Like many people, over the course of the pandemic, I took up running as both a form of exercise and as a way to get out of my house during a time when barely anything was open. I grew to love the activity, but I found that the sports bras I'd long been using for lifting and yoga were not suitable for running: They wore down quickly and didn't provide enough support for my large bust, causing my breasts to not only look saggy but also to bounce around, attracting the unwanted attention of random passerby. I became obsessed with finding the right sports bra to keep me comfortable during my workouts and safe from painful strain on my chest, which is how I found myself in touch with Kristyn Polin, Customer Service Supervisor at Bare Necessities, and Tracy Freno, the brand's Senior Manager of Customer Service. During our conversation, they were able to demystify bra sizing, help me understand what to look for in a sports bra, and identified some of their favorite products and brands.
"The majority of women are wearing a bra with a band that's too big and a cup that's too small," says Freno. "About 80 percent of women are not wearing the correct size."
Indeed, the pair diagnosed my sports bra issue straightaway: My bras were too small, and I was opting for low- and medium-impact styles during my runs instead of wearing more supportive high-impact styles.
To resolve the first issue, I learned from Freno and Polin how to actually find my bra size. "The number is the size of your band or the measurement around your back, which you can find in two very simple steps," says Polin. "Take a soft tape measure and wrap it around your ribcage while wearing your best-fitting bra—though preferably not a sports bra—and that's your band size. Then, measure around the fullest line of your bust (usually the nipple line). The difference between those two measurements is going to give you what the cup size will be. If there is a one inch difference, you're an A cup; if there's a two inch difference, you'd be a B cup; a three inch difference is a C, and so on."
Through this process, I learned that I've been wearing the wrong bra size for years, and am now better-informed about how to find better-fitting products. All that was left to do was understand how to shop for sports bras for large breasts that provide optimal comfort and support for different workouts. Freno and Polin walked me through this and more.
Finding the Right Sports Bra for a Large Bust
With the wide variety of sports bras on the market, shopping for the right product can feel overwhelming. Freno and Polin, however, remind us to keep the same values in mind when shopping for sports bras as we do when we're shopping for everyday bras. "You want the band to fit as snug as possible on the loosest hook-and-eye so that as the band stretches, you can bring the hook and eye inward," says Freno. "This expands the shelf life of your bra. Plus, the majority of the bra's support comes from that nice snug band. With sports bras in particular, the band is meant to fit a little bit more snug because you're doing higher impact activity than your everyday activities."
How do you select a bra based on your activities? Great question.
"If you were to do something that was more low-impact, like yoga or Pilates, you'll want to look for something with medium control—maybe something that doesn't have to compress your bust as much. You'll want to be able to move around comfortably, and you'll be able to get that with a medium-impact sports bra or a wire-free option," says Polin. On the other hand, "if you're doing more high-impact activities such as cycling, running, or horseback riding, you would want a more high-impact sports bra, which does tend to have a little bit more compression in the cups in the bust just to prevent bouncing as well as neck and shoulder pain."
The Best High-Impact Sports Bras
"If you talk to women who run, ride horses, or participate in any kind of high-impact activity, they will confirm that they get a better workout when they wear a bra that they don't have to think about so that they can focus their attention and energy on their workout," says Freno.
Indeed, I know for a fact that I run faster and have better stamina when my bust is pressed securely against my chest. This not only prevents bounce, but it also keeps me from experiencing pain, discomfort, and feelings of heaviness that slow me down when I'm jogging or doing burpees.
Check out some of our favorite high-impact sports bras for products that'll have you moving faster, more efficiently, and more comfortably.
According to Freno and Poli, this bra is the consistently the bestselling sports bra in the United States, minimizing bounce by 83 percent. Of the maximum coverage, high-impact option, Polin says, "Customers come back for it time and time again, because they know it and they love it." It features underwire so that the wearer’s breasts stay firmly in place, and it has encapsulated cups and cushioned straps in order to ensure comfort. Plus, it’s made from a moisture-wicking, stretchy fabric combined with breathable mesh—a great pick for long, hot workouts.
"Lately I have been finding success with wired Wacoal sports bras," recommends Freno, citing the 30 year old sports bra brand with a history of creating understated designs with high-performance technology. This option, which features underwire, is ideal for high-impact workouts like running, kickboxing, soccer, and more, and features compressed, encapsulated cups to keep you from bouncing. It’s also made from breathable, moisture-wicking microfiber and mesh to keep you from overheating. I love this rose colorway, but the bra also comes in seven other colors so you can match it with your favorite pair of leggings.
Before switching to Wacoal's wired styles, Freno swore by wire-free options, like this one from Anita. It comes in seven unique colors and patterns, and is made for high-impact activities like running, dancing, and jumping. It features encapsulated compression cups that are perfect for keeping breasts in place, and it’s adjustable both at the band and on the shoulders. It also promises to maintain a natural shape that molds to the contours of the wearer’s body, and it’s made with moisture-wicking, terry-lined fabric.
Personally, I'm a big fan of Athleta, and this style is no exception. Its sweat-wicking fabric is great for summer workouts, and it comes in a wide range of sizes, so it’s easy for anyone and everyone to find the perfect fit. It’s also designed with high-intensity workouts like cardio and HIIT in mind, and boasts a racerback design that allows for optimal compression without coating your back in fabric that’ll make you feel stuffy.
The Best Medium-Impact Sports Bras
As Polin and Freno pointed out, medium-impact sports bras are excellent for those participating in activities like yoga and pilates, in which the wearer makes a number of strenuous movements but doesn't necessarily require the compression of a high-impact option. Below, see some of our favorite options.
