It’s officially spring, which for most of us means a re-commitment to our fitness routines. While dusting off that gym membership and investing in a new pair of sneakers are likely on the top of your to-do list, what you’re wearing — particularly the comfort-level of your fitness attire — can have a huge impact on the success of a workout.
For women, sports bras can be especially difficult. An ill-fitting sports bra can be downright uncomfortable, affecting the length and intensity of your workout and causing minor issues like chaffing. In fact, the latest research shows that women with larger busts may work out less vigorously and feel that their breast size affects how physically active they are. But an even bigger concern is that women with larger busts may also be at a higher risk for developing back pain than women with smaller busts during workouts, according to Dr. Bradford Butler, chiropractor, owner and director of Oakland Spine and Physical Therapy in New Jersey and author of “The Blueprint for Back Pain Relief: The Essential Guide to Nonsurgical Solutions.”
The good news is: No matter what your size, it is possible to find a sports bra that works for you. We tapped the experts to get to the bottom of how to find the best sports bra fit for your body based on your shape, size and activity level.
How a larger bust affects your body during a workout
It’s “a question of anatomy and physics,” Dr. Butler explains. “The factors at play here consist of gravity, posture and the musculoskeletal system. The human spine is designed to support us when we are upright...The center of gravity for all of us should fall just in front of our tailbone when we have proper poster with the head, shoulders, hips and feet in an alignment where a plumb line would pass through all of them.”
So what happens when you have a larger bust? This added weight on your chest “causes the body to react and adapt by contracting the counterbalancing muscles of the lower, mid and upper back,” Butler says. “The longer these muscles contract, the more stress they create on the spine and nerves that come from the spine leading to all sorts of problems such as headaches, neck and shoulder pain, numbness in the hands and finger, lower back pain and even sciatica.”
Butler provides a great analogy: Imagine you’re holding a 10-pound dumbbell in your hand at your side. This feels fairly easy, right? This is because the weight is held close to your center of gravity. But if you hold that same dumbbell in the same hand except out in front of you so that your arm is parallel to the ground, it becomes challenging after a few seconds. You’ll start to feel the strain coming into your neck and mid-back. “Now imagine having to hold it there indefinitely and you get the idea of why larger busts create more back pain,” he says.
How to choose the right sports bra for your body type
It’s important for women with larger busts to invest in a good sports bra that will help to distribute the weight more evenly from the front to the back of the body. While this support is important during normal, day-to-day activities, it’s even more important during exercises like running where the force adds extra stress to the muscles that support the spine, which can often lead to new pain or exacerbate existing pain. Butler suggests a sports bra made from sturdy materials that has underwires. Anatomically speaking, Butler says that the snugger the bra, the closer it holds the bust to the sternum, which in and of itself reduces pull during movements. “It should be as snug as you can tolerate because you want to decrease the amount of bouncing that occurs as you run, which leads to more strain,” he says. “Make sure the straps can be adjusted for fit and are wide and cushioned for comfort,” he cautions.
As a size B cup myself, I can attest to liking the feel of a snug sports bra when I’m running or doing high intensity workouts that require bouncing. But when I’m doing less bouncing, I like my bras to fit looser. Different activities may call for a different fit for you too, which is why it’s important to listen to your body and be aware of any discomfort or pain.
BETTER editors, writers and experts take care to recommend items we really like and hope you’ll enjoy! Just so you know, BETTER does have affiliate relationships. So, while every product is independently selected, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the revenue.
The best sports bras for women
Whether your smaller bust feels constricted by thicker fabric, ultra-supportive bras, or you have a larger chest that needs solid support to carry you through high-intensity activities, we’ve got you covered.
Get the better newsletter.
We spoke with a few active professionals to get their favorite sports bras and also chose a few of our own recommendations based on Butler’s suggestions to help you choose the best sports bra for your activities.
