Sports bras are athletic equipment, just like dumbbells and yoga mats, says Laura Tempesta, a bra expert and founder of Bravolution. They support you when you exercise and aid your performance, allowing you to have the best workout possible. But an ill-fitting sports bra can completely ruin a run, weight lifting session or virtual fitness class. The importance of finding the right one for your body type and favorite activities should not be overlooked.
We talked to bra experts to learn what features can make or break a good sports bra, and how to find one that’s equal parts comfortable, functional and fashionable. Using their guidance, I tried over a dozen sports bras to evaluate them and recommend which ones you may want to consider investing in.
Our top picks
- Best bra for running: On Performance Bra
- Best high impact bra: Lululemon Run Times Bra
- Best medium impact bra: Girlfriend Collective Paloma Racerback Bra
- Best low impact bra: Terez Action Sports Bra
How we picked the best sports bras
Our experts shared the most important factors they recommend you pay attention to while shopping for a new sports bra.
- Size: Many sports bras are sold in alpha sizes, meaning small, medium, large and so on. Others are sold in bra sizing, meaning by band and cup size (36B for example). Bra sizing helps you get a more exact fit, experts told us.
- Adjustability: Adjustable straps and underbands allow you to customize the fit of a sports bra.
- Construction: Sports bras come in three types: encapsulation, compression and combination. Encapsulation sports bras look similar to everyday bras with two distinct cups that separate breasts. Compression sports bras press and hold breasts to the chest and essentially compress them into one mound. Combination sports bras are a hybrid of the encapsulation and compression styles. They usually have distinct molded cups and compressive fabric.
- Support level: Sports bras are generally classified as offering high, medium or low levels of support, and this corresponds to what types of activities they’re ideal for, says Jené Luciani Sena, a bra expert and style consultant. High impact sports bras are best for cardio-heavy workouts and low impact sports bras are best for exercise that doesn’t involve a lot of running and jumping — medium impact sports bras land somewhere in the middle.
- Coverage: Any part of the breast that’s exposed will move around while you’re working out, says Tempesta. If a bra does not offer a lot of top or side coverage, it’s not going to be as supportive as one that totally covers your chest.
- Style: Simple is better when choosing a sports bra, says Sena. A lot of straps or cutouts can be distracting and it can impact how much the bra is actually supporting you. Just because a sports bra is fashionable does not mean it’s functional.
- Material type: Sports bras can be made from almost any type of fabric. If you want more support, look for a higher spandex content, and if you want a soft, stretchy feel, look for a higher polyester content, says Sena. Try to avoid sports bras made from cotton as the fabric tends to absorb sweat and takes longer to dry. Look for breathable, quick-drying, sweat-wicking material, which means the fabric moves moisture away from your skin to the outside of the garment.
How I tried sports bras
I run every day on a treadmill or outdoors, and cross train with yoga, barre, pilates and weight lifting. I spend about two hours a day in a sports bra, and as someone with a larger cup size, finding one that’s actually supportive is often easier said than done. For this piece, I tried over a dozen sports bras that range in style, construction, support level, price point and more.
Running is one of the most high-intensity cardio workouts you can do, and it’s the ultimate test for sports bras, in my opinion — if a sports bra fits well during a run, I know I will feel supported when I wear it for other types of exercise. Because of this, I ran in every bra I tried, as well as wore each one during medium and low impact workouts. I also machine-washed and air-dried each sports bra to evaluate how well they maintained their shape and feel pre- and post- workout.
The best sports bras for every type of workout
Since everyone’s body and preferences are different, there’s no single sports bra on the market that’s perfect for all wearers. Our recommendations align with expert guidance and include options I found to be the most supportive during a variety of workouts. Brands sent us all of the below sports bras to try. Remember that it might take some trial and error to find the right sports bra, so with each one you try, think about what you like and don’t like to narrow down your options.
Best sports bra for running: On
While running in On’s Performance Bra — a Select Wellness Award Winner — I experience no bounce or movement whatsoever, which is exactly what I look for in a good sports bra. The bra is lightly padded and its high neckline offers full coverage. The racerback straps also stay in place while I’m moving, so I don’t get distracted by them. The back of On’s sports bra is designed with a mesh panel that allows air to circulate throughout the bra, keeping me cool and drying sweat as I’m working out. The only downside I found is that when I’m sweaty after a run, it can be challenging to take off this sports bra, but that’s a small inconvenience considering how supported I feel while wearing it.
