How to Shop for a Running Sports Bra

Lisa Jhung
Writer and Author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)
June 21, 2023

Finding the Right Fit Can Improve Your Running Experience

I see a lot of women running in what seems like a painful state: unsupportive sports bras not doing them any favors other than covering them for modesty’s sake. But there’s a lot more to a good sports bra for running than simply covering your nakedness.

Through years as a gear reviewer for magazines like Runner’s World, Outside, Competitor (now PodiumRunner), Women’s Running, and more, I’ve learned a thing or two about what to look for when shopping for a sports bra.

Let me start by saying this: The better your sports bra fits you—specifically you—the more comfortable you’ll be on your runs. And the more comfortable you are on your runs, the more likely you are to run for longer, and more often. And isn’t wanting to go running the ultimate goal?

Sports Bra Fit

Sports bras, from most companies, are sold in sizes XS-XL (and some offer XXL). Start by either talking with a knowledgeable salesperson in a run specialty shop or activewear shop about what band and cup size you wear in regular bras to help them guide you into a size or two to try on, or by reading size charts if shopping online.

Other bras are offered in band and cup sizes, like the size you wear in traditional bras (34B, for example).

If you’ve had trouble finding a good fit in the past, going this route and shopping for a sports bra sized by band and cup might benefit you.

Compression Versus Encapsulation, or a Combination

Some sports bras achieve support by “compression,” which is just as it sounds—the material compresses your breasts by fitting tightly. How compressive the bra is depends on both the material and fit on your specific body. Some compressive bras have stitched or seamless paneling that aims to provide some separation between breasts.

Other bras work by “encapsulation,” or, individual molds intended to encapsulate each breast separately. These can offer a more specific fit, but they can also be harder to fit specifically to you, considering the cups sit in a certain place along the band. Most bras with separate cup do have adjustable straps along the chest band to help customize a fit.

Some bras combine compression with encapsulation. These can be among the most supportive bras available, though very snug compression bras, or very well-fitting encapsulating bras, can also be very supportive.

Levels of Support

Most bras will be advertised with various levels of support for various cup sizes. For instance, a bra might say “high support for AA-B cups; medium support for C-D cups.” It’s important to read this information and shop for bras that offer high support for your cup size, as running is a high-impact activity.

Materials and Style

Like all running apparel, sports bras should be constructed out of sweat-wicking material and should dry quickly. Some will be more breathable than others, and if you live in a hot climate or sweat heavily, you may want to look for bras that claim high breathability, have mesh paneling, or are “body-mapped” with more breathable materials in high-sweat zones, like between the breasts.

Some will offer more modesty than others, either by how they’re cut (to show some skin or cover up), or if they come with removeable padding. And designs vary greatly—decide if you’ll always be wearing a shirt over your sports bra or if it might be visible either on its own or under a tank. A plethora of stylish, strappy sports bras exist, even in DD and larger sizes.

Try it On! Jump Around!

The most important bit of advice in shopping for sports bras is to try them on before buying. Or, if shopping online, try them on at home before removing the tags. And don’t just try them on, try them on and jump up and down. If your breasts bounce uncomfortably in the bra as you jump in place, they’re certainly going to bounce increasingly uncomfortably on the run.  

The more comfortable you are, the more you’ll enjoy your running.

Have you tried a sports bra you love?