A Guide to Choosing the Right Sports Bra for Running

Ladies, if you’re using the same sports bra you rely on for your yoga sessions as you do for running, the latter activity is going to be very uncomfortable. You need extra support no matter your bust size when running because hey, things move in there. What else do you need to know as a runner when shopping for a sports bra?

Here’s what to keep in mind when choosing a sports bra for running:

  • Shop high-support bras only 
  • Know the cup and band size you need 
  • An underwire is optional and should be covered if it’s present
  • Rolled edges and seamless fabrics are a must
  • Clasps help for larger bust sizes
  • Pick moisture-wicking materials 
  • Try before you buy
  • Test your bra by doing a variety of physical activities 
  • Replace your sports bra about every year

Yes, that was a lot of tips we threw at you, but don’t worry. Ahead, we’ll elaborate on each one so you can find the ideal sports bra for running no matter your cup size or budget. You’re not going to want to miss it! 

9 Tips to Remember When Selecting the Perfect Sports Bra for Running

Buy a High-Support Bra

The word “support” in the world of bras usually means breast support, aka how much cradling and lifting the bra does. That definition is still applicable in sports bras, but support can also mean something different in this realm.

Namely, support refers to the level of impact of your physical activity. Take, for instance, low-impact activities such as strength-training at the gym (or at home!), doing yoga, or walking. These activities don’t require a sports bra with loads of support or adjustments. A low-support thus bra suffices.

Medium-impact activities such as road cycling, skiing, and some hiking need moderate or medium support from your sports bra. As for running? That’s considered a high-impact activity along with mountain biking and high-intensity exercises.

REI states that a high-support sports bra should include hook-loop closures, sizing by the cup and band, compression styling, adjustable bra straps, and wide bands. We’ll talk about a lot of these features throughout the rest of the guide. 

Measure Your Cup and Band Size

Did you know that if you’re a D cup or larger that your sports bra should be high-support no matter what level of physical activity you’re engaging in? Indeed, it’s true. How do you know what cup size you are in a sports bra? By measuring, of course.

Now, we know what you’re going to say. You got measured for your everyday bra, so can’t you just take those numbers, including the cup and band size, and apply them to your sports bra as well?  

Sometimes, but not always. Your bra size may or may not change, but a properly-fitting sports bra is supposed to be tighter than your everyday bra. 

Many factors can require you to size up or size down your sports bra. These include your age, hormone levels, pregnancy, gaining weight, or losing weight. It’s not a bad idea to measure for your sports bra before you buy it for those reasons. You don’t want to waste your time and money on a bra that doesn’t fit, right?

You’re pretty well-versed in measuring for an everyday bra, but how do you take sports bra measurements? Good question! Let’s start by walking you through how to measure your cup size. This is something you can do at home with a second person and a flexible tape measure.

Take the tape measure and wrap it around the part of the bust that’s fullest, which is typically where your nipples are. The tape measure should be firmly encircling you but not digging into your skin. When you get a number, round it up. You have now calculated the bust measurement.

Next, you need to know your ribcage size. Again, grab the measuring tape and wrap it around the upper part of your body, but this time beneath your breasts where your ribcage starts. You want to round this number down, not up. 

Go back to the bust measurement. Take that number and subtract it from the ribcage measurement and you’ll have your bust size! For a number that doesn’t correlate to a bust size, round your number up until it does.

  • For a calculation of 3 inches, your cup size is AA
  • For a calculation of 4 inches, your cup size is A
  • For a calculation of 5 inches, your cup size is B
  • For a calculation of 6 inches, your cup size is C
  • For a calculation of 7 inches, your cup size is D
  • For a calculation of 8 inches, your cup size is DD
  • For a calculation of 9 inches, your cup size is E
  • For a calculation of 10 inches, your cup size is F  

Now you need to figure out the band size. You’re already halfway done with this right off the bat considering you know your ribcage measurements. Next, it’s about taking that number and correlating it to the correct band size.

  • For a ribcage that’s 25 to 27 inches, your band size is 30
  • For a ribcage that’s 27 to 29 inches, your band size is 32
  • For a ribcage that’s 29 to 31 inches, your band size is 34
  • For a ribcage that’s 31 to 33 inches, your band size is 36
  • For a ribcage that’s 33 to 35 inches, your band size is 38 
  • For a ribcage that’s 35 to 37 inches, your band size is 40
  • For a ribcage that’s 39 to 41 inches, your band size is 44

Check That Your Underwire–If Present–Is Covered

Most everyday bras have an underwire, but with sports bras, you don’t see this feature as frequently. An underwire is ideal for adding shape and support to a bra, and thus is ideal for larger bust sizes. If you have a somewhat smaller bust, then you don’t have to sweat it if your sports bra doesn’t have an underwire. Yes, that’s even if you’re running. If you sized the bra according to our suggestions above, then your sports bra should be plenty supportive.

If your sports bra does have an underwire, always make sure that the wire is totally covered from end to end. It’s okay if you can feel the wire when you squeeze at it, but when you’re wearing the sports bra and especially when you’re running, you want to forget the underwire is even there.

Also, should your underwire poke through the fabric of your sports bra at any time, then the bra is sadly a goner! 

Buy a Bra with Rolled Edges and Seamless Fabric

Chafing anywhere in the breast area is extremely uncomfortable. What’s worse is that sometimes you don’t even realize that the chafing is happening until it’s too late. Maybe you’re a bit itchy in the area or a little sore, but you push on with your run anyway. Then you get home to hit the shower and notice there’s raw, red, irritated skin around or underneath your breasts.

It only takes a bit of sweaty skin and irritating material for chafing to occur. The moisture and friction combine to do damage to your skin. You might not be able to run for a few days since you can’t bear wearing a sports bra until your current skin injury heals.

