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11 Things You Must Know Before Buying a Sports Bra

Greatly increase your chance of success when buying your next sports bra with these 11 expert tips.


Your breasts can move up and down up to 19cm during exercise?



1 in 5 women are put off exercise because of their breasts? Wow, that’s like 20% (yes, I am a math’s genius!)



8 out of 10 women are wearing the wrong bra size?



  •  Wearing the right size sports bra keeps your breasts in place during activity – helping to prevent sagging and stretching of tissue.
  • A great fit maximises comfort and is non-restrictive – giving you the confidence and ability to focus on your goals and push yourself further.
  • It can help to improve posture, especially if you are a larger cup size, where it can relieve strain on the back and shoulders.


  • Many women guess their size without taking accurate measurements and taking the time to find the perfect sports bra for them.
  • Their sports bras have stretched over time and no longer offer the support they should.
  • Bodies change shape regularly, so undertaking a re-measure every year and re-evaluating what you need from a sports bra is important.

So, it all seems pretty simple right? Get the perfect sports bra for you and hit the trails. Easy! If only it were that simple, what a happy world we would all live in.

I know firsthand buying a sports bra can be daunting. I also know “knowledge is power” (did I just make that quote up?). That is why I have taken the time to put this list together just for you.

Bras are expensive – particularly for the well-endowed among us – so why throw cash away on anything less than perfect? Whether you need a bra for yoga, the gym or running, follow my 11-essential must know’s to finding your perfect sports bra.

Here we go….

Before we go can I just say that everything you read here is INDEPENDENT!!!

No cash changed hands for the mentioning of particular brands or styles 🙂


 Sounds like something a man would say…and in this case they are right! The number one rule of buying a sports bra is it must be the correct size to ensure a good fit. Period. If the size isn’t right, it won’t fit well, and it won’t perform well. And we all know the importance of performance both in ourselves and in our sports bra!

A common misconception with your sports bra is that it is the same as your everyday bra. This is not always correct. Sports bras are designed differently to everyday bras and as such you need to measure yourself carefully before you start.


 Sports bra fitting is not an exact science, but a careful measure will help you find your basic size. Take the time to do this accurately to ensure the best outcome. I suggest measuring at home in front of the mirror and ideally with the help of a partner.

 Measuring Your Underbust

 Ideally, measure yourself while you are not wearing a bra. Stand straight with your arms hanging casually by your side.  The tape should sit directly under your breasts (where your bra band would normally sit), be horizontal all the way around and be snug, but loose enough that you can fit two fingers underneath. This measurement is your Underbust.

Measuring Your Overbust

 Still standing straight measure horizontally around the fullest part of your bust (usually over the nipples).  This is best done while you’re wearing a good fitting bra.  The tape should not be to tight resting lightly on your body. Make sure the tape is straight across your back and is parallel to the floor.  This measurement is your Overbust.


 Refer the below matrix to find your size. Look down the left column until you find your underbust in cm’s. The column to the right of this will give you your back size. Next look directly across to the right until you find your overbust size in cm’s. Go up the column to find your cup size.

Put the two together and you are away!

Bra Sizing Matrix


You need to have the right amount of support. You don’t want to run a marathon in a stringy crop top!

Different bras offer different levels of support. The type you need will depend on your cup size and the type of exercise you do.

Typically, women will feel best wearing a lower-impact bra for low-impact activity (such as yoga), and a higher-impact bra for medium-to-high-impact activity (such as jogging, running, cycling, playing tennis, etc). If you are active 3 or more times per week, it makes life much easier having 2 or more bras on the go that best suit the activities you are doing.

As a rule, the bigger the cup the more support you need. A 12B can bounce up to 8cm, even during low impact exercise. A 16DD bust can move up to 19cm. And what about all you 14KK’s out there! So err on the side of caution, go the higher impact level to up the support. Your boobs will thank you.

Let’s take a look at the different sports bra impact levels…..


 Low impact sports bras typically feature a cup-less design and restrict movement by compressing the breasts tightly against the chest wall. They provide light support for activities that create minimal breast bounce.

