While some women may downplay the necessity of wearing a bra, doing so during exercise is never a good idea. Breasts don't just bounce up and down during a workout; they move in a figure-eight pattern, shifting up and down, side to side, in and out. This places extra stress on the Cooper's ligaments, which support the breasts' internal structure. Once these ligaments stretch they become less effective at their job -- supporting the breasts -- which can lead to drooping and premature sagging.
Experts say a good sports bra can help active women avoid this type of breast damage, and happy users report that finding the right model allows them to participate in high-impact activities comfortably. Although women of any size can benefit from wearing a sports bra during high-impact exercise, well-endowed reviewers in particular understand the importance of finding the right design to avoid embarrassing and uncomfortable jiggling or bouncing, and the soreness that often follows.
There are two main types of sports bras available: compression and encapsulation. Compression models support your breasts by compressing them together and holding them firmly against your body. Reviewers say these bras provide a good level of support for small- and medium-chested women with A or B cups, although some complain about the "uniboob" effect -- the look that results when both breasts are pushed together and flattened. Most compression bras have no back closure; instead, you pull them on and off over your head. However, users who can get a compression bra on comfortably sometimes report problems getting it off when it's soaked with sweat. Compression bras may come in camisole designs with thin spaghetti straps, but these are usually only recommended for A- or B-cup women who engage in low-impact sports.
Large-breasted women can use compression bras for low-impact activities, but experts generally recommend encapsulation sports bras for women with C cups or larger. These bras have a separate internal cup for each breast, and some include underwires for even more support. Instead of pulling on over your head, encapsulation bras usually come with hook-and-eye clasps, in front or back, or a front zipper closure. In many cases the straps are adjustable, helping large-breasted women dial in the perfect fit. Some athletes with A/B cups may also prefer this type of bra for high-impact sports like running, although a model that draws rave reviews from large-breasted women is often panned by small-breasted women, and vice versa.
You can find cheap sports bras at any department store, but the best designs can cost anywhere from $30 to $70. While this may be a big investment for some, most reviewers say that a high-quality sports bra can completely transform your workout routine in terms of comfort and support, and is well worth the cost.
A number of expert sources enlist active women to test various sports bras, and we found the best coverage in women's fitness magazines. The sports bra market stays fairly consistent from year to year, so most reviews from a few years ago are still relevant. Because large-breasted women have the most trouble finding supportive sports bras, most reviewers focus on bras for this audience. Running Times magazine offers one of the best tests of sports bras, complete with balanced analysis and tester comments. Runner's World, Health, Self and Shape magazines also have useful reviews that provide valuable details. Other sources, like Fitness, Women's Health, Good Housekeeping and O magazines, test sports bras but provide little analysis to accompany their picks.
As a general rule, expert sports bra reviews focus on each model's high points and rarely, if ever, mention any shortcomings. This makes user evaluations vital for filling in the details about how a bra looks, feels and supports in the real world. Amazon.com, RoadRunnerSports.com and Athleta.com, among other sites, often yield hundreds of opinions from women who either fiercely love or strongly dislike a particular sports bra.