This wireless bra is made for medium-impact activities like weightlifting and cycling, and it’s stunning to boot, boasting eight unique colors and patterns such as this purple and blue one. It has an adjustable back closure and adjustable straps, and can be styled with the straps either crossing in the back or dropping straight down. For the best, most secure fit, the brand recommends sizing down to the next full cup size, particularly if you tend to mix high-impact exercises in with your medium intensity workouts.
Gymshark remains at the top of many workout enthusiasts’ lists of favorite brands, and with good reason. Their matching sets are soft, comfortable, and easy to slip on and off while providing substantial support for years of workouts. This set deep blue shade is flattering on just about every skin tone, and the bra promises medium support that’s ideal for weightlifting. Made from a blend of nylon, polyester, and elastane, it’s also meant to stretch to fit the contours of your body, and it’s sweat-wicking, too.
Kinflyte's bras promise to improve posture—something that I've gotten to experience with my own. And unlike other posture-improving products, this wire-free, sweat-wicking bra lets me move freely and comfortably throughout my workout, and I never feel like my shoulders are being yanked backwards by the straps. The medium-weight fabric is also thick enough to provide coverage and feel secure, but thin enough to keep me from feeling too hot or constricted when I’m working out outside.
Classic activewear brand Nike is many people’s go-to when it comes to workout clothing, with minimalist silhouettes that are flattering, effective, and trend-transcending. This simple white sports bra is padded for comfort (and to prevent the wearer’s nipples from becoming visible through the fabric), and it’s intended for medium impact workouts. Reviewers write that it fits snug and comfortable, providing adequate compression without being so tight that it hinders the workout.
The Best Low-Impact Sports Bras
Freno herself admits that, recently, she's been opting for lower impact styles that don't compress her chest so much. "I feel the difference when I wear a sports bra that compresses and one that doesn't," she says. "I don't personally like the feeling of compression—it makes me feel like I like I can't breathe. I just want to be supported so that I don't bounce."
And many women with big busts agree. Keep scrolling to check out some of the best low-impact, non-compressing sports bras on the market today.
This bra from New Balance is extra supportive for a low-impact bra, and is suitable for kickboxing, cycling, yoga, and even jogging. Its crossback design gives it an additional degree of compression, and its seamless design prevents it from chafing or digging uncomfortably into skin. Made with a quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabric designed by New Balance itself, so whether you’re running in the rain, attending a hot yoga class, or simply working up a sweat on your morning run, you can rest assured that your bra will keep you as dry as possible.
This bra from Playtex, designed with activities like pilates in mind, incorporates the best elements of high-impact and low-impact bras. Its wireless design promises to feel as smooth as butter, but it compresses breasts just enough to keep them from bouncing while you’re walking and exercising. Just about every review of the bra lauds its incredible comfort and fit, which is apparently true to size. Plus, its cooling fabric promises to regulate your body temperature during even the most intense workouts.
The ribbed fabric on this low-impact sports bra lends it a comfortable, cozy element, and looks stunning, too. The bra is made from a soft, comfortable, and flexible jersey fabric that allows wearers to pull it on and off with ease, and it’s made with relaxing yoga sessions in mind. Reviewers love it, consistently rating it comfortable and true to size. To complete the look—particularly as temperatures begin to drop—consider pairing it with its matching long sleeve top.
I own several bras from Tomboy X and love how they hold everything in place without being too tight. This low-impact option comes in three colors that match with a variety of yoga pants, and it features cups that are easy to remove and re-insert, depending on your preference (I prefer removing the cups, as the fabric is thick enough to provide coverage on its own). It also comes in a slew of sizes, from extra small to 6XL, and its stretchy fabric mold effortlessly to the wearer’s body.
Caring for Your Sports Bras
You may already be familiar with the recommendation that all bras be hand-washed, but, according to Freno, sports bras "are a realm all unto themselves, because they're getting such a beating. They're really doing a lot for you by holding up your breast tissue in the most extreme of circumstances, so it's not like a regular bra, where we'd suggest handwashing or a light cycle." Instead, she recommends using a washing machine for a more thorough, sanitizing wash.
"Use the cool or warm setting along with other delicates. You'll also always want to put your garment in a delicates bag, and if it's a hook and eye bra, make sure that you close the hooks before throwing it in the washer," adds Polin. "If you leave it open, those hooks are going to snag onto other fabrics and pull and bend."
In terms of detergent, they recommend using Bare Necessities' Forever Delicate Fabric Wash or any formula labeled "free and clear." They caution, however, against using popular brand Woolite, which works wonderfully on delicate fabrics like silk and wool, but can wear down the elastic in bras, specifically.
Finally, Polin warns, "I would never recommend throwing your bras in the dryer. Always hang-dry."
When to Toss a Sports Bra
Because sports bras require maximal washing, Polin says, "You have to realize that it's not going to last as long as a regular bra might."
So when is it time to call it quits with your go-to style? Freno suggests, "It depends on how often are you working out, what activities you're performing, and how are you laundering it. But what it really comes down to is this: When that sports bra is no longer providing you with the comfort and support that you deserve, it's time to get a new one." She says to regularly ask yourself: "Am I getting the support that I need? Are the straps fallilng off my shoulders? Am I on the tightest hook of the band? All of the signs of wear on a regular bra would also apply to a sports bra. You just need to keep in mind that you are prob working it harder than you are working a regular bra."
Meet the Experts
Kristyn Polin is the Customer Service Supervisor at Bare Necessities, where she is also in charge of fraud prevention management. She is currently based in New Jersey.
Tracy Tishman Freno is the Senior Manager of Customer Service at Bare Necessities. A graduate of Binghamtom University, she is currently based in the New York City area.
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Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things beauty, sexual wellness, and fashion. She's also written about sex, gender, and politics for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal since 2018. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.