Features may include:

  • Comfortable fit with minimal hardware.
  • Thinner straps and strapping detail.
  • Less coverage with open back detail or lower cut front.
  • Removable pads.
  • Seamless construction and super soft fabrication.

Suitable activities:

  • Yoga.
  • Pilates.
  • Walking.
  • Weight Training.
  • Studio or mat work.


 Medium impact sports bras are a mix between low and high. These can sometimes be used for running but are often not suited to larger-breasted women. They provide support for activities that create moderate breast bounce

 Features may include:

  • Allows flexible movement for a wide range of activities.
  • Good coverage around the bust.
  • Elastic in the straps, arm hole and neck bind add extra support.
  • Adjustable straps.
  • Some styles have a zip front for ease of getting on and off.

Suitable Activities:

  • Gym.
  • Martial Arts.
  • Boxing.
  • Cycling.
  • Hiking.


High impact bras are often made with a defined cup structure – akin to regular bras – to encapsulate and support each breast. Some high impact bras will use a combination of both encapsulation and compression methods to maximise support. They generally use less stretchy material, include supportive seams and overlays. They provide support for activities that create a high amount of breast bounce.

Features may include:

  • Maximum coverage across the bust.
  • No bounce straps, extra padding for comfort.
  • Adjustable underband for the perfect fit.
  • Non-stretch lining to reduce bounce.
  • Running sling for extra stability.

 Suitable Activities:

  • Running.
  • Court Sports.
  • Aerobics.
  • Field Sports.
  • Dance.


 Let’s throw an extra one in here; Extreme Impact. Some brands have begun using this impact rating for their very highest support styles. They provide the ultimate support for activities that create the highest amount of breast bounce.

They often contain similar features to their high impact counterparts. Just ratcheting the support up to 11. If you want the ultimate in support, then look for an extreme impact style.


 OK so we have a lot of everything’s but trust me this is the final one; comfort. No point finding the perfect fit if you cannot couple that with comfort.

The two words you most often hear in the sports bra world is ‘support’ (we covered that above) and ‘comfort’. You’ve got to have the right amount of support and your bra must be comfortable!!!

Fit and comfort often (but not always) go hand in hand. You will often find if it fits well it will be comfortable.

So what should we look out for in our quest for comfort. Read on…

So, you’ve found a sports bra in your size with the right amount of support (2/3’s of the way there!) Next try your sports bra on and test the fit and comfort. It should fit slightly tighter than a regular bra, but you should be able to breathe deeply and comfortably.

Check the following factors:

Chafing: Make sure there is no chafing around the armholes, shoulder straps or seams. If the bra has hooks or snaps, make sure those don’t chafe, either.

Straps: You should be able to fit two fingers between the straps and your shoulders. It’s vital that the straps are secure and comfortable. If they’re too tight, they will dig in. If they’re too loose, they will not provide the correct amount of support and will move around or slip off your shoulders.

Band: Raise your hands over your head. If the band rides up, it may be too big. Try adjusting the straps or back closure. If that doesn’t work, try a smaller band size.

Cup: Your breasts should be centered and fully contained in the cups. Scoop them in and center them. Wrinkles or puckers in the fabric indicate the cup is too big. If breast tissue is pressed outside of the bra, that means the cup is too small, or that the style of bra is the wrong cut for your breast type.

Support: Test the bra’s support by jumping or running in place. Your breasts should feel secure and supported. If there’s too much movement up and down or side to side, keep looking for a better-fitting bra.

Pure and simple your bra should not cause any pain or discomfort. I will delve a whole lot deeper into the art of ensuring the perfect fit in a future article.


Women can be MASTERS at denial. So, the next time you reach for the 12C when you’re probably a D cup or above, think of what it feels like to wear the wrong size shoe. It helps to give some perspective on just how silly (and painful) it is to wear the wrong size. So, first, once you pop a bra on, scoop your breast into the cup with your hand and make sure your nipple is centred. Popping over the top? Too small. Floating around with room to move? Too big. Simple. Adjust accordingly. However, if things still aren’t measuring up, consider this: cup sizes operate on a sliding scale which means they’re not the same for all sizes.

