How to choose a sports bra

Chafing, bouncing, and nipple pointing: as lovely as your breasts are, they can be an additional challenge you could do without on the trails. Men, feel free to read on for a sense of empathy!

Features of sports bras that deter their use by Australian women

Movement of the breast is not harmful*, but can be uncomfortable. Make sure you know how to choose a sports bra the right style and size for your body, because no matter your size, you are going to spend a minimum of R200 on one.

Small-breasted women like me can get away with a thin, elasticated racerback bra that’s just enough to stop their nipples from poking people’s eyes out! If you’re well- endowed, you may want more support. To help you navigate the subtleties of sports bra shopping, we’ve put together this handy guide.

Choosing the bra

Shapes and sizes

You are probably semi-full, flatter at the top, with a fuller cup at the bottom. It’s the most common shape.

Women with smaller breasts and a wider ribcage/shoulders have the shallow shape.

Full means that your breasts are round all over. You may feel like you have too much cleavage.

Features of sports bras that deter their use by Australian women.Features

Decide which of these features suit your shape:

Underwire for advanced support of full-shaped breasts.

Racerback cinch in back; the straps anchor the bra closer to the body.

Wide straps to distribute weight. Open back because you are bothered by fabric layering against your spine.

Contoured cups to lift and separate your breasts instead of compressing them.

Adjustable straps may be a chafing risk because of the slides, but it gives more control over fit.

Back clasps let you tighten the band, where most of the bra’s support comes from.

Seamless If you’re prone to chafing, this is your best bet.

Try it on


Now that you have a bra that is theoretically the right size, with features suited to you, it’s time to test how supportive it really is.

Straps. Hold the top of one strap and the centre of the corresponding cup, then pull. Whether they’re adjustable or not, the less stretchy the front straps, the more motion control they’ll provide.

Cups. Repeat a similar stretch test by tugging the top and bottom of each cup; the less give, the more motion control. Then put on the bra. Whether it’s a compression (squash together) or an encapsulation (separate) style, the cup should hold the whole breast, no spillage. If it doesn’t, choose the next larger cup size.

Band and side panels. Do the size and support tests in the infographic above. For an adjustable band style, set the clasp on the first eyelet; if you have to use the last eyelet to get a snug fit, you’re better off with a smaller band.

If the bra fails either test, pick a smaller size.

Lastly, jump around like a maniac and see how it feels! The bra fails the Bouncy Test if you jiggle and feel uncomfortable.

Maybe you’ll get lucky, like my sister, and find a sports bra so perfect that you’ll want to wear it all the time, not just when you’re running.

*”Exercising without a bra is not doing any lasting damage to chest muscles or breast tissue.” Doctor Christine Haycock, award-winning surgeon and expert on sports medicine for women.

Infographic by Leanne Coelho.

Article and infographic originally published in TRAIL 14.

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