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Evaluating sports bras from A to DD

Sports bras let women tackle workouts with gusto while keeping bouncing, jiggling and other potentially painful breast movements to a minimum. Experts say a good sports bra can help active women keep delicate breast tissue from drooping and sagging, and happy users say the right sports bra lets them participate in high-impact activities comfortably. There are three main types of sports bras: compression, encapsulation and combination.

Compression bras support the breasts by compressing and holding them firmly against your body. These bras provide a good level of support for small- and medium-chested women, although some wearers complain of the dreaded uniboob -- the unflattering look of both breasts being pushed together and flattened. Most compression bras have no back closure; you pull them on and off over your head. 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. On the plus side, compression bras are often very stretchy -- good for yoga or other activities that require a full range of motion -- and relatively inexpensive. Compression bras usually range from about $15 to $40, depending on quality and features.

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. Encapsulation bras usually come with hook-and-eye clasps that let you put them on like a regular bra. In many cases the straps are adjustable, helping large-breasted women dial in the perfect fit. Some athletes with smaller chests may also prefer this type of bra for high-impact sports like running. Encapsulation bras are generally pricier, starting around $40 and climbing to around $70.

Combination bras combine compression and encapsulation to provide a high level of support for women of all sizes. These bras may have lightly molded cups that provide some separation for breasts, but they still utilize compression to keep bounce to a minimum. Most are aimed at women who need support for medium- or high-impact workouts. Combination bras have the same pros and cons as their compression and encapsulation counterparts. They typically range from $30 to $50.

Sports bras for larger busts support the most formidable chests. Large-busted women don't have to skip their favorite activities if they opt for a bra with adequate support. Sports bras for larger busts use encapsulation or a combination of encapsulation and compression to keep bouncing to a minimum. Bras intended for larger breasts generally come in a wider range of sizes than those aimed at women with smaller breasts. Most have thick, adjustable straps and hook-and-eye closures. Some women complain these bras aren't designed with style in mind, however -- many say the designs are utilitarian, "orthopedic" even, and colors or patterns are limited. These ultra-supportive bras also usually have a high price attached: $50 to $70 is not uncommon.

High-impact sports bras keep breasts from bouncing during intense workouts. Like many bras aimed at large-busted women, high-impact sports bras use a combination of compression and encapsulation to limit breasts' movement. These bras are intended for use by women of all sizes during running, cross-training, boxing or other intense activities. Like bras for larger busts, some use band-and-cup sizing, but others may offer only a handful of sizes such as small, medium and large. These bras typically have heftier straps and thicker fabric than bras intended for lower-impact workouts, and straps can often be crisscrossed for greater support. Some women may find the structure and fabric to be too stiff or overwhelming, however. High-impact bras range from $30 to $50, but those intended for larger busts can be more costly.

Padded sports bras offer more shape and coverage. Unlike many regular padded bras, padded sports bras aren't intended to make breasts appear larger. Padding is thin, and it's generally used with molded cups to provide lift and separation -- no unflattering uniboob in this category. Padding also helps women avoid the dreaded headlights by keeping nipples from showing through bra cups, a particular concern for those who like to exercise shirt-free. Some of these bras may also have a padded underwire. Some women, however, feel padded cups add unnecessary bulk, absorb sweat or otherwise become a nuisance. Padded sports bras are available in a wide range of prices -- typically from $30 to $70, depending on structure and features.

ConsumerSearch has analyzed expert and customer reviews to evaluate comfort, support and style for popular sports bras. The result is our picks for the best sports bras on the market.

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