A sports bra should be many things: supportive, sweat-wicking, comfortable, versatile, secure and, of course, stylish. Sports bras should be engineered to feel, fit and function just the way you need them to – whether you’re running a marathon or practising your yoga inversions, working out at (or working from) home.
Yet shopping for and wearing a sports bra that actually fits can be more of a dread than a delight. According to a 2020 study on sports bra use among exercising females from the University of Portsmouth, 70-100 per cent of women reported wearing incorrectly fitting bras.
Meanwhile up to 72 per cent of exercising females experience breast pain and one in five adult women – and nearly half of adolescent girls – report the breasts as a barrier to exercise. The most influential one? “I cannot find the right sports bra.”
In our quest to find the best sports bra, we tested a wide range of both recent launches and bestselling bras, looking at both high-impact and low-impact options from large athletic brands, speciality retailers and boutique sellers.
Typically, there are three different types of sports bras on the market: compression, encapsulation and combination. Compression sports bras tend to pull over the head and restrict breast motion by compressing and flattening. Encapsulation sports bras support each breast individually in separate, structured cups to limit breast movement. And the combination is a mixture of the two.
We considered everything from the sweat-wicking material to the width of the straps, whether the band rode up or the wires cut into our skin. We looked at closure methods and adjustability options, coverage and cost.
The best sports bras for 2021 are:
- Best overall –Lululemon energy bra: £38,Lululemon.co.uk
- Best medium-impact sports bra –Maaree empower sports bra: £49, Maaree.com
- Best high-impact sports bra –Sweaty Betty all train sports bra: £65, Sweatybetty.com
- Best for a second-skin feel –Runderwear original support running bra: £50, Runderwear.co.uk
- Best lightweight sports bra –Nike FE/NOM flyknit: £69.95, Nike.com
- Best for runners –Brooks dare crossback bra: £55, Brooksrunning.com
- Best for weightlifters – Blue Elvin sports bra: £85, Blueelvin.com
- Best fashion statement –Adidas studio two-tone bra: £60, Adidas.co.uk
- Best budget option –Ellesse raberona bra top: £25, Zalando.co.uk
- Best with a pretty print –The Upside atacama larri ruffled floral-print stretch sports bra: £90, Net-a-porter.com
- Best recycled sports bra –SOS Activewear minke sports bra: £65, Sosactivewear.com
- Best for from gym to drinks –Silou Chloe crop bra: £39.30, Siloulondon.com
- Best for celeb style – Pocket Sport Claude bra: £38, Pocket-sport.com
- Best for yogis –Contur block rocker crop 2.0: £57, Conturuk.com
- Best for fun neon – Alo real bra tank: £52, Aloyoga.com
- Best for smaller busts – Under Armour seamless low long sports bra: £30, Underarmour.co.uk
Lululemon energy bra
Lululemon’s energy bra is a cult classic, and for good reason. Although it’s classed as medium support, we found it supportive enough to run in, and light enough for yoga. For extra coverage, we also love the long line design – perfect for ditching the tank top and show off the strappy detailing. We particularly loved Lululemon’s collaboration with London-based artist Ed Curtis, and the brand is always bringing out one-of-a-kind designs you won’t see elsewhere.
Maaree empower sports bra
Best: Medium-impact sports bra
This medium-impact white sports bra is new for 2021, and although it’s designed for cycling and circuit training, it’s also suitable for running thanks to its standout overband feature. This cleverly curved panel runs over the top of the breasts, providing extra support, distributing pressure evenly and helping to reduce upward motion when exercising. The only tricky thing with the empower bra is its snap clasp design, which can take a couple of attempts to do up, but once you’re in it fits like a glove. For bigger busts, try Maaree’s coral solidarity bra (£64, Maaree.com) instead.