Material: Recycled polyamide and elastane | Size range: XS to XL | Construction: Compression | Support level: Medium to high | Adjustability: None
Best high impact sports bra: Lululemon
This bra’s molded cups help separate breasts to evenly distribute weight across your chest, and the compressive fabric reduces bounce during high impact activities like running, boxing, dancing and HIIT. It also has a sturdy underband, the top of which mimics the natural curve of breasts to shape and define them, similar to how an underwire bra works. The sports bra's overall design is reminiscent of an everyday bra, so I find it easy to wear under a tank top or T-shirt to work if I’m heading to the gym at the end of the day.
Additionally, the sport bra’s straps are padded so they don’t dig into my shoulders, and they’re convertible, which means I’m able to adjust them to be worn in crossback or scoop-back positions. There’s also perforated fabric on the front panel of the bra, which increases airflow to keep me cool and dry while exercising.
Material: Nylon and lycra elastane | Size range: 32B to 42G | Construction: Combination | Support level: High | Adjustability: Straps and underband
Best medium impact sports bra: Girlfriend Collective
The Girlfriend Collective Paloma Racerback Bra — a Select Wellness Award Winner — gently compresses breasts to the chest to hold them in place. I experienced some bounce and movement while wearing this bra during high intensity workouts like running but not during low to medium intensity workouts, so I find it better for activities like weight lifting and strength training. The bra is soft and flexible, allowing me to move freely, and it’s comfortable enough to wear while I’m lounging at home. My favorite part of the full coverage bra is the thick, wide support band that lifts me up and holds everything in.
Material: UPF 45+ fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and spandex | Size range: XXS to XXXXXXL | Construction: Compression | Support level: Low to medium | Adjustability: None
Best low impact sports bra: Terez
I find the V-neckline on this sports bra flattering, and since it’s not cut too deep, it offers full coverage. I’m comfortable wearing the bra during workouts like yoga, barre and pilates since I’m not worried about falling out of it. While running, however, I experience too much bounce to feel supported, and the bra moves around a bit, so I have to stop and shift it back into place. The bra’s spandex material and thick elastic band help compress breasts to my chest to hold me in while doing low-impact workouts. The bra’s back panel has a cut-out, allowing air to move through it to keep me cool and dry.
Material: Nylon and spandex | Size range: XXS to XL | Construction: Compression | Support level: Low to medium | Adjustability: None
Best strappy back sports bra: Lululemon
The Lululemon Energy Bra is constructed similarly to the brand’s Run Times Bra — both have molded cups, sturdy underbands, offer full coverage and are made with compressive fabric. This bra, however, has double-crossback straps, which gives it an added style element and makes it extra supportive. I wouldn't normally run in a strappy back sports bra — if straps get twisted or tangled, it can be distracting and uncomfortable. But this bra’s straps are wide and flat, which helps prevent them from moving around while I’m running. The four criss-cross straps are also all adjustable, which allows you to customize the bra’s fit so it feels molded to your body. Overall, I find that the high level of support and adjustability this bra offers outweighs a potential twisted strap or two.
Material: Recycled polyester, elastane and nylon | Size range: 32B to 36DDD | Construction: Compression | Support level: High | Adjustability: Straps and underband
Best crossback sports bra: Athleta
The material this bra is made from is “buttery soft,” according to Athleta, which is exactly how I’d describe it. The fabric feels smooth against my skin, and while it’s lightly compressive, most of the bra’s support comes from its wide underband that extends down my rib cage and hits right above my waist. The sports bra does not squeeze my body, allowing me to move freely during workouts like yoga, pilates and barre. The bra also has elongated crossback straps that are stretchy yet structured.