That’s why you always want to shop for sports bras that have features to reduce the rate of chafing. Rolled edges are one of these features and seamless fabric is another. If by chance you can’t find any seamless sports bras during your search, then ensure the seams are covered so they don’t make direct contact with your skin anywhere. 

Bra Clasps Help with Bigger Busts

At one time, sports bras and everyday bras had very distinct looks that separated one from the other. These days, sports bras resemble more and more your everyday bra with their underwires, adjustable straps, and even bra clasps.

You may wonder how many of these features actually benefit you and which are simply for looks or are otherwise extraneous. After all, you don’t want to buy a sports bra with all the bells and whistles if it’s going to cause chafing or lead to discomfort on your runs. Keeping all that in mind, do you really need bra clasps for your sports bra?

That depends on your bust size. If you’re a C cup and up, then yes, we would recommend bra clasps for a sports bra. The clasps give you more adjustability options so you can set your sports bra your way and still be comfortable. The clasps may also extend the life of your sports bra considering you can adjust the band so it’s bigger when it begins losing elasticity. That’s not something you can do with a sports bra sans clasp.

Moisture-Wicking Materials Will Keep You Comfy

If you’re an experienced runner, then you know not to wear cotton shirts and bottoms when on your runs. Why? Cotton isn’t moisture-resistant. When you begin sweating, it holds onto the sweat, keeping it close to your body. You feel wet and now your skin is moist, which can lead to chafing if there are any areas of friction across your garments.

The same logic must apply to your sports bra for running. You always, always want to skip the completely cotton sports bras or those that are made primarily with cotton, such as anything over 25 percent. Opt instead for polyester and/or nylon, looking for material brands such as Dri-FIT, Coolmax, and Smartwool. 

Materials like bamboo, wool, spandex, and polypropylene are known for their moisture-wicking capabilities too. Yes, that’s right, now you can indeed wear bamboo as a fabric, and don’t worry, as it doesn’t feel like wood. Here’s a spun bamboo sports bra on Amazon that’s made of spandex (5 percent), organic cotton (25 percent), and bamboo viscose (70 percent). It looks like any sports bra but it’s bamboo! 

Moisture-wicking materials don’t entrap sweat and instead, send it away so you feel drier and cooler on your runs. That’s what you need when you’re running for endurance, such as during a marathon. 

Try Your Bra on Before You Buy It

The Internet has made shopping incredibly easy and convenient today. You don’t even need to leave the house to buy clothes, groceries, electronics, and just about anything and everything you can think of. Yet there’s always a risk when buying clothing of any kind online without trying it on, as you’re not quite sure how the garment will fit. Even if you buy the size you usually do, stores and brands have their own sizing that doesn’t always correspond to what you’d expect.

Returning your clothes online isn’t often super convenient either. You have to repackage the garment, get a shipping label, and then send the clothing back. In other words, you don’t want to do it unless you absolutely have to. 

Like you wouldn’t buy an everyday bra at a store without trying it on first (or at least, we hope you wouldn’t), you shouldn’t do the same with a sports bra either. Sure, it’s annoying to have to go out to the store for a bra. You’ll be glad you did though when that sports bra you thought would definitely fit you turns out to be two sizes too small.

How do you know whether your sports bra fits? Here are some signs that indicate the bra is too big or small:

  • Band riding: If the band rides, especially when your arms are up, then you might have overestimated the sizing of your sports bra. We recommend taking your band and bust size measurements again to double-check your math. Also, size down.
  • Gaps: If you see gaps around the breasts, the ribcage, or the back, your bra is certainly too big.
  • Digging or pinching: Sports bras are designed to be tight, but not so tight that they’re digging or pinching into your skin. If you have this issue anywhere on the bra, then it’s at least a size smaller than what you need.
  • Spillage: Any breast spillage, be that from the tops, the sides, or underneath the sports bra mean you need to increase your cup size, stat.
  • Wrinkles: Wrinkles across your sports bra, especially in the bust area, indicate that that part of the bra is too big for your body.

Besides the fit, shopping for your bra in-person also allows you to see and feel the material, determine if there’s an underwire, and try adjusting the straps and the band so you can customize your fit. 

Test the Bra Before You Commit

When you’re buying a pair of shoes, you don’t just put them on, stand where you are, and gauge whether they fit while standing stationary. No, instead you wiggle your toes and walk up and down the store aisles.

You have to give your sports bra a test drive too, so to speak. Since you’ll be in a dressing room anyway, feel free to test your bra. Lift your arms up and check out your reflection from the back. Does the band move when your arms are over your head? It shouldn’t. 

When you jump up and down, do you feel like your breasts are moving too freely? You might want to try a sports bra with an underwire or more support features. If bouncing like this causes spillage, then size up your bra. 

You can even run in place for a minute to see how the bra feels. You don’t want any discomfort or pain when testing your bra, especially in such short bursts. 

Replace Your Sports Bra Every Year

Sports bras are like any bra: they don’t last forever. It’s recommended that you dispose of your sports bra at least every year. Some experts even recommend tossing the bra six months in, which may be suitable if you run several times a week and always wear the same sports bra when you do (washing it in between, of course!).

Don’t wait until your sports bra is in tatters to replace it. By then, it’s probably not offering you great support or moisture-wicking, so wearing it is going to be uncomfortable. 

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right sports bra for running does require some time and searching. We recommend measuring your bust and band sizes, selecting moisture-wicking fabrics, buying a high-intensity bra, and always trying your bra on in the store and testing it before parting with your hard-earned money. You’ll then have a reliable sports bra you can wear on short runs and even marathons! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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