Larger-busted women need maximum support from their sports bras, so experts recommend an encapsulation bra for those with C cups or larger. This type of bra encloses each breast in a separate cup and compresses the breasts against the body. These models typically include zippers or clasps, making it easier for women with large breasts to get in and out of them. Many also have adjustable straps to help dial in the right amount of support.
Many sports bras designed for C/D-cup women contain underwire for extra support, but reviewers say that isn't a necessity. Some wearers like the extra support that underwire provides, while others say they chafe, constrict and sometimes even get tangled when you put the bra on. In the end, choosing whether you want underwire in your sports bra is largely a matter of personal preference. If underwire isn't a must, the Moving Comfort Fiona (*Est. $45) is the top pick for women with C- and D-cup sizes, using separate molded cups as well as compression to support breasts during exercise.
In Self magazine LaJean Lawson, Ph.D, adjunct professor of exercise and sports science at Oregon State University, praises the Fiona's "stretchy, firm fit." This is also the only sports bra we've seen recommended for nursing mothers; Shana Draugelis of AintNoMomJeans.com recommends the Moving Comfort 3 Reasons bra sold through Title 9, which the brand's customer support confirms is the same as the Fiona. Draugelis says the bra really does hold up to the manufacturer's claim of no bouncing during high impact, and the front-adjustable straps make nursing easy.
Reviewers at Runner's World, Running Times, Fitness and Health magazines have great things to say about the Moving Comfort Fiona, too. Large-breasted testers at Running Times call it soft, comfortable and highly adjustable. "It receives almost perfect scores across the board," says writer Candace Karu. Testers at Health magazine say it "wicks sweat nicely and breathes well." Average users like it as well: More than 500 posts at Amazon.com give the bra a 4.5-star rating, saying it's comfortable and supportive enough for high-impact activities, without feeling restrictive. However, a few wearers warn that the chest band may curl up in the back after several uses, the bra frays easily and a lack of padding across the front makes nipples noticeable. Users who comment on the bra's moisture-wicking abilities agree that it does a good job of keeping you dry.
The Fiona comes in three colors -- black, white and blue -- and sizes range from 30B to 44DD. However, DD cup or larger reviewers say the bra doesn't offer enough support; even a few B-cup wearers say the Fiona doesn't do much but smash their chest in. If you wear a DD cup or larger, you might want to consider the Enell Sports Bra (*Est. $65), our best-reviewed bra for running if you wear a D cup or larger. If you're an A or a B cup, the Asics Cross Back Bra (*Est. $40) and the Champion Shape T-Back Sports Bra (*Est. $30) are both very well reviewed.
The Under Armour HeatGear Endure (*Est. $50), another supportive, underwire-free sports bra for larger-busted women, earns mixed reviews. It's "NOT for anyone smaller than D," posts one 36B user who couldn't get a good fit even though the Endure comes as small as 32A. Most testers who review the bra wear a C-cup or larger. "When I used it for running, I was amazed!" says a 36DDD reviewer. "It's super supportive and I love the zipper!" Users mostly agree that the bra provides great support for large-busted women, but the zip-front closure poses some problems. "Zipping this bra is an exercise in itself," writes one reviewer. Others complain about bras arriving with broken zippers or, in one case, a zipper that came completely undone in wrestling class. On the upside, this bra wicks well and offers some modesty padding. The Endure is made of Under Armour's proprietary HeatGear fabric and comes in sizes from 28A to 40DD/42B.
For C/D cup wearers who prefer an underwire sports bra, the Moving Comfort Maia (*Est. $45) draws the highest praise. This bra combines internal molded cups and underwire to support larger breasts, and a back hook-and-eye closure makes it easy to get on and off. Reviewers say the Maia's polyester/Lycra fabric is durable and breathable, and the bra creates a nice silhouette from any angle. It comes in sizes ranging from 32C to 40E.