Material: UPF 50+ fabric made from nylon and lycra | Size range: XXS to XXXL (available in models for A to C cups and D to DD+ cups) | Construction: Compression | Support level: Low to medium | Adjustability: None
Best sports bra with sewn-in pads: Knix
Since the cups in the Knix Momenta Racerback Sports Bra are sewn in, they don’t move around at all while I’m working out and stay inside the bra when I toss it in the washing machine. The cups also add a layer of padding to my chest that helps it appear round instead of flat. The bra has racerback straps, and there’s a mesh panel above the thick underband on the front of the bra that lets air flow through it, keeping me cool and dry. The sports bra’s high neckline also offers full top and side coverage, which I look for when I’m doing high-intensity workouts that involve a lot of jumping and running — I don’t want to worry about anything popping out, and the design of this sports bra ensures I won’t have to.
Material: Nylon and spandex | Size range: XSS to XXXXL++ | Construction: Hybrid | Support level: Medium to high | Adjustability: None
Best sports bra with removable pads: Gaiam
I wear the Gaiam Shine Bra during low impact activities like yoga because it’s soft and stretchy. It’s not structured enough to give me the support I look for while running, but I find it ideal for no- or low-cardio workouts. The bra is made with removable pads, which are easy to take out and reinsert as needed. When I wear the sports bra with the pads, they stay in place well, and I wash the bra in a small garment bag to isolate it from my other clothes, helping prevent the pads from falling out or getting lost. The bra has a strappy back design, and anywhere the straps cross, they’re stitched together to ensure nothing gets tangled during exercise. The sports bra’s scoop neck offers full coverage, too.
Material: Polyester and spandex | Size range: XS to XXL | Construction: Compression | Support level: Low | Adjustability: None
Best racerback sports bra: Outdoor Voices
When experts told me to look for simple, straightforward sports bras that allow me to focus on my workout rather than what I’m wearing, Outdoor Voices All-Time Bra is the first one that came to mind. It’s as basic as they come: The racerback sports bra has a supportive underband and removable pads. I get full coverage on my chest with or without the pads, but I find that the bra offers more side boob coverage when I take the pads out. The All-Time Bra is soft and allows me to move freely while exercising.
Material: Proprietary UPF 50 SuperForm fabric made from a nylon and lycra blend | Size range: XL to XL | Construction: Compression | Support level: Medium | Adjustability: None
Best front-zip sports bra: Brooks
The zipper on the front of this Brooks sports bra makes it easier to take off when I’m sweaty compared to pull-over options. Pulling down a zipper on my chest is also more convenient than reaching behind my back to undo a clasp. There’s a hook-and-eye closure under the zipper, which keeps the two sides of the bra together if the zipper broke or came open during a workout. Additionally, there are zipper garages on the top and bottom of the bra’s front panel that hold the zipper place and prevent it from making contact with my skin, which otherwise could cause chafing. This seamless, smooth bra is designed with molded cups to separate breasts and evenly distribute weight across my chest, as well as racerback straps that are perforated to increase airflow. The back panel has a cut-out, allowing even more air to flow through the bra.
Material: DriLayer HorsePower fabric | Size range: 30 to 40 underband, AB to DE cup | Construction: Combination | Support level: High | Adjustability: None
Best adjustable sports bra: Brooks
The straps on this sports bra have adjustable hook-and-ladder mechanisms built in, which solve the biggest problem I’ve experienced with traditional sliders — they tend to slip down while I’m exercising, causing the bra’s fit to become loose. The hook-and-ladder adjusters allow me to lock in a tightness level, and I can count how many loops up I place the hook in to ensure that the straps are even on both sides. The strap adjusters also face out, so the metal pieces don’t touch my skin. Beyond the innovative adjustable straps, this bra — which is a Select Wellness Award winner — is made with molded cups and the back panel has mesh elements so air can flow through.
Material: DriLayer HorsePower fabric | Size range: 30 to 40 underband, AB to FF cup | Construction: Combination | Support level: High | Adjustability: Straps and underband
Best convertible strap sports bra: Third Love
In addition to thick adjustable straps and a flexible yet sturdy adjustable underband, I can move the straps on this bra into two different positions — straight or crossback — to further customize its fit. The sports bra is highly padded and has built-in cups to shape breasts and evenly distribute weight across my chest. Third Love’s sports bra comes in one of the widest range of sizes I found while trying options from dozens of brands — shoppers can choose from 12 cup sizes (including half sizes, which I have not seen elsewhere) and seven underband sizes.
