How to find a well-fitting sports bra

I’m not someone who usually does much exercise but, having recently moved to a building which has a gym, I thought I’d make a bit more effort to get myself moving. As I only have one top that’s suitable for a workout, I headed to TK Maxx as I didn’t want to spend too much until I knew I was going to stick to my new routine and actually get some wear out of the new clothes. While I was there, I spotted something that claimed to be a sports bra and naively decided to try it on despite several large red flags.

  • The sizing wasn’t cup-and-band, just standard clothes sizes
  • There was no fastening on the band
  • The straps were not adjustable

Now, if you’re small busted and find that you rarely have a problem finding clothes which fit, you might be wondering “what’s wrong with that?” However, if your boobs are large but your band size isn’t, if you’re short waisted (e.g. straps on tops and dresses are often too long), or if you’re super tall, then you have probably already worked out how bad the fit was on this DKNY racer-back crop top which claimed to be a bra. In order to get it over my head and my boobs, I had to choose a size that was way too loose on the underband so, if the non-adjustable straps hadn’t been far too long on me, I would have been flashing a lot of underboob at the gym. And why is this so frustratingly dreadful to see on sportswear? SPORTS BRAS ARE SUPPOSED TO OFFER INCREASED SUPPORT!

If you don’t feel like you could walk down the street without a distracting or uncomfortable level of bounce, then a garment has no business being called a sports bra. The reason bra bands have had hook and eye fastenings since the 1920s is that a) it’s easy to get a good firm fit, b) it’s secure, and c) if you have more than one row of eyes, it’s adjustable. The reason that bra straps have been easily adjustable since the 1930s is that it helps with support and comfort. The reason cup sizes were invented in the 1930s was to get a better fit. And the only reason that so many brands now offer pull-on, non-adjustable bras that are sized S, M, L, XL (or 8, 10, 12, 14 etc) is that it’s so much easier and cheaper for them to do this.

Those bra wearers with young, taut, average sized bodies have taken to these types of bras and bralettes with great enthusiasm, because there are no fit issues for them. However, those of us who are taller, shorter, older, squishier, or simply rather blessed in the boob department will absolutely need a proper sports bra to give us some decent support. There’s lots to consider when looking for one so, back in 2014 when I was asked to review a Panache sports bra, I enlisted the help of a marathon-running guest blogger to test it as I didn’t think I’d be able to properly put it through it’s paces myself while doing nothing more energetic than running up a Tube escalator. Ros said that:

After the initial ‘bounce test’ (in the privacy of my own home, I might add!), I went on a 3 mile run. The sports bra was very comfortable and I didn’t notice I had it on, which is great as the last thing you want distracting you is a strap digging into your collar bone or chafing around the band. There was minimal movement and I felt secure whilst performing high intensity moves such as jump squats and lunges at the end of the run.

So, like I said in the title of this post, what do you need to look for in a good sports bra and where do you find such a thing? First of all, you need to consider the type of activity you need to wear the bra for, in order to ensure that the one you choose will give the right amount of support. Something like yoga or walking is low impact, medium impact activities are sports like tennis, and if you’re into running then you’ll need high impact support. For anything where you’re going to be sweating, look for a label which says that the fabric is breathable and moisture wicking (which means it draws the moisture away from the wet bits, so you don’t end up with swampy underboobs!), and ideally look for a style that has some amount of adjustability in the straps plus a band fastening; trying to wrestle something off over your head when you’re tired and sweaty is hard! Wide padded straps are also a bonus if your boobs are heavy.

Now you know what kind of bra you’re looking for, my top tip is to shop with a brand that specialises in bras, not a sportswear brand. Making clothing that moves and stretches with you is one thing, but for this particular garment you really need to spend your money with someone who understands boobs. For a wide range of styles and cup sizes, try Shock Absorber, Triumph (their iconic Tri Action, pictured here in an advert from 1981, is still in production today!), or high street favourites M&S and Next. If you’re specifically looking for cup sizes E and above, take a look at PanacheFreya, Elomi, Pour Moi, or get yourself to a Bravissimo store for a selection of brands and fantastic fitting expertise. I cannot stress enough just how much of a difference it will make getting properly fitted, especially if you’re going to be undertaking high impact activities. Your boobs will thank you.

Image is a photograph I took of a full-page Triumph sports bra advert from the October 1981 edition of British Vogue.

2 thoughts on “How to find a well-fitting sports bra

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  1. I’m a massive fan of the Pure Lime compression running bra, which I’ve been buying repeatedly for over ten years. It’s comfortable, and doesn’t have a racer back – it mystifies me that anyone would want to wear a bra that is so difficult to fasten.

    1. Ooh, thanks for the recommendation! I’d not heard of them before. Will look it up.

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