How to Choose a Sports Bra for Running

Runner training, rear view
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Wearing the right sports bra is critical to your comfort, especially during long runs. Running is a high-impact sport, so the bra you choose for running may be different from the one you love for cross-training days. Follow these steps to make sure you get the perfect one for you.

Why You Need a Running Bra

Wearing a bra that properly supports you while you run can prevent discomfort and limit movement of the supportive tissues of your breasts. Bras that are not designed for running might not fit properly and lead to chafed, sore skin. As well, running bras are typically made of sweat-wicking materials that allow your skin to breathe and help keep you cool.

How to Choose a Running Bra

Choosing the correct running bra for you will depend on your size and needs, such as how often and how far you run, typical weather conditions you experience, and so on. There are several strategies that can be useful for choosing a running bra.

Shop In Person

It's important that you try on sports bras for fit and comfort. Go to a running specialty store, because they'll have high-impact sports bras that are designed especially for runners. If you're shopping somewhere else, make sure you look for a high-impact bra. Many sports bras don't have the right support for runners, especially if you have a larger chest.

Choose the Right Fabric

For chafing prevention and comfort, look for moisture-wicking fabrics such as Coolmax and Dri-FIT. Stay away from sports bras that are made of 100% cotton, because once you start sweating, they’ll stay wet.

Choose the Right Straps and Cups

If you have a large chest and need a lot of support, look for sports bras with wide shoulder straps, which are more likely to be padded as well as adjustable. A wider strap will also help distribute the pressure more comfortably. You'll also likely be more comfortable in an "encapsulation" type bra, which has individual cups for each breast (vs. a "compression" or shelf bra style).

Clasp or No Clasp?

A pullover style is fine for smaller breasts (say, A or B cups), but if you have a large chest, you will probably be more comfortable with a bra that comes with a clasp. It will be more adjustable.

Check the Seams and Underwire

Examine the seams of the sports bras you're trying on. You'll want seamless fabrics, seams with rolled edges, or covered seams to help prevent chafing. If you like bras with underwire, check that the underwire is completely covered so it will not gouge your skin.

Try on Different Sizes

Make sure you try on several different size sports bras. The right size for you may not actually be the cup size that you normally wear. The bra is too big if the material wrinkles or bunches. It should fit snugly, but not constrict your breathing. And if the bra is cutting into your skin, or breast tissue is spilling out of the back or sides, then it's too small. If you can slide two fingers under the straps, then it's a good fit.

When to Replace a Running Bra

After you find the perfect sports bra, don't hold onto it forever! You should replace sports bras after about 72 washes (always air-dry your sports bras to prolong the life of the moisture-wicking fabrics), when the elasticity is lost, or if your weight changes significantly. Or, you may realize that the bra isn't working well for you prior to that. If you experience these signs of poor fit, it is likely time for a new running bra.

  • Back or breast pain: This likely means that the bra is not supportive enough for your cup size. You may need a more supportive material or a different size.
  • Chafing: Chafing could mean the bra is too loose or stretched.
  • Band not staying in place: The bra is likely too small if the band rides up. If it moves around too much, it could be too big.
  • Straps moving or digging into shoulders: Straps that move around indicate a bra that is too big, while digging into the skin indicates a too-tight bra. Check for adjustable straps and band sizes when shopping for sports bras.

It's wise to replace your bra every six to twelve months, depending on how often it is used. If it has lost its supportiveness or is stretched out, it should be replaced.

When to Shop Online

You may be able to find better deals online. If you know exactly the type of sports bra you're looking for and want to shop online, always look into the site's exchange and return policy. For example, Title Nine has a good selection of bras and an excellent return policy, so you can return sports bras if they don't fit well.

A Word From Verywell

While a good sports bra may be an investment, it’s worth it for the comfort and support it provides. Replace your bra more often if you use it frequently and check for signs of wear. You can save money by finding a great fit in-store and then looking for online or seasonal sales.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.