Give or take a few millimetres a:

12B fits the same as a 10C – the only difference is that it fits more snuggly and securely around your back so if you hover between sizes (and always need the elusive size “11” or “13” or “15”) try your size equivalent. Need more examples?

A 12DD fits similarly to a 10E. It does NOT mean you’ve suddenly put on weight or have been deluded for years, it’s simply a sliding scale.

Fit a 14C but not convinced? Try a 12D for a firmer fit or a 16B to loosen the fit.

16DD but not happy? Play around with a 16E or shift the band size too – try a 14E (the exact equivalent) and a 14F.


 Specialist bra brands put a lot of effort into research and development, often extensively testing their bra designs before releasing them to market.

Berlei work with the Australian Institute of Sport testing and applying the AIS endorsed ‘support factor rating’.

Shock Absorber have a similar relationship with the University of Portsmouth in the UK. Here they test their bras against ‘no bra conditions’ to ascertain the percentage bounce reduction their bras achieve.

Quite simply; if you want the best in sports bra design and construction go for a technical sports bra from a brand that specialises in Sports Bra design and construction – such as Shock Absorber, Anita Active, Berlei, Freya Active, Glamorise Sport or Triumph.

This isn’t to say other brands aren’t as good just this is your better chance of sports bra success!

Anita Active Sports Bra


 Pretty simple; if the sports bra in front of you is good enough to win an award (preferably major or international) then it is well worth considering. As they say; the cream rises to the top and in this case the cream best supports our tops (bit to corny?)

Shock Absorber are perennial award winners. Regularly winning awards in the UK and Europe for their sports bras.

Anita Active are up there too. Winning many European and International design awards for their sports bras.

If you can find (and afford!) a brand that specialises in sports bras, designs and tests their styles and wins awards for those styles then ‘woo hoo’ you could be onto something seriously good!


 Like just about everything in life; you get what you pay for. This is not to say that some cheaper bras will perform just as well as their more expensive counterparts. But as a rule, the more expensive bras perform better and are usually better quality. Brands that rigorously test their products, develop technical materials and produce bras designed to last will come at a premium.

So, what should you expect to pay?

Expect to pay $50-80 for a low-impact bra, and $80-$110 for a high-impact bra. Once again, a rule of thumb. You might be lucky and find a comfortable, supportive high impact bra you absolutely love for under $50. Lucky, lucky you!

But don’t be afraid to pull out the credit card to ensure the best sports bra for you. Your body and your workout will thank you for it!


 This is an absolute given.

Advertising is designed to make us buy even if it might not be the right product for us. Brands spend millions of dollars a year to remove money from your purse and put it into their tills. When it comes to buying the perfect sports bra for you forget about brands and open you mind to everything that is out there. We all know Nike or Lorna Jane but are those cute little crop tops really giving us the support we need?

I highly recommend turning off the brand filters and focusing solely on features and benefits of the bra. Does it have all the features you require (Underwire? Wirefree? Racerback? Padded?). And does it provide all the benefits you are looking for (Great support? Soft? Comfortable?)

Focus on this and you will have a much better chance of success than if you just go out and buy a Nike bra because you like the brand and Serena Williams tells you too!


 Features makith the sports bra. Before you start your hunt for the perfect sports bra write down all the ideal features you would like in your sports bra. Next to those features note the must haves (MH) and the ones you are willing to compromise on (CO). I can tell you from experience that it will not be easy to find a sports bra that has all you want so this step is important as compromise is part of any long-term relationship.

Your list might look something like this:

High Impact: MH (you’re a horse rider; a whole lot of bounce)

Wirefree: MH (more comfortable for a long day in the saddle)

Compression: CO (prefer but not essential)

Racerback: CO (prefer the added support but not essential)

White: MH (don’t want show-through in your white equestrian top)

Armed with this list you can begin shopping. It will make it a whole lot easier to quickly filter out the styles that do not suit allowing you to focus on the styles that do.

The next few pages take a closer look at these features so read on….


No other feature creates more discussion than; should a good sports bra be underwired or wirefree?

You are very often pro-underwire, or you aren’t, there is no middle ground. But does this really need to be the case? Is there that much of a difference?

