Work it! How to Buy the Best Sports Bra For You

“Too tight. Unflattering. Una-boob. Doesn’t breathe.” These are all common complaints with sports bras. Why is it so hard to get what we want? We’ve taken on the task of wading into the deep dark territory of sports bras to see which ones come out on top. We all come in many different sizes, shapes, and preferences. So we took an overall approach to help you narrow down where to start looking and how to do it.

Guide to Sports Bra Jargon:

  • Moisture wicking- This implies it is made with synthetic material, not cotton, in a manner that allows for breathability.
  • Una-boob- A much unwanted effect of many sports bras where the ladies are squished into one blob. Avoid bras that have no built in structure to separate them. It is hot, uncomfortable, and unflattering.
  • Modesty padding- This means they either have built-in padding or  insertable padding to help avoid “headlights,” another jargon word meaning, well you know, nippy.
  • Racerback bras- These are the kind that crisscross between your shoulders. They are often most comfortable for larger cup sizes because the weight is distributed more. Racerback often means one complete piece of fabric creates the connection, while crossback, or X-style means two straps cross for the same effect.
  • Shelf bra- You are probably more familiar with these than you know. They are the kind often built into shirts with an elastic band around the bottom, called Shimmels.
  • Compression versus encapsulation- These are pretty much like they sound, the former holds you in very tight, while the latter focuses on individual support. Both are often found together.

Buying Tips:

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of a good bra. Holding the ladies tightly in place is more important than you may know. Your breast tissue is just that, tissue. So it is prone to drooping after extensive pulling and stretching, such as what happens while jogging. Even with light movement, such as walking quickly, they can bounce up and down as well as to the sides, as much as a few inches depending on your size. That is a lot of strain on the delicate tissue and ligaments! The bad news is that once stretched, the tissue does not snap back to the original tight state. Prevention is a must.
  2. Perfect fit is key. Like a good hairstylist, find one that is just right for you and stick with it. Take your measurements before you shop.
  3. If you buy before trying, like on a website, be sure they have a good return policy and be ready to exchange. This means fully testing it before washing. Go through the standard bra testing procedures before committing.
  4. Determine your activity level to see which kind of bra you need. If you are just doing yoga, you can go lighter on support, whereas a runner will need a much more reliable and tighter structure.
  5. Figure out your pet peeves and don’t compromise. I hate under-wires and bands that are overly tight on the rib cage, so anything with those two, do not pass my test. If you sacrifice one, you will regret it later.

Best Overall – Handful


“Flatters, not flattens.” This women ran company has struck gold with the Handful  Bra. Creator Jennifer Ferguson knew what she was dealing with when approaching design, since she was an exercise instructor for virtually every kind of class at the gym. It is extremely comfortable, provides a nice shape, and is supportive in all the right places.

Handful is made from has an entirely synthetic lining that effectively wicks away moisture, while staying soft and rub free. Unaboob is banished with sinched, gathered fabric down the middle front, making for a gentle feminine curve.  Removable pads come with it so you can have modesty padding if you choose. Additional pads also fit in nicely.

After testing this bra out for a solid week straight, I love it not just for exercise, but for day to day use. The adjustable Handful can switch from X-style, to classic straight straps, making for an easy switch to an everyday bra. During the day I wear it classic style, with looser straps. When exercising I adjust it to a tight X-position for more support.


Handful is incredibly into breast cancer awareness. The gentle compression of this bra allows for free lymph flowage, something all of us would do well to utilize, but also making this bra a great option for those who are or have dealt with breast cancer.  Handful is officially an approved mastectomy bra, and has gotten rave reviews on the comfort levels as compared to other mastectomy prosthetic bras.

The Handful Adjustable comes in $44, a fair price for a great bra. There are 5 colors available with more to come, White, Beige, Black, Gray, Purple. Comes with a mesh washing bag. They also have a great Tank Top option.

Best Variety- Moving Comfort

Screen shot 2013-03-20 at 3.37.45 PMOptions galore. Both small and large sizes, low impact and high impact will be happy here. They have variety in everything from bra types, fabrics, and colors. The sizing options are great. They even have a bra fitting page to help you find what best fits. From this I determined that I was actually a size bigger on the chest band, than I had once thought. You could spend days on the site looking over the options, but here are three we tested out:

Charity: This is a great minimalist sports bra. It is soft, comfortable pull over bra that provides plenty of support, without padding. The polyester/spandex combo is moisture wicking, and the back between shoulders section is a soft but durable mesh material for ultimate breathability. The shoulder straps are thick and will not move around. I found this to be great for lighter workouts like Pilates. $38


Vero: This uses encapsulation and is adjustable. All the bras have a smooth soft chest band to prevent irritation and rubbing which is really important with the tighter compression bras. Vero is mid range and in my experience it was snug, all across the chest, but not to the point of restricting movement. The shoulder straps are soft and adjustable from straight to crossback. The inside of the straps in the back are made of an especially soft material, which is very important with crossback straps that tend to move while working out. This is a great hiking bra, it wont rub and compete for shoulder space with a backpack. $40

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Urban X-Over: This is a pullover Crossback, or X-Style. The toughest of the three, with tons of support, durable synthetic material, and a sturdy hold. The design of this bra leaves more open space towards the outer chest, narrowing inwards, which is great for runners, and lifters, to avoid chafing on arm movements. $42

Most Affordable- Champion

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Champion has been a favorite of Target for a long time, even opening up their own Athletic Apparel stores, just outside of Target. The sports bras come in many shapes and sizes and are relatively inexpensive ranging from $20 for a simple cotton bra, to $36 for the more elaborate designs. Check out the Champion Double Dry.

Best Multi-use- Lululemon

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Don’t worry their bras aren’t see through. They actually have a pretty neat selection of sports bras, with supercute designs and styles. Best of all, many of them include a little pocket for a key and such, and some accommodate an iPod. Now that is a smart way to use a bra. Check out the Hook Me Up Bra. 

Looks So Good It’s Almost Lingerie- Victoria Secret

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Victoria Secret knows how to keep it glamorous even when working out. They have applied their well know edge in design to fantastic looking, durable, and comfortable bras. The Showtime Bra is part of their “Secret Sport Bra” Collection, and it does not disappoint. Its heart-like halter top design provides lots of lift, support, and harkens back to 50’s halter bra styles. It comes in many cute colors and designs, and also sports a thick band at the bottom, which makes for a smoother layering effect. The whole Secret Sport Bra line is gorgeous.


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