A runner’s wardrobe shifts with the seasons. For bitter winter jaunts you’ll shimmy into a pair of toasty fleece tights, while sweltering summer long runs will call for your most breathable shorts. But as a female runner, there’s one layer that’s essential year-round, no matter how the temps rise and fall—the sports bra. It’s a piece of gear that can make or break your run if the fit isn’t quite right, so we tested dozens and picked the best.
Read on for a quick guide in navigating some of the bra terms and features we evaluated during our testing, or keep scrolling for our top picks that delivered across the board in terms of support, style, fit, breathability, and comfort.
The main method a sports bra provides support is through its cup design. Underwire bras are typically among the most supportive picks out there, with the drawback being that they can sometimes feel a bit inflexible. Molded cups can offer comparable security without the wire by using firmer, structured areas around the bust. Both of these options usually appear in high-impact bras for larger cup sizes, and may come with removable modesty pads. Finally, cupless bras can meet the needs of smaller runners, and have a single, nondivided bust area. These bras usually rely on targeted compression, a sturdy bottom band, or adjustable straps to support A to B cup sizes.
We’re at the forefront of next-level bra technology, as well. Companies have begun to release the best of both worlds: a cupless bra that can support breasts under high intensity thanks to Motion Sense technology.
Style and Fit
Most bras you’ll see are pullovers—easy to slip on over your head like a T-shirt. However, many high-impact bras may feature a zip-front design, which gives the bra support as well as making it easier to take on and off. And some sports bras will borrow the clasp-back design from your everyday bra. This option usually crops up in bras best for larger cup sizes, and helps deliver the right fit and comfort for the bottom bust band. Regardless of how you don the bra, you’ll still have a slew of style options—racerback, Y-back, H-back, and crossback (X-back) topped our list as the most popular.
Breathability and Comfort
To keep you cool when you start sweating, most sports bras will pick from blends of moisture-wicking fabrics. Materials like nylon, spandex, and polyester will fair better on your runs than standard cotton. Plus, many bras have even implemented ionized and UPF fabrics for odor control and UV-ray sun protection. Outside of fabrics, keep an eye out for bras with mesh panels or keyhole cutouts. These features also do a great job at ventilating sweat to keep you cool and comfortable.
How We Tested
The Runner’s World team tests sports bras on a month to month basis, putting in the sweat, stretching, and intensity needed to review each bra’s fit, comfort, and support. Our testers’ sizes span from AA to DD. We also observe the ease of putting on and taking off the undergarment, its durability (through workouts and washing machine cycles), technology, and style. Below are our top picks, divided into low, medium, and high-impact categories.
Brooks Hot Shot
Cup sizes: A to D
Last year’s Hot Shot was a fan-favorite for its funky design and soft material. The brushed band didn’t leave any red marks or fold over. Test editor Amanda Furrer had an almost superstitious mindset after she PR’d wearing the Hot Shot at a Poconos 10K and the Boston Marathon; she has worn it at all of her races ever since. The latest edition has a new woven crossback and fun patterns.
Cup sizes: A to B
The best thing you’ll find in the Switchback is comfort. The bra’s fabric is ultrasoft, lined with silky mesh, and fully stitched with Fair Trade Certified sewing. It wicks moisture fast to stand up to your sweatiest runs and rides, and uses Patagonia’s Polygiene technology to keep odor at bay for hours. While it provides the best running support for A/B cups, the bra does a great job for larger cup sizes on lower-intensity cross-training days.
—BEST FOR SMALLER CUP SIZES—
Cup sizes: AA to B
The Vuori is perfect for A to B cups who need a simple pullover for intense workouts. The back has a strappy, woven, zigzag design, and the material is four-way stretch for ease of movement. Digital editor Danielle Zickl even put it through the paces during CrossFit sessions.
—THE DO-IT-ALL BRA—
Lululemon Energy Bra
Cup sizes: A to C
This pullover medium impact bra has a racerback weave design that provides ventilation, ease of motion, oh—and it looks pretty nifty too. The bra comes in several colors and patterns, and is so comfy and supportive without being constrictive, our testers said they’d wear it as non-workout bra. If you like wearing removal cups, be warned they’ll easily dislodge in the washing machine or dryer.
—BEST LONG BRA—
Under Armour Rush Bra
Cup sizes: AA to DDD
The mineral-infused fiber Celliant allegedly reflects your energy back to your body, improving your strength and endurance. Whether this is true or not, we honestly aren’t sure. Our testers have felt exuberant working out in Under Armour’s Rush line, but that could be because of the silky-feel and flattering designs. This crop-style bra looks so cool with its teardrop-shaped open back, we can’t help showing it off by running shirtless.
Brooks x Title Nine Tech Athena
Cup sizes: A to DD
Our tester, photo director Amy Wolff, said this bra absorbed sweat like a champ, without turning into a soppy garment or reeking of B.O. post-workout. The Tech Athena has Velcro straps for easy adjustment; no plastic pinching your skin or imprinting on your back or shoulders. It is a little difficult to put on though, especially as a crossback.
