9 best sports bras to take you from treadmill to triathlon
When it comes to support, no price is too high for investing in a comfortable and functional sports bra
Two words: nipple chaffing. Whether you’re a beginner runner trudging it out on the pavement or an experienced triathlete boasting a sub-seven minute mile, all sporting aficionados will attest to the sheer agony of “runners nipple” – irritation as a result of the friction of clothing against the nipple during physical exercise.
While lubrication (think handfuls of Vaseline) and nipple guards can offer assistance, the best place to start with prevention is a well-fitted, supportive sports bra.
While women in ancient civilisations are believed to have bound their breasts with leather, sports bras didn’t come into commercial circulation until the 1970s with the growing popularity of jogging in the US, the women’s liberation movement and Title IX, the federal law requiring equality between the sexes in education and sports.
However, despite it being around for more than 40 years, a survey conducted at the 2012 London Marathon found that 32 per cent of women indicated they experience breast pain while running. And it’s not hard to see why.
During exercise, most notably running, the motion of movement puts the Cooper ligaments (the connective tissue in the breast that help maintain structural integrity) under strain and incorrect support may lead to soreness and lasting damage.
As a result, the type of sports bra you require largely depends on the type of activity you’ll be doing.
The majority of bras offer three types of support: low (walking, yoga), medium (cycling, dancing), and high impact (running, aerobics). As a result, their construction will vary, with some featuring a cupless-design, no wiring, and more elasticated fabric to restrict movement (medium), to defined cup structures, with wiring and hook-and-eye closures to compress and maximise support.
When it comes to the fit, it’s important to remember a sports bra should feel tighter than a usual bra (after all, who knows how your body will be contorted in a yoga class), but shouldn’t be restrictive. Equally, underwiring should lay flat against the ribcage, and the sweat-wickening band shouldn’t ride up when you raise your hands above your head.
We tried a range of sports bras, ranging in support, design, and structure and put them to the test during a variety of sporting activities ranging from yoga and pilates to boxing and running. From Victoria’s Secret to Lululemon, here’s our top pick of the best – and most comfortable – sports bras to invest in.
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Victoria's Sport the incredible lightweight max bra: £45, Victoria’s Secret
In 2016, Victoria’s Secret announced its new athleisure division, Victoria Sport, with bras coming in widths 30-40 and A-DDD, catering to a plethora of gym-goers in search of functional, supportive bras that don’t compromise on design and affordability.
With moulded cups that sculpt the breast and compression fabric that provides extra support, this bra delivers when it comes to flattering busts of all sizes and providing security during intense workouts. Its integrated wire is stiff but not constrictive, giving its wearer support and structure. Likewise, its racer back is narrow enough along the spine for exaggerated arm moments, be it dancing or boxing.
We were slightly conscious the under arm cut might irritate the skin but were pleasantly surprised to learn it was soft on the skin. Following a 20 mile run on a hot spring afternoon, the bra proved comfortable, didn’t chaff, and was lightweight thanks to its moisture-wicking fabric and thin lining. The adjustable straps are ideal for those needing an extra bit of bounce control, and its back closure is malleable enough to slip on and off. Better still, it didn't lose its structure after five machine washes and was one of the quickest bras to dry among the lot.
As one of the most reasonably priced sports bras we tested, we are seriously considering investing in this bra in all seven of its colourways.
Under Armour women's heatgear armour high support sports bra: £45, Under Armour
At first glance, this athletic garment may seem like your run-of-the mill sports bra, with its mesh lining, sweat-wicking band and adjustable straps, but it’s only when we slipped on the bra that we understood just how well-crafted it is for high-impact activities, be it running and court sports, or aerobics and yoga.
Ranging from sizes 32A to 38DD, the design compliments all shapes and sizes, with its foam pads providing the ideal amount of coverage during sporting activity, tightly sculpting the bust just enough to provide an hourglass shape without overly-exaggerating an individual’s cup size and becoming restrictive.
Contrary to many bras with stiff metal under wiring, the bra boasts a gel-coated alternative which provides extra comfort and flexibility, and still offers the right support required for an arduous long run or intense boxing class.