Zensah Racey Running Sports Bra, starting at $24.99, Amazon
Caryn Lubetsky, an Endurance Athlete and an Ultra Marathon Runner World Record Holder who runs on behalf of The Childhood Cancer Project, says this is her go-to sports bra for running (especially running outdoors in warmer weather). “Since we are talking boobs we can get personal! I am a mom of three and I nursed all three for a long time. Before my kids and nursing, I was a full D, now I am a B (maybe wishful thinking?). Think, deflated balloons!” Caryn says. “This bra holds my skin and my boobs in place, with minimal coverage. As a Florida ultra-distance runner I am often running in 100-degree weather and the minimal, breathable material coupled with the support and hold of this bra is the key to my success.”
Puma, starting at $24.50, Amazon
Nieve Corrigan, professional ballerina with the New York City Ballet, loves this Puma sports racer back sports bra because of how supportive and breathable it is while she’s dancing. She also likes how it looks solo without a shirt. So if you’re doing outdoor workouts this summer and working up a sweat, it’s a breathable option that can be worn on it’s own.
Incredible Lightweight Max, starting at $44.95, Victoria’s Secret
I second Butler’s sentiment that adjustable straps make a sports bra more comfortable. In my more than 10 years as a trainer and even longer as a recreational athlete, I’ve worn my fair share of sports bras. My favorite is this version that I’ve been wearing for years. It’s so versatile: I can tighten it for higher impact workouts and loosen it for my yoga and Pilates workouts. When I loosen the straps and hook the bra on a looser hook, I can take deeper breaths without feeling constricted. But when I’m running or bouncing up and down, I can hook it on the tightest hook and adjust the straps for a snugger fit.
Glory 2.0 Bra, $64, Athleta
If you're looking for the best sports bra for larger breasts, this pick hits all the criteria. For those with who require more support this is a great high impact sports bra, featuring underwire, adjustable straps, a hook and eye closure for a customizable fit, plus a mid-rise neckline. A comfortable choice to wear on long runs or to a high-intensity workouts or spin class.
Mammut Women’s Aelectra Bra Top, Starting at $120, Amazon
Are you a rock climber, hiker or doing workout classes with lots of full-body movements? The biggest problem I used to have with sports bras in my high intensity interval workouts was that they would move so much that they’d either dig into my skin or feel unsupportive. World-Class Free Climber Steph Davis agrees: “I'm really picky about anything that feels too tight or scratchy around my ribcage — and since climbers have lats, that happens with a lot of tops!” she says. She loves this racer back sports bra because the yarn is super soft, so it doesn't pinch anywhere or constrict. “I don't need to take it off after a few hours, which happens with a lot of tops,” Davis says.
Helisopus Womens Sports Bra, starting at $15.99, Amazon
Are you working out in the gym and listening to music? One of the things that my clients complain about being the most annoying is where to put their phones when they aren’t on a stationary workout machine. It sounds silly, but this is a barrier to working with free weights, moving from machine to machine, and feeling more mobile in the gym. Enter this sports bra with a little pocket to easily store your phone without interfering with your workout!
Glamorise Women's Full Figure Wonderwire Sports Bra, Starting at $46.49, Amazon
Another great option for larger busts, this plus size sports bra is offered in sizes 32D through 46G, and is specially designed to reduce the strain on your neck and back during high-impact activities. Padded underwire and straps ensure that the bras doesn't dig into your skin, while adjustable straps and hook and eye closures ensure you can adjust the bra to fit your body. The open mesh also makes sure the bra is breathable and helps keep you cool.
Racer-Back Bamboo Bra, starting at $19.96, Amazon
If you’re like many of my clients, you may be running to the gym in between other errands. Instead of carrying a bulky gym bag, this bra allows you to carry an ID, credit card and some cash on you. This sports bra has three small, hidden pockets that won’t add bulk to your bra. It's also a great sports bra for runners who are signed up for races and other events and don’t want to worry about storing a bag.
CtriLady Women’s Wetsuit Crop Tank Sport Bra Vest, $16.99, Amazon
If you bring your workout to the water, you may be looking for a wetsuit-type material that’ll hold your chest in. Try this front-zip sports bra, which is perfect for indoor or outdoor pool workouts.
MORE WORKOUT GEAR
Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.