Material: Polyester and spandex | Size range: 32 to 44 underband, A to H cup | Construction: Combination | Support level: High | Adjustability: Straps and underband
Best sports bra tank top: Alo
This Alo sports bra can double as a tank top — it has a built-in shelf bra, and the tank top part hits above my waist, creating a crop top look. I found myself reaching for this bra to wear during yoga, pilates and barre workouts when I didn’t want to wear a loose-fitting shirt. I paired the soft, stretchy racerback sports bra with high-waisted leggings or biker shorts. Its V-neckline isn’t cut deeply, ensuring it provides full coverage.
Material: Proprietary Airbrush fabric | Size range: XS to XL | Construction: Compression | Support level: Medium to low | Adjustability: None
What is a sports bra?
Sports bras are specifically designed to limit breast movement during exercise, says Tempesta. This is different from the function of regular bras — like everyday T-shirt bras or push-up bras — that often have underwire to lift and shape breasts, preventing them from sagging.
The difference between an everyday bra and a sports bra has recently become less distinguishable as wireless bras and bralettes grow in popularity, says Sena. Very often, wireless bras and bralettes look like sports bras due to their style and design. But wireless bras and bralettes are not sports bras, and they should not be worn for exercise since they don’t minimize movement, experts told us. Some people, however, wear sports bras as everyday bras, especially those with larger busts. While sports bras might not give you as much shape as typical everyday bras, some find that they provide enough support and are more comfortable to wear all day, which is entirely a personal preference.
How to shop for sports bras
To ensure you’re buying a sports bra that fits you well and that you enjoy wearing, experts recommend you keep the following in mind when browsing through the hundreds of options brands offer.
Sizing and fit
Many sports bras are sold in alpha sizes, meaning small, medium, large and so on. While shopping, some people assume that since they wear a medium shirt, for example, they’ll fit into a medium bra. But your bra size does not always match your clothing size, and if you assume incorrectly, you’ll end up bringing home an ill-fitting sports bra. That’s why it’s so important to read the sizing information on a brand’s website or, better yet, buy a sports bra that’s sold in bra sizing, which means you can choose your size based on band size and cup size, like a 32B or 40D, for example.
Beyond sizing, the key to finding a sports bra that fits well is buying one with adjustable elements. “Look for styles with adjustable shoulder straps and an underband adjustment like a hook-and-eye closure. That’s how the bra is going to feel like it’s custom made for you,” says Tempesta.
Sports bras also stretch out over time, so you want to be able to tighten the straps and band as needed. There should be no more than a half inch to one inch of space between your skin and the shoulder strap when you pull up on it, and no more than two to three inches of space between the skin and the underband if you pull it out, says Tempesta. Anything tighter may cause your skin to chafe, while anything looser can cause the bra to move around a lot while you’re exercising and leave you feeling unsupported.
One of the ways to ensure you’re wearing a well-fitting sports bra is to do a bounce test. Before taking the tags off your sports bra, try it on, stand in front of a mirror and jump up and down. How much bounce do you feel and see? A lot of bounce can be distracting and painful while working out, so this is a good sign you should get a more supportive sports bra, says Sena.
There are three types of sports bras you should know about while shopping:
- Encapsulation sports bras look like what you typically envision when you think about a bra: two distinct molded cups with an underband that clasps in the back and two adjustable shoulder straps. Encapsulation sports bras evenly distribute weight within each cup and separate breasts to create the image of two individual mounds.
- Compression sports bras compress your breasts into one mass, pressing them to your chest to hold them in place, says Sena. Compression bras evenly distribute weight across your chest instead of within two individual cups. This type of sports bra can be a great option for those with smaller chests since compression alone can keep breasts in place while you’re moving, says Tempesta.
- Combination sports bras are an encapsulation-compression hybrid. They usually have two distinct cups and compressive fabric to hold each breast close to your chest. Tempesta recommends combination sports bras for those with large breasts — compression holds breasts close to your chest to minimize bounce, while the molded cups keep each breast fixed in space.