Cup sizes: A to G
The Molly T. is difficult to categorize; the sports bra has a Velcro closure for customizable support that you can adjust from low to high impact. We settled with medium, but As, Gs, and everyone else in between will find the bra equally effective when it comes to debouncing your rack. It can also serve as a supportive layer over that ratty bra you just don’t have the heart to toss.
—SOFT AND STABLE—Skirt Sports Carrie Bra
Cup sizes: C to D
This sports bra for C/D runners has padded, built-in cups, easy-to-reach front Velcro straps, and a four rows of three hook and eye closures in the back. The Carrie is the middle bra of Skirt Sports’s Sex and the City-inspired trinity of sports bras, with Charlotte for A/B cups and Samantha for DD/E. But Carries, Charlottes, Samanthas, or even Mirandas will appreciate the comfort of this bra.
—BEST FOR BACK/NECK PAIN SUFFERERS—
Handful The Closer
Cup sizes: C to D
Associate Test Director Jen Sherry gave The Closer high marks: “This bra has a luxuriously soft lining and enough stretch to let you move freely without sacrificing support. The flexible mesh on the upper and back is super-breathable—with a hint of sexy. Removable pads let you choose how modest or voluptuous you want to feel on a given day. And the easy-on/easy-off front-zip design has benefits that go beyond not having to wrestle the bra overhead just in time for a gaggle of girls to walk into the locker room. It’s available in five sizes and three colors.”
—EXTRA STORAGE—Oiselle Flyout Bra
Cup Sizes: A to C
We love pockets but hate having our belongings flop at our jacket tails or waistband. The Flyout Bra has a pocket in the back that is roomy enough to store your phone, cards, or fuel, without any of the former bouncing on your run. Our tester reported no tugging when she ran with her smartphone in the pocket. Side note: For those who rely on a back scratcher, the pocket may be hard-to-reach for those with shorter arms.
Boom Boom Athletica Compression Bra
Cup sizes: A to D
“No cup, no underwire, and my boobs don’t get smashed together,” said photo director Amy Wolff. The Compression Bra has a comfy, non-corset-like fit that wicks away sweat but also keeps you warm. A double strap gives it a stylish edge. The bra is a pullover with clasps in the back. There’s no need for shimmying, however—we found this bra easy to put on and slide off.
Outdoor Voices Zip Bra
Cup sizes: A to DD
Even though many high-impact models are decked out with metal fasteners and hard-to-reach, adjustable straps, we see it as a small price to pay for a pain- and bounce-free run. Outdoor Voices, however, didn’t. It put aside everything women expect—and accept—from a high-impact sports bra and conceived the Zip Bra, which conveniently zips and clasps in the front, no twisting necessary.
Champion Absolute Workout
Cup sizes: A to C
Champion’s Absolute Workout bra offers medium-impact support in an awesome array of fun patterns and prints. The compression and double-layer fabric in the front help reduce bouncing, while making the bra comfortable to wear, especially given its low price. Plus, this simple slip-on doesn’t have any prodding hooks or adjustable straps for a no-fuss fit.
Shefit Ultimate Flex
Cup sizes: AA to I
The Ultimate Flex is activewear eye candy, and will keep your breasts from bouncing on your run. The bra comes in blush and black, with gold detail on the band and back. Depending on the length or intensity of your workout, you may want to adjust the bra’s fit to reduce rubbing or chafing. Otherwise, rest assured, your girls are secure and your runner outfit is on point.
—MOST SUPPORTIVE—Knix Catalyst
Cup sizes: A to G
Challenging the conventional, albeit limiting, size window of high-impact sports bras that rarely go beyond size D, Knix’s Catalyst provides all-inclusive coverage boasting an incredible support range from 32A to 42G. Knix tested the Catalyst against more than 70 sports bras and found the bra outperformed in minimal breast movement.
—BEST UNDERWIRE—Panache Sports Wired
Cup sizes: D to J
Some testers were unsure they’d go for a wired sports bra, thinking that an underwire design would chafe or rub. But Panache nails the support, with none of the discomfort. Using molded and seamless cups, the bra is contoured to move with you as you run, but still locks down unwanted bouncing. Plus, the left strap even has a hook that allows for switching between an H-back and racerback style.
Cup sizes: A to D
High-impact bras usually have a constrictive fit, with pinching under the arms and pesky imprints on the skin of your torso and shoulders. This isn’t the case with the PureMove; no hard-to-reach back hooks, no adjustable clasps on the straps, no underwire. You simply slide the racerback bra over your shoulders and head out for a run. The front and back have perforated holes for ventilation, and the bottom band is padded for a soft, cozy fit. Reebok wanted to take the next step with Motion Sense technology, conceiving “the last sports bra you’ll ever need,” according to the brand’s website. The shear-thickening fluid (STF) inside the PureMove liquefies while you’re at rest and stiffens when it’s compelled by force. BestProducts.com agrees, this sports bra from Reebok offers amazing support and is stylish at the same time.
Cup sizes: B to DD
Zensah took the same supportive technology that athletes loved in its compression gear, and flipped it into the Gazelle. The bra has targeted compression in the places you need it, with a looser feel in high-abrasion areas, for a secure fit that won’t squeeze you too tightly. And the seamless, simple pullover design with no tags or clasps means there’s little risk of chafing.
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