How to Find the Right Sports Bra, According to Your Favorite Sport

Sports bra guru Dr. LaJean Lawson gives her best shopping tips.
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Photo: Christopher Futcher/Getty Images

Photo: Christopher Futcher/Getty Images

Whether it's because of the summer time or the Summer Olympics, we've kicked our fitness routine into high gear lately. Plus, with a recent slew of up-and-coming activewear lines to shop from, there are more choices for your workout wardrobe than ever before. And similarly to shopping for an everyday bra, the same attention to detail should be applied when choosing a sports bra. 

We asked Dr. LaJean Lawson, veteran researcher and consultant to Champion, on her best shopping tips for finding the right bra. We broke it down with Lawson by activity, and she pointed out the movement patterns, details and issues — for example, low or high impact; moisture-wicking fabrics; chafing or irritation — to keep in mind. The best sports bra will not only leave you completely comfortable during your workout, but mentally prepared to perform your best. "I absolutely agree that having more confidence in your gear enhances your game, even if it's cute," says Lawson.

Read on to learn exactly what to look for in a sports bra based on your fitness routine, along with a few shopping suggestions, too.

Cycling

Whether you cycle on the mountains, track or road, Lawson, an avid cyclist herself, advises on finding a sports bra that's wide and roomy in the back. Straps that sit too close to your neck can put a strain on your shoulders, especially while you're in a riding position and reaching for the bike's handlebars. Those who do stationary cycling like SoulCycle and Flywheel should opt for moisture-wicking fabrics. Since these classes generally take place indoors, there's limited ventilation as compared to what other cyclists experience while outside. If you happen to cycle outdoors in colder climates, wear a sports bra with a little padding for extra warmth.

Running

Throughout Lawson's decades of research, running provides a tough test on sports bras. There's high-body impact in a very repetitive and cyclical motion, which can often make the garment take down parts of the skin after a certain distance (usually after six to 10 miles). Look for a super-smooth bra and pay close attention to its seams and stitching. Will you find them irritating against your skin after a long run? Some trigger spots for friction are your shoulder blades and the base of each of your front breasts. 

Lawson stresses maximum support, too, suggesting compression bras for those with an A- or B-cup chest. Ladies who are a C or above should look into a sports bra with proper cup sizing (rather than your standard M or L) and compression with less stretch for ultimate security and comfort. (If you can adjust the sizing from the back, even better, says Lawson.) Plus, the high sweat rate from the cardio workout can make your sports bra wet and abrasive. Moisture-wicking fabric is an obvious plus, along with straps that are fairly cushioned to reduce any pressure on your shoulders. 

Yoga and Pilates

Though there's little to no impact with these fitness types, there's plenty of bending and stretching, so Lawson suggests finding a sports bra that's flexible — with no straps that need adjustment. Since you're required to spend some time on your back, don't be afraid to try on a bra in a fitting room and lie down. That way you can see if anything is uncomfortably poking you. The lower impact that's involved in the sport, the more fun you can have with your bra. If you have your eye on a trendy style, Lawson says go for it, as long as you're comfortable while doing everything from child's pose to a headstand. 

Dance Cardio, Barre, Crossfit and Boot Camp

For workouts that involve various motions in space — plus strength training like weights, resistance balls or plyometrics — it ultimately comes down to a comfortable sports bra with medium-to-high support. "Make sure that the whole bra isn't so tight that you can't breathe properly," says Lawson. "You need something that stays secure with your body but also be able to move freely. If you're reaching over your head a lot, make sure the bottom band is not too loose or tight. Bras could go up and then not back down." She also suggests a sports bra with areas of mesh for ventilation, especially if you're working out indoors where the room — and your body — can heat up quickly.

Boxing

Since boxing is on the rise as a workout of choice among models and fashion girls, Lawson notes that it's important to keep in mind that it's a contact sport. Olympic boxers are mandated to wear chest protection, so it's best to wear a sports bra with padding to avoid any injury to your breast tissue. Lawson also brings up the psychological aspect behind such protective measures among athletes, which makes them more aggressive. "You won't feel afraid that you'll be injured, so you can focus on your boxing," she says.

Volleyball, Soccer, Basketball, Softball, etc.

Sports that generally involve running (specifically short sprints) and high impact need a very supportive sports bra. Lawson focuses importance on the bra's band, making sure it stays anchored while you play. Moisture management is also key: "Sometimes you'll sprint and slow down, stand a little bit or take a break on the bench," says Lawson. "That's when you're most susceptible to sweat."

Tennis

With tennis, or any racquet sport, the typical motion pattern involves running — especially from side to side and short-term motions. According to Lawson, you should opt for a sports bra that will have some reinforcement (padding or cups, for example) to support that side-to-side mobility, as well as comfortable, flexible straps.

Gymnastics, Tumbling and Cheerleading

With sports like gymnastics and cheerleading, Lawson points out that these athletes face some of the highest vertical impact forces while landing a tumbling pass. A sports bra that will highly support these active jolts works best, as well as straps that will stay put — both in the air and on the ground. Though young athletes who train intensively may experience suppressed puberty or hormones (hence, a smaller chest), Lawson has seen plenty of talented gymnastics at her daughter's collegiate matches of all sizes and shapes. If you happen to fall in the C- or D-cup range, opt out of a compression-style bra and go for one that's encapsulated, which is built with separate cups in your size. (Read: No uniboob.) "Divide and conquer," as Lawson puts it.

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