Having a good support system can make all the difference when it comes to your workout. And no, we’re not talking about a motivated gym buddy. A good sports bra will protect your assets and can improve your stamina. “Studies show that less stress on your breasts increases lung capacity and allows you to utilize other muscles more efficiently,” says Elisabeth Dale, a breast expert, founder of TheBreastLife.com, and author of bOObs: A Guide to Your Girls. The result? “Less pain and way more gain!” she says. Here’s how to choose the best sports bra for your workout.
1. Know your type.
There are a few important terms you need to know when shopping for a sports bra. Compression bras are the standard boob-smushing style—not so flattering, but super-supportive. Encapsulation bras keep breasts in separate cups, which can be more comfortable for those with bigger busts (and less sweaty!). And underwire bras offer an extra line of defense against jiggling, although some women find them too uncomfortable for working out. No matter what style you choose, make sure it’s made from a moisture-wicking fabric such as COOLMAX or DriLayer to keep sweat away from your skin.
2. Assess your assets.
Every woman needs support, but different sizes call for different construction. If you’re on the small side, you can probably get enough support from a basic compression bra. If your cups runneth over, look for an encapsulation bra with cup sizing (DD, HH, etc.). And don’t be afraid to layer bras for extra support. Start with an encapsulation bra to keep ’em separated, then wear a compression bra on top to restrict movement. “Wear whatever combination allows you to be active without having to think about your sports bra,” Dale says.
3. Gauge your routine.
“Intensity level dictates what type of bra a woman needs,” says Yasmeen Anderson, a bra fit expert for Bare Necessities®, the largest online retailer of intimate apparel. Medium-control bras are fine for low-impact workouts like Pilates or yoga, but if you find that your boobs are getting in the way during a plow pose, you may need firmer support. “Fuller-busted women may feel more secure in a more structured garment,” Anderson says. “And higher-impact activities like running and kickboxing require extra-firm control garments, irrespective of size.”
4. Take it for a test drive.
Don’t just grab your usual size and make a beeline for the cashier. You’ll be spending untold hours in this bra, so take a few minutes in the fitting room to put it through its paces. “Jump up and down,” says Danny Koch, fourth-generation owner of Town Shop, a NYC lingerie shop that specializes in bra fitting. “You should be comfortable, firmly held in, and well supported. Your breasts shouldn’t be moving up and down or side to side.” Jog, twist, and touch your toes to make sure nothing is swinging around or spilling out. Keep trying different sizes and bras by different makers until you find the one that’s right for you.
5. Check for snug straps.
Your straps should fit comfortably. They shouldn’t slip off your shoulders, but they shouldn’t be painfully tight, either. “The straps do not take on the full support of the garment. The support comes from the band,” Anderson says. “If your bra fits well, your straps will not dig.” (By the way, this goes for your regular bras as well.) If you have problems with straps sliding down, opt for a racerback style which is more likely to stay put. Some sports bras also come with adjustable straps and multi-hook bands, so you can adjust them to fit your shape and tighten the straps when they start to loosen.
6. Handle with care.
Fabrics can break down over time, so to get the most support out of your sports bra; treat it like lingerie, not like workout gear. “Wash sports bras in cold water on the delicate cycle, with mild detergent,” Dale says. “Hook up any loose hardware, and place them in a lingerie bag first. And don’t put a bra in the dryer, because high heat destroys elasticity and breaks down the fabric.” A little extra effort in the laundry room will go a long way. Take care of your sports bra and it will take care of you.