One of the bra’s best feature is it’s seamless-like design and sweetheart neckline. This means you can wear it underneath a sports top without contrasting colour ways and compromising on style. The bra also cuts low enough underneath the armpit to avoid the dreaded gym-goer skin irritation.
We found the hook and eye closure proved challenging when securing the bra on the first few wears but we did get the hang of it in the end. However, this is a small price to pay given that its fastening leaves you safe in the knowledge the bra won’t come undergone in the middle of a run or worse, an exercise class. At this price, we would say it’s worth the investment.
New Balance NB pulse bra: £35, New Balance
It’s rare for a sports bra to tick all the boxes when it comes to providing comfort and sartorial prowess.
What stands out from the bra initially is its branded metallic logo emblazoned across the front of the chest. Metallics proved popular on the autumn/winter 2019 catwalk earlier this year, with brands ranging from Mark Howard Thomas and Helmut Lang all showing the opulent sheen on designs. As a result, this medium-impact choice of bra is ideal for those in search for a fashion-forward option to wear in the gym.
As for its functionality, given the bra’s elasticated sweat-wicking band and narrow straps, we would advise wearing the bra during low-intensity activity. And while the lack of underwiring may prove a turnoff for those with larger busts, it is perfect for those with smaller cup sizes on the search for compression support.
What it may lack in rigidity, it makes up for in its mesh panelling and NB dry fabric which helps the perspiring conscious among you stay dry and cool during a workout.
Fabletics Zoe High Impact Sports Bra: £20, Fabletics
Fabletics is the brainchild of co-CEOs Don Ressler, Adam Goldenberg and actor Kate Hudson. Despite the plethora of activewear brands, few offered the stylish, high quality designs at an affordable price. In 2013, Fabletics launched and last year it announced to bring its total number of US and international stores to 100.
Business aside, this Fabeletics sports bra delivers on all fronts when it comes to what you need for a workout. It has thick adjustable straps and a front closure with two additional hook and eye fastenings meaning you feel the upmost security, no matter when you’re in a downwards dog position or in the middle of a Zumba class. From our experience, this is a rare yet essential design feature in the sphere of athleticwear and definitely puts this bra ahead of its contemporaries.
In terms of design, its choice of 10 colourways will suit all tastes and it has removable cups for those who prefer less padding. We also found the breathable mesh inserts, while not essential during a workout, provide a modern aesthetic twist.
We wore this sports bra for a long-distance run and a 45-minute high intensity interval training (HIIT) class and did notice a slight bit of movement. As a result, we would suggest wearing this bra for low to medium-impact activities.
ActivInstinct beachbody intent compression women's bra: £45, ActivInstinct
Anyone who has ever battled with a piece of Lycra sportswear in the gym will know that when you’re pressed for time, you need a sports bra that’s easy to slip on and off without having to worry about an impending visit to Accident and Emergency.
Beachbody caters to time-sensitive individuals, with its elasticated polyamide microfiber yarns making it easy to slide over your head before and after a workout, and compression bands that wrap the muscle zones to improve muscular elasticity and comfort and prevent excess friction.
We wore the bra for a 70-minute vinyasa yoga class and it felt soft against the skin and its seamless construction meant it was near invisible underneath a vest top. However, we would say its sweat-wickening band is thick enough so it can easily be worn on its own without layering and provides enough support. The design is cut low enough under the armpit and narrows in towards the spine, make it unrestrictive – a perfect design component for wide arm movements, whether it’s warrior II pose or a deadlift.
It’s worth noting the bra doesn’t have underwiring, so those with larger cup sizes may want to steer clear of this option.
Dorina curves extreme zip front floral sports bra: £18, JD Williams
Front-zip sportsbras have long been the choice du jour for women wanting support and convenience when quickly changing out of daywear into gymwear.
This bra from Dorina is the perfect option for those wanting to partake in a medium-impact activity, with its front closure and non-wired racer-back providing the perfect amount of support.
While it doesn’t have the double hook and eye clasp that the Fabletics option does, it still felt secure during three 5km runs. The bra also comes in a variety of sizes (medium to 3XL) and is made with thick mesh straps providing the perfect level of breathability and support.
