From circuits to boxing, stepper to free weights, a good sports bra helps banish the bounce. Emma Lewis helps you find the perfect one for your needs
Call it a design flaw, but our breasts don’t come with enough in-built support to let us jump up and down in complete comfort. The Cooper’s ligaments, which give structure to our breasts, have their work cut out in a HIIT class. In fact, our boobs move an average of 10cm in several directions during higher-impact activities*. That’s why a supportive sports bra is a must to help you avoid breast pain and keep the tissue healthy.
Where to start when researching which one to buy though? We asked Joanna Wakefield-Scurr, professor of biomechanics and head of the Research Group in Breast Health at the University of Portsmouth. ‘Don’t assume that if you’re moving at lower speeds, your breast movement is less than when you’re moving at higher speeds,’ she says. ‘Power walking or jogging, or something with a lot of up and down movement, can actually produce more breast movement than running really fast.’ Interesting.
So, unless you’re heading for a low-impact class such as yoga or Pilates, or doing a weights or stretch session, it’s safest to go big on support. ‘I’d recommend an encapsulation bra [one that separates the breasts into separate cups] or one with a mixture of compression and encapsulation,’ she says. ‘These offer more support than pure compression versions [think crop-tops that hold the breasts against your chest], which have to stretch over your shoulders when you put them on.’
Fit is foremost
Next up is fit. Don’t assume you’re always the same cup size. ‘Make sure you understand the cross-grade system,’ says Wakefield-Scurr. ‘If, for example, a size 34D in the bra you try fits in the cup but the underband’s too big, go for a 32 band, but up the cup to an E. This will give you the same amount of material for the cup as the D did, as the band is now smaller.’ Find one cup fits better than the other? ‘If you’re one of the 97 per cent of women who have one breast larger than the other, try shortening the strap more on the smaller side if there’s less than a cup size in difference. For bigger differences, look for companies that offer bras with adjustable cups,’ adds Wakefield-Scurr.
The University of Portsmouth’s research group has a few more things to look out for. The underband gives 80 per cent of the support, and should fit firmly but not affect your breathing or make flesh bulge over it. If it rides up at the back, it’s too big. Meanwhile, shoulder straps should give support without being so tight they dig into the skin. If there’s an underwire, it shouldn’t press into soft breast tissue. And with encapsulation bras, the centre part should sit on your breast bone. If it gapes away from your chest, go for a bigger cup size.
So, when you think you’ve found a comfy bra where the cups, underband and straps fit well, it’s time to do the ultimate test to see how much jiggle you’ll get. ‘Look in the mirror as you do star jumps!’ says Wakefield-Scurr.
A great combo of top-notch support and freedom of movement for the shoulders (thanks to the slim, Y-shaped, adjustable back strap) makes this good-looking bra a workout must-have. It comes up high at the front to preserve your modesty while you lower for that deadlift, while the structured shape, loads of compression and wide, adjustable underband give this hybrid encapsulation/compression bra impressive support for high-impact activities, too. The zip front means it’s easy to take on and off and the breathable moulded cups also give it a bit of shape, while the bra’s material helps keep sweat under control. While next-of-skin-comfort isn’t quite as good as some bras, its performance is what serious gym goers are looking for. Put it on and go get ’em! Sizes 30A to 40F.
This stylish bra top combines superior coverage with a flatteringly feminine look, fantastic next-to-skin comfort and faff-free use. A great option for those who do the rounds of the gym floor or lower-impact classes, the racerback style plus Lycra-containing fabric allows for a large range of movement. The really wide underband gives great support for small to medium boobs as you lift those weights or pedal on the stationary bike. The Everlux fabric wicks moisture impressively and the (non-adjustable) bra comes with optional, removable cups and in UK clothes sizes 6 to 18.
Racerback styles can require acts of contortion to get them on and off, but not this one, thanks to its “open-wide back” that’s perforated to keep you cool. If comfort’s a priority and you major on lower-impact activities, this good-looking, lightweight, Red Dot design winner is a great bet. Somehow the front-adjustable straps with super-soft padding don’t dig in at the neck like some racerbacks can. Meanwhile, the thin material on the cups is pre-shaped so there are no seams, and the internal terry cloth fabric is a joy. Three-way stretch in the adjustable underband helps you move freely, but I wouldn’t wear this one for really high-impact activities. Sizes 32A to 40G.
The latest version of M&S’s bestselling sports bra with zip front looks great and now comes in bigger cup sizes, too. It’s easy to put on and take off, thanks to the front opening, and luckily, as there’s no way to adjust it, it had a really snug fit, with a nicely supportive underband. It copes well with high-impact exercises, thanks to its combo of encapsulation and compression, while moisture-wicking Cool Comfort technology helps keep sweat at bay. This great-value bra comes in sizes 32A-42H, and would suit those who want the look of a compression bra with more support. Some people might like a bit of adjustability though.
Are you always rushing to the gym? Just throw on this great-value compression bra and you’re good to go! It’s pretty comfy and scores well in the style department as well, looking good enough to be worn solo. The “stabilised front straps to minimise vertical movement” meant it performed better than your average compression bra for higher-impact activity, too. The slim, mesh, T-shaped back strap and DRYx fast-drying material elsewhere helps sweat evaporate to keep you cool, and you get a wide range of movement through the arms and shoulders, making it a great choice for general gym sessions and classes. Sizes run from XS to XL