Shoulder strap design is the number one most ignored part of sports bra fit, says Tempesta. Because most people have narrow or sloped shoulders, straight straps that are not adjustable — like those on a tank top — often fall down while you’re working out. Racerback or crossback straps are better options for most people.
Some bras are designed with a lot of straps that stretch across your back, which can make them seem more fashionable and stylish. But strappy-back sports bras have a few downsides you should be aware of: Straps can tangle or twist in the washing machine, they can make bras hard to put on and take off, and they may leave unattractive tan lines (or a sunburn) if you’re exercising outside.
Overall, simpler is better when it comes to sports bra straps, and wide, stiff, adjustable straps lift you up the best. Narrow, stretchy straps won’t do much for you as far as movement control or lift goes, says Tempesta.
If you’re looking for a sports bra with cups, Sena recommends opting for molded or sewn-in cups instead of removable pads. Removable pads can move around while you’re working out and cause you to become uncomfortable or distracted. And if removable pads fall out in the wash, you can easily lose them.
Some people, however, prefer removable pads despite their flaws, because they help create a rounded shape on your chest. One plus side is that you can remove them if you want a little extra room in the bra for your breasts — for example, if you find your breast size increases while menstruating, experts told us.
It’s important to think about what activities you’ll be doing while wearing the sports bra when deciding how much support is right for you. There are three levels of support:
- High impact sports bras are designed for cardio-heavy activities or those that involve high-intensity movements like running, HIIT workouts, dancing and even horseback riding. These sports bras usually offer more coverage with higher necklines and extra support from wider straps.
- Medium impact sports bras are best for workouts that involve mid to low levels of cardio, like cycling, skiing, cross-training and weight lifting.
- Low impact sports bras are made for activities that don't involve cardio like walking, stretching, barre, pilates and yoga. Some low impact sports bras are also called yoga bras. They’re usually made with soft, stretchy fabric like polyester and tend to have more narrow straps.
Keep in mind that there’s no industry standard for what each level of support means, and every brand defines it differently, says Tempesta. If you’re unsure about a bra and how much support it offers, experts recommend reading reviews to learn what types of activities shoppers do while wearing the bra and compare it to how you plan to wear it.
How to clean sports bras
As you wear, sweat in and wash sports bras, the material they’re made from starts to break down, and the bra itself stretches out. This degradation process is inevitable, but you can extend a sports bra’s lifespan by taking care of it properly.
Be sure to read the specific care directions listed on a bra’s tag or the brand’s website, but generally, it’s best to hand-wash sports bras in cool water with a gentle laundry detergent. If you’d rather machine-wash them, use the washing machine’s delicate setting, opt for cold water and use a gentle detergent.
Most importantly, never put your sports bra — or any bra for that matter — in the dryer. “The dryer is literally like kryptonite for bras,” says Sena, adding that this is also the case for activewear like spandex leggings and exercise dresses. Subjecting bras to high heat for an extended period of time lessens their elasticity and stretches them out, thus causing them to lose their fit.
How long do sports bras last?
There’s no hard and fast rule about how often to replace a sports bra, says Sena. You can usually tell when a sports bra is past its prime based on how it feels on your body. When the bra’s material stretches out, you’ll begin to feel less supported by it, which is a good sign it’s starting to deteriorate. You should not think about or be distracted by your sports bra while wearing it, according to Tempesta. If you are, it’s time to find a new one, she says.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Laura Tempesta is a bra expert and an inventor of multiple patented products. She worked at Nike as the brand’s sports bra innovation director and now serves as a consultant to the bra and sports bra industries. Tempesta is the founder of Bravolution, a consumer advocacy group and resource providing sports bra reviews and education. Her TEDx talk about bras has over 3 million views.
- Jené Luciani Sena is a bra expert who regularly appears on national television shows to share her knowledge. She’s also the author of four books, including “The Bra Book.” She hosts a regular “Brablem Solving” segment on Access Daily. Sena's a TEDTalk speaker as well.
Why trust Select?
Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor who covers fitness and related apparel at Select. For this article, Malin spent months researching, sourcing and trying sports bras to find the best options. She also spoke with two bra experts to learn how to shop for and care for sports bras.