We must admit, it’s not often that we would choose a non-padded bra to workout in, but after trailing this alternative we found the lack of cushioning is not only comfortable but minimises the fullness of a cup size. In addition, the unusual leaf design, coupled with the colour block micro and jacquard mesh, provides a modern take on athletic wear. Better still it was the most competitively priced bra out of all the garments we tested.
Asos 4505 bra with velvet panels: £25, Asos
Velvet and sweat don’t usually make for a blissful marriage in the world of sport but for this design, we are making an exception. In February 2018, Asos launched its in-house active wear range, Asos 4505, following on from its activewear campaign “more reasons to move”. The aim? To empower their customers to get fit with affordable and functional sportswear.
Blending the boundaries between sport and daily life, this bra could be easily worn in a gym class as it could at a summer festival. As for its sporting suitability, the high neckline and elongated torso design tightly secures the bust for low-medium activity.
Its crossover straps are lightweight and secures the top to the body, while its low cut under the armpit to the spine avoid friction between the fabric and skin. However, in our opinion, its narrow cut at the front makes it more suitable for those with smaller busts, especially as it lacks the underwiring required for those needing more support.
After an hour’s boxing and HIIT class and a 45-minute run, we found the compression fabric was soft on skin, while its non-stretch bra straps kept everything in place. Our favourite feature? The velvet back panelling. It’s smooth, soft, and, oh, so luxurious. Coming in as the second cheapest bra we tested, we think this one wins overall on fashion rather than functionality.
LNDR raid racerback sports bra: £75, Matches Fashion
Launched by fashion industry veterans Joanna Turner, Sarah Donnelly and Donna Harris in 2015, LNDR has become one of the most sought-after London-based active wear brands, taking sporting aficionados from Pilates to brunch, thanks to its practicality and clean aesthetic.
Given each LDNR garment is made with temperature regulating technology and antibacterial and waterproof fabrics, we expected the black Raid sports bra to deliver (especially as it’s the second most expensive bra we tested), but not this much.
The double layer lining offers optimum support, as does its wide, elasticated sweat-wickening band, cut-out racer design and straps that come together just below the nape of the neck. When testing this bra out during 10 mile run, we instantly noticed it didn’t rub on our shoulders or collar bone, as some bras often do, which definitely made it a serious contender for our best buy option.
With available sizes ranging from extra small to large, the bra fits a broad spectrum of sixes and stretches to fit. Our biggest critique would be that we noticed a slight bit of bust movement during the long-distance run so would advise wearing the bra for bodyweight exercises such as front squats and glute bridges. While the price tag does demand a lot, we think it’s still worth a consideration.
Lululemon enlite bra: £78, Lululemon
Designed specifically for running, the lightweight, breathable built-in cups allow for soft bounce and aren’t too restrictive on impact. Contrary to many designs, its bonded underband (which is so seamless it looked like we weren’t even wearing a bra) was fitted, without being constrictive or digging into the breastbone.
While its cross-over back straps are non-adjustable, the bra sits firmly in place and has a stitch-free hook and eye closure making it easy to secure and tighten, depending on the fit. With six colourways to choose from and sizes ranging from 32B to 34 F, the bra is perfect for runners starting out on the pavement or marathon veterans of all sizes.
As the most expensive bra we tested, it’s definitely worth asking yourself what you need from a sports bra. If it’s comfort and support, this is certainly one to keep in mind. Our only frustration was that the cut of the bra meant it was quite tight around the armpit, so you might want to consider what type of exercise you want to wear this for (our advice would be for weight training).
The verdict: Sports bras for running
Overall, the lightweight max bra from Victoria’s Sport came out on top as our best buy after several workouts. The one-piece foam pad is lightweight, the wiring is supportive, while its structure limits bounce making exercise not only more doable but also comfortable (a rarity in our experience). Alternatively, we would suggest the Under Armour heatgear armour (that gel-coaed underwire alone made us want one). For those wanting to spend a little bit more cash on their choice of bra, we would also suggest investing in the Lululemon enlite bra, given its seamless design and comfort.
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