what works for one runner won’t necessarily work for another. However, I have tried a number of bras since I started running 9 years ago with varying levels of success (and chafing). I’m a size 32DD (although they used to be bigger when I first started running!). Here are some of my tried and true favourites…
Triumph Triaction Sports Bras
These are my ride or die bras. I’ve worn them almost exclusively since 2016. And they have seen me through nine marathons and countless miles without any chafing.
Triaction Extreme Lite
This light weight bra is my favourite, it is high impact with double layer mesh of anti-bacterial material. I like that it’s unpadded with no underwire for maximum comfort. The spandex band around the chest is soft but secure without feeling restrictive. The padded snapping closure has three closing settings, and there are multiple adjustments on the shoulder straps. It comes in sizes 34 A to 38 E. (For ref I wear a 32DD)
I cross over the straps at the back to increase support. I’ve had some messages asking how I put this on, and it’s true some sports bras can be a gymnastic routine just to do up! Personally I pull it over my head and just reach around to do up the chest strap, however you can also undo the shoulder straps (or loosen them), fasten the chest strap, then flip over the shoulder straps and secure them at the right tightness.
Triaction Hybrid Lite
Another light weight yet supportive bra. I’m pretty sweaty when I run so I need something that is going to provide high impact support without being too heavy. These have a slightly v shaped cup which is flattering no matter your cup size. The antibacterial material is more of a waffle pattern which is breathable, and moisture regulating. It’s available in 34 A to 34 F.
ShockAbsorber Ultimate Run Bra
A lot of runners swear by ShockAbsorber run bras. And I used them for my first few marathons but ultimately had to give up after chafing issues. However, more recent updates have added extra padding to the bras straps and chest band which has made it hugely more comfortable.
Easy On Support Running Bra from Runderwear
Personally I find the name ‘easy on’ a bit ironic as I found this the hardest bra to put on solo with double chest straps. It provides a lot of support, is really comfortable and I like the more racerback style of the bra.
Bravissimo Inspire Sports Bra
This bra has been recommended by my aunt (I think she’s an 32H but don’t quote me on that!) It comes in sizes 30-38 F-K so ideal for those with bigger boobs looking for enough support to run without feeling squished!
Lululemon Enlite Bra
This bonded bra reduces chafe by eliminating all seams. And the multiple straps evenly distribute the weight of your chest across your back for comfort and support.
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