Although the Maia draws some expert attention -- in an older review, Christine Luff at About.com enlists several full-figured friends to help her test the bra -- hundreds of users give the clearest impression of this bra's impact. More than 350 Amazon.com posters give it a 4.5-star average rating, saying they're thrilled with its comfort and support. Those who are used to a bra like the Enell, which allows barely any movement, dislike that the Maia permits some breast movement. Others, however, don't mind. "I still have a little bounce, but I don't feel like my boobs are going anywhere," one reviewer says. Another reports, "I can run and participate in other high energy activities and experience no shoulder or neck pain. It's fantastic." A number of women with DD and E cups say the Maia allows only minimal movement, if any, during high-impact workouts. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
Testers also like the Maia's solid back closure and padded, no-slide straps, but not necessarily the high neckline, which can peek out from under workout tops. A few women say the underwire feels too constricting along the sides. We also found a few complaints about a slight redesign released in 2011; however, most of the late 2011 and early 2012 reviews remain very positive, and users like the addition of adjustable straps. The biggest hurdle appears to be getting the right size; customer reviews report that the cup sizes tend to run large, and a number of testers for Running Times had to wear one cup size smaller than their usual to get a good fit.
Another underwire sports bra designed for C and D cups, the Champion Double Dry Seamless Full-Support Underwire Sports Bra (*Est. $40), earns several recommendations from reviewers at Running Times, Runner's World, Shape and Health magazines. It includes separate molded cups and cushioned underwires for support, and adjustable straps and a back closure help create a personalized fit. The Double Dry Seamless is made of moisture-wicking nylon and Spandex and is available in sizes ranging from 32B to 40DD.
Testers at Running Times magazine love the bra for its style (they say it looks like a regular sports bra) and moisture-wicking abilities. A review in Runner's World magazine comes to a similar conclusion: "This bra has so much going for it, our wear-testers couldn't agree on what they liked best," the author writes. In older user reviews, most C- and D-cup wearers also love the Champion Double Dry's style, support, comfort and excellent wicking. Some recent complaints (usually from DD-cup and up women) on Amazon.com say the bra's material is too stretchy and just not supportive enough. It has gotten enough recent negative ratings, due in part to the stretch/support issue, to sink its overall Amazon.com score from 4.5 stars to 4 stars.
The Champion Powerback Underwire (*Est. $40) also draws positive reviews from large-busted wearers. They say it's very comfortable and supportive, and breathes well. In an article for O, The Oprah Magazine about reducing breast pain, Joanna Scurr, Ph.D, of the University of Portsmouth picks the Powerback Underwire as one of the best sports bras. More than 200 users give this bra 4.5 stars out of 5 on Amazon.com because of its comfort and support, but say putting the bra on and getting it off can be a struggle. User reviewers for the online lingerie retailer HerRoom.com agree that getting into this bra is hard, and taking it off is even harder. However, not everyone's unhappy: "Once you figure out how to get the bra on, you're on your way," says one Amazon.com reviewer.
Not every underwire sports bra offers exceptional support. Reviewers say that the Natori Sport (*Est. $50) has wide, comfortable straps, and they like its seamless, lightly padded cups. But feedback on its support is mixed, with a significant minority saying the bra allows too much bounce for high-impact exercise. We also found reports that once this bra gets wet it stays wet against your skin -- a common problem with cotton bras -- and that the chest band can be too tight. A few users even report that the hook-and-eye closure on the back-adjustable shoulder straps sometimes pops open completely, and one says the bra loses its shape over time. Nonetheless, many users feel comfortable wearing this bra for low- and medium-impact exercise.
The underwire-free CW-X Firm Support Bra (*Est. $50), one of the rare compression bras designed for larger-busted women, earns recommendations from Fitness magazine and fashion blog StilettoJungleBlog.com. The bra is made for women with C and D cups and has an X-shape strap system to evenly distribute breast weight and limit bouncing. Like the brand's Xtra Support Bra (*Est. $60), the Firm Support uses CoolMax moisture-wicking fabric and sizes range from 34B/C to 38D. While it's designed to be pulled on and off over the head, several posters at Amazon.com say they struggle to do so. A few reviewers at RoadRunnerSports.com add that the bra doesn't provide enough support for running. Even so, Fitness magazine recommends the sports bra for D-cup women, saying it offers "maximum bounce control."