Sports Bras: What Does ‘Compression’ or ‘Encapsulation’ Actually Mean?


A well-fitting, supportive sports bra goes a long way in reducing physical and psychological discomfort during exercise.  However with so many sports bras on the market choosing the right one can be a minefield.  Finding an all round ‘best’ sports bra suiting every woman is an impossible task as every woman’s requirements are different. We want to make finding your perfect sports bra a little easier so in this article we will explore the differences between Compression and Encapsulation (and both) sports bras to help you decide which type will best suit your needs.

Compression Sports Bras

These sports bras are designed to ‘compress’ the breast against the chest holding them in place to limit movement.  They do not have individual cups to separate the breasts.  All sports bras that have some stretch in the fabric (usually Lycra or spandex) offer a degree of compression.

Researchers have mapped breast movement during exercise and found that the amount of movement across different areas of the breast differs significantly.  The bio mechanics of breasts is actually very detailed as breasts move in three dimensions; up and down, side to side and in and out.  Compression sports bras primarily limit the in and out movement of breasts with secondary stabilization of upwards and sidewards movement. This secondary support, if insufficient (larger busted, high intensity activity) may cause strain on the delicate Coopers ligaments (supportive ligaments in the breast that help keep them perky!).

Things to consider:

  • Compression styles hug your breasts firmly to your chest.
  • Compression sports bras can minimise your breast projection.
  • More popular with women with smaller cup sizes.
  • Can be more suited to low and medium impact activities.
  • Can sometimes create a ‘uniboob’ look as they don’t support each breast separately.
  • Some women, especially larger breasted, can experience sweating and chafing with the breasts touching each other in a compression bra.

Champion The Absolute Workout Sports Bra, Colour Black Granite, Front View

Abi and Joseph Ripple Mesh Crop, Colour Azure, Front ViewWe Are Handsome Active Long Line Crop, Colour Noir, Front View









If you have a bit more up top and/or intend to wear during high intensity activity that creates greater breast bounce then this style may not be for you. If not then there are plenty of styles that will offer the support and comfort you need.

Encapsulation Sports Bras

These sports bras are designed to support each breast separately, much like an everyday bra.  (Although I must stress that the overall design of an encapsulation sports bra provides much greater support than your everyday bra which should not be used for sport). As each breast is individually supported, they provide a more natural overall breast shape as compared to compression sports bras.  Encapsulation sports bras can also reduce a greater range of overall breast movement and protect the Coopers ligaments helping prevent breast pain and sagging.  Some encapsulation sports bras do incorporate an underwire to separate each breast, however with advances in design this is no longer necessary and many sports bras can achieve the same results without an underwire.

Things to consider:

  • Encapsulation sports bras separate and support each breast individually.
  • Provide a more natural breast shape, with no ‘uniboob’.
  • Suitable for all cup sizes.
  • May suit low, medium and high impact activities, depending on the design (and your cup size!).
  • Greater reduction in breast movement than compression sports bras, but do not limit ‘in/out’ movement as much.

Anita Active Momentum Underwire Sports Bra, Colour Black, Front View








If you are bigger busted and intend to wear during high intensity activity then this style may suit. If you just want a bit more shape and individual breast support then give this style a go.

Compression and Encapsulation Sports Bras

Sports bras combining Compression and Encapsulation have cups to support each breast separately whilst having the added benefit of a design that also ‘compresses’ the breast against the body.  For higher impact activities the best advice is to wear a sports bra that incorporates both of these design features.  Combining both types of support in the one sports bra optimises breast movement reduction in all directions, this gives you the best of both worlds both in terms of support and comfort.

Things to consider:

  • Separates and supports each breast individually.
  • Technical fabric and design also compresses the breasts against the chest.
  • Reduces breast movement in all directions.
  • Optimum support and comfort for high impact activities.
  • Suitable for all breast sizes and very popular with bigger breasted women.

Shock Absorber Active Shaped Support Bra, Colour Black Neon, Lifestyle View

Freya Active Epic Underwired Crop Top Sports Bra, Colour Electric Black, Front View









If you want the complete support package and you love high intensity activities then compression and encapsulation is a must for your next sports bra.

As can be seen each style offers it’s own features and benefits with breast size and impact level the primary focus when considering which to chose. Find the style that suits you and fits well and you’ll have a new best friend to workout with. For more information on the different types of sports bras, please visit our Fitting Room.

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.