Underwired sports bras contain shaped wire that sits under the breasts providing extra shaping and support; especially for the fuller busted. Modern styles offer variations like flexi-wire and magic-wire to offer greater comfort.

The benefit of underwire in a sports bra is that it supports each breast individually and can help to minimize movement. The underwire should lay flat against your rib cage, below the breast tissue, and should not poke or pinch.

Wirefree does not have to mean ‘support free’. After all the foundation of great support is the band. It’s a common misconception that a bra needs to be underwired to offer great support. Modern design and developments in fabric mean many wirefree styles outperform their underwired counterparts.

Modern wirefree sports bras offer great support, comfort and shaping. Wirefree is also recommended for developing or sensitive breasts and for those exercising post-surgery.

Place a ‘Must Have’ or a ‘Compromise On’ mark next to this feature.


Compression sports bras

These bras typically pull over your head and compress the breasts against the chest wall to restrict movement. They do not have cups built into the design. Compression sports bras tend to work best for smaller cup sizes and low- to medium-impact activities.

Encapsulation sports bras

These bras have a defined cup structure that supports each breast individually. Hence, they provide high support with a feminine bust shape. There is no compression in these bras (most everyday bras are encapsulation bras). They suit medium to large cup sizes and medium to high impact activities.

Compression & Encapsulation sports bras

Let’s throw a third one in here. Many sports bras combine the above methods into a supportive and comfortable style. These bras offer more support than compression or encapsulation alone, making them generally best for high-impact activities.

Add your preference to you list.


Racerback: Sports bras with a racerback have shoulder straps that come together between your shoulder blades to create a Y-shape. These bras provide good support for medium- to high-impact activities, but they are typically not adjustable so it’s important to size the bra correctly. Racerback straps hide well underneath a racerback tank top.

Regular: This strap style is most like an everyday bra. The straps are often adjustable so you can fine-tune the fit. Bras with regular straps often have a back closure, which offers additional adjustment. Some regular strap bras are designed to allow the straps to be crisscrossed for versatility.

Regardless of the strap type you choose, keep in mind that thin straps generally provide less support than wider straps, but thin straps are easier to conceal.

Again, add it to your list!

Racerback Sports Bra


 Just like anything the more you know the better choice you will make. So read, ask questions and talk to people.

Read magazines, blogs anything you can get your hands on that mentions sports bras. The more you read the more you will learn.

Ask questions. Ask friends. What do they wear and why? Ask your bra fitter. Why has she recommended that style? Ask the internet. What does Google say? If you are going to ask Google, make sure the answer is from a reputable site. Ideally unbiased or unsponsored. You want impartial advice here.

Talk to people at every opportunity. OK maybe not at every opportunity (your cab driver may not appreciate it). You know what I mean.

Learn from your mistakes. What does and doesn’t work in your present sports bra? What can be improved?

As they say ‘it is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it’


 Following this one pretty much ensures success in the sports bra game. You will find in your search for the perfect sports bra that many stores stock a limited range of styles and sizes. It is all about floor space and unfortunately with the huge range out there very few stores stock them all.

Try your very best to find a store that has the largest range possible to give you the greatest possible choice. In your search don’t be afraid to look online. There are many websites out there that have a good range of brands, styles and sizes and a couple have a truly great range of sports bras.

I know this one from experience; product knowledge. Many store staff are a jack of all trades and a master of none. They sell a whole range of stuff with sports bras being one small component so very often they have enough knowledge to get by but are by no means experts.

If your store staff don’t know their stuff be prepared to walk away and look elsewhere. You’ve got to get this right so being sold the wrong bra for you is not acceptable. Once again don’t be afraid to look online as many sites have a plethora of information to help you find the perfect sports bra for you.


 Let’s recap my 11 essential must knows:












So there you go. Everything you need to know (and more!) to help you find your perfect sports bra.

Happy Shopping

Amy x

Amy Jaffers

Amy is the face behind Sports Bras Direct, Australia’s largest sports bra website. She's a mother of two, outdoors lover and sports bra expert. Her life mission is to help active women get the support they need as well as assisting women in need through her charitable donations.

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