Updated 02 October 2015

How to choose the right sports bra

Choosing a good sports bra is more difficult than it sounds. It must be the right size, it has to keep up with your level of activity and it must look and feel good.


Choosing a good sports bra is more difficult than it sounds. It must be the right size, it has to keep up with your level of activity, it must look and feel good, it must be made of all the right stuff and needs to be replaced when it gets worn out.

But with names like encapsulated scoop back, shock absorbers, response adjustable, power pro and action shape, shopping for a sports bra could be as daunting as being let loose in an arms and ammunitions factory.

This is why before going into a shop to buy a sports bra, there are a few things that you ought to know. Essential questions that you need to answer include:

Your real bra size
Your level of activity
What style do you prefer?
What fabric do you prefer?
When to buy a new sports bra

What is your real bra size?

Weight fluctuations, childbirth and menopause can all affect the size of your breasts, so your next bra will not necessarily be the same size as your previous bra.

Studies have found that 70% of women do not know their proper bra size. This can be detrimental for those playing sports, because when it comes to sports bras, size does matter and an ill-fitting bra can result in chafing, upper back and neck strain and, horror of horrors, saggy boobs.

Measuring tips

  • Remove any bulky clothing
  • Stand in front of a mirror, wearing a regular bra with minimal padding
  • Always measure in centimetres with an unstretched measuring tape
  • Keep the tape at the same level all around your torso

To find your over bust measurement:

  • Measure around the fullest part of your bust
  • The tape measure must not cut into the bust

To find your under-bust measurement:

  • Measure under your bust

Now take the two measurements and find your correct bra size on the chart. (If the chart shows that you are in between sizes, go with the larger size).


Under bust measurement (in cm)

Over bust measurement (in cm)


68-72 73-77 78-82 83-87 88-92 93-97 98-102

Bra size

32 34 36 38 40 42 44
83 32A            
85 32B            
87 32C 34A          
90 32D 34B          
92 32DD 34C 36A        
94   34D 36B        
96   34DD 36C 38A      
99   34E 36D 38B      
102   36DD 38C      
104     36E 38D 40B    
107       38DD 40C    
109       38E 40D 42B  
112         40DD 42C  
114         40E 42D 44B
117           42DD 44C
119           42E 44D
122             44DD
124             44E

What is your level of activity?

Different sports require different levels of support. During a high impact activity, such as running, your breasts need more support than during a low impact activity like yoga.

Most sports bras are manufactured for specific levels of activity and their labels will indicate whether they are suited to low, medium or high impact activities.

Low Impact Medium Impact High Impact

Weight training

Road cycling

Rock climbing





In-line skating

Stair climbing

Speed walking

Martial arts




Mountain biking

Step/high-impact aerobics



Horseback riding






What style do you prefer?

Today sports bra manufacturers use what seems like space age technology to protect your assets. This is great because it means that you don’t have to compromise on comfort and support when you buy a fashionable bra.

When deciding on the right sports bra for you, you have to decide whether you want a bra that is flattening or flattering. There are two main sports bra constructions.

Compression styles

  • Are the original pull-over styles
  • Squash the breasts close to the chest to minimise motion
  • Offer the most bounce control
  • Have no cups
  • Offer less restriction of vertical movement
  • Are best suited to small breasts (size A cups)
  • Are best for lower impact activities
  • Downside: Can give you the uni-boob look and is often difficult to get on and off over your head and shoulders

Encapsulation styles

  • Look like normal bras
  • Have separate cups that support breasts individually from underneath
  • Are made according to the theory that two small masses are easier to control than one large mass
  • Give a more natural shape
  • Underwire and a firm chest band can add extra support
  • Are best suited to large breasts (sizes C and up)
  • Are best for higher impact activities

Once you have chosen the basic bra construction that you like, it is time to decide which style you prefer.

Underwear or outerwear?

You’ve seen her before in the gym, the skinny blonde prancing around in an itsy-bitsy crop top and painfully tight ski pants. She’s obviously (and unfairly) more comfortable wearing her sports bra as outerwear.

Most women prefer to keep their bosoms under wraps and will choose lingerie-style sports bras. This doesn’t mean that you can’t show off your assets. Many sports bras have underwire and padding that will enhance your breasts.

Back style

The racer-back or T-back sports bra is a favourite for women with larger breasts. By choosing this style, you can eliminate the painful chafing caused by straps.

If you do choose to stick to a sports bra that looks like a normal bra, go for one with a scoop-back style, as this will give you more comfort and support.


No, we’re not talking about what you finally gain a year after your break-up with Mr. Wrong, we’re talking about the hooks that keep your sports bra on!

Traditional hook closures can be at the front or back of the bra and make taking a bra on and off a lot easier than styles that you pull on over your head.

If you do a lot of floor work at gym or like to run with a back pack on, go for a sports bra that has hooks on the side or front and not on the back.

Hookless styles can be pulled over the head, or if you’re really lucky, stepped into.

What fabric do you prefer?

Let’s face it. There’s nothing worse than a wet, smelly bra that leaves sweaty headlights on the front of your T-shirt. Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case as manufacturers have come up with a wonderful invention called moisture-wicking fabric. This miracle fabric has names like Coolmax and Supplex.

Your granny told you that you must always wear cotton underwear, because it’s the most comfortable type. But a pure cotton sports bra will stay wet and uncomfortable during exercise. Also moisture next to the skin can lead to chafing.

Sports bra manufacturers normally retain a percentage of cotton in their products because it’s more comfortable, but then they mix it with “breathable” fabrics such as polyester, lycra mesh or nylon that can wick the moisture away.

When to buy a new sports bra

If you wear a sports bra three to four times a week, you will need to replace it every six to 12 months because of the loss of elasticity that decreases the support.

Signs that you need a new sports bra:

  • The fabric starts pulling apart
  • The bra has a looser fit
  • There is increased breast motion during exercise

Care label

Sports bras have high elasticity content so rather hand wash and air-dry them than machine wash and tumble dry them. Even though they are heavy duty, you should care for them as you would fine lingerie.

Tumble drying destroys the elasticity and support of the lycra found in many sports bras. If you handwash your bra it will last twice as long as a machine-washed bra.

If you have to wash your bras in the machine, place them in a garment bag so that the straps and underwires do not get twisted and pulled and use a gentle spin. (Health24, updated July 2011)

Read more:

The jiggle factor


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