How to Buy a Sports Bra

Updated February 28, 2014

The best sports bras have

  • Adequate support for your workout. If you run, play tennis or enjoy other high-impact activities, you'll need a high-impact sports bra with enough structure to minimize bounce; for lower-impact activities such as yoga, you may prefer a bra with more stretch, according to REI.
  • Compression, encapsulation or a combination of the two. Compression bras simply press the breasts to the body to provide stability -- generally best for smaller chests -- while encapsulation bras separate the breasts to support them individually, much like most regular bras.
  • Breathable, sweat-wicking fabric. The bra should use synthetic fabrics to wick sweat away from your skin to keep you dry; experts at Good Housekeeping caution against cotton, which can absorb too much moisture.
  • A wide range of sizes. For a more custom fit, especially for larger busts, look for a bra that comes in specific band and cup sizes instead of more general sizes such as small, medium and large.
  • Adjustable straps and/or closures. Adjustable straps can help wearers customize a bra's support and comfort, while adjustable closures can loosen or tighten the chest band, especially as the bra ages and stretches.

Know before you go

  • Do you care how your sports bra looks? If you work out in T-shirts that provide full coverage, style might not be a major consideration. But if you prefer low-cut necklines or strappy tank tops, you may want to stay away from utilitarian designs and blah, boring colors such as white and beige. Look for vibrant hues, two-tone designs or patterns, and interesting details such as keyholes or racerbacks.
  • Get professionally fitted before purchasing. Experts say most women are in the wrong bra size, but proper fit is especially important for sports bras. Instead of automatically purchasing a sports bra in your normal size, double-check your size with a professional.
  • Try before you buy. Sports bra shopping may require some trial and error. In particular, check potential bras for tightness -- they should be snug but not uncomfortable. Also check for irritating straps, seams or closures. Finally, make sure there's enough bounce control -- don't be afraid to jump around in the dressing room to check support.
  • If you exercise shirt-free or wear shirts with thinner fabric, look for a bra that will keep nipples from showing. Women are particularly vulnerable to embarrassing headlights during workouts. Sports bras with a bit of padding or thicker fabric will help keep nipples off display.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

Even the perfect sports bra won't last forever. Experts say most sports bras last up to a year, depending on use and care. Get the most bang for your buck by hand-washing your sports bras, letting them air dry if possible. Even bras that allow for machine washing and drying will benefit, according to experts at REI. If you do use your dryer, select a low-heat setting, and fasten any hooks to reduce the chance of tears. Experts at Champion also warn against fabric softeners, bleach and brighteners, which can lessen the effectiveness of technical fabrics.