Sweaty Betty all train sports bra
Best: High-impact sports bra
Sweat it out in Sweaty Betty’s all train bra. This high-performance, high-impact bra is made from lightweight fabric to boost breathability, while the bonded neckline and hem ensures there’s no chafing. It can be a bit of a dance and jiggle to get into it (it’s a pull-over-head number with a clasp). But, due to its high compression, whether you’re an A cup or F cup, we found the crossover strappy back offered both the support and stability we needed to run, squat jump and burpee our way to fitness. Plus, it looks good too.
Runderwear original support running bra
Best: For a second-skin feel
Runderwear, so it turns out, don’t just do fun, seamless knickers, they also offer second-skin-fit running bras. We were originally a little sceptical at the sizing (and thought the original support running bra ran a tad small), but after testing it out on a series of different runs, we found it both comfortable and extremely supportive. Plus, the edges minimise chafing. For those with bigger busts, try out Runderwear’s easy-on running bra (£55, Runderwear.co.uk) – which comes in sizes D to H – instead.
Nike FE/NOM flyknit
Best: Lightweight sports bra
There was a lot of hype around Nike’s flyknit bra when it first appeared on the market, and we can see why. Lighter, stretchier and airier, its nearly seam-free design provides a minimal look with maximum support. As an over-the-head sports bra, it felt like we were putting on a low-support bra – especially considering the fact that it was so easy to get on and off. Once it’s on, you pretty much feel like you’re not wearing anything at all – compressed, but you can still breathe.
Brooks dare crossback bra
Best: For runners
This bra is perfect for runners. Inspired by both real-life runner insights (women want a bra that offers support) and specialist breast movement research from the University of Portsmouth, the new dare bra collection from Brooks is exceptionally comfortable. Made from sweat-wicking, quick-drying fabric, with smooth edges and minimal seams to reduce chafing, if you’re training for a marathon (or any long-distance event), then we’d recommend trying out one of these.
Blue Elvin sports bra
Best: For weightlifters
For anyone who lifts weights or enjoys a bit of CrossFit, you need to have this bra on your radar. Designed by Blue Elvin, a small, sister co-founded, fitness apparel company, it’s unlike anything else we’ve seen on the market. With a special impact panel built into the bra along the collarbone, you don’t need to worry about any marks, scrapes and bruises from power cleans with the barbell. Plus, the minimalist design means it’s guaranteed to go with everything else already in your workout wardrobe.
Adidas studio two-tone bra
Best: Fashion statement
Inject a little brightness into your workout with this shapewear-inspired bra from Adidas’s new Formotion range. This two-tone sports bra – made with Primegreen, a series of high-performance recycled materials – has a seamless compression fit and is supportive enough for your most intense training sessions (think weights, barre, dance, tennis or boxing) and has a racer-back for easy movement. Plus, the design accentuates compression zones, giving targeted support where you need it most. Wear it with the brand’s matching two-tone tights (£75, Adidas.co.uk).
Ellesse raberona bra top
Best: Budget option
We found that Ellesse’s new raberona top wasn’t nearly supportive enough to run in, but it was ideal for strength and conditioning workouts. Made from moisture-wicking fabric and lightweight mesh inserts to help keep you cool and comfortable, it even has strategically placed mesh on the racer-back straps – offering added breathability where you need it most.
The Upside atacama larri ruffled floral-print stretch sports bra
Best: With a pretty print
This sports bra from Australian brand The Upside is so pretty, you probably won’t even want to sweat in it. Framed by ruffled racerback straps and printed with dainty flowers, the atacama larri is made from the brand’s signature four-way high-tech stretch fabric to ensure comfortable movement through every lift and pose. Breathable and fast-drying, this stand-out sports bra will see you through low- to medium-impact sports, and is guaranteed to make a statement. If it wasn’t for the price, we’d buy more than one.
SOS Activewear minke sports bra
Best: Recycled sports bra
Cut from recycled fishing nets and other waste that would otherwise be discarded into oceans and landfills, this kind-to-the-planet sports bra is ideal for low- to medium-impact workouts such as yoga or pilates. Smooth against the skin, we love the cool, colour-block design and crossover straps at the back. The underband offers a little extra support with an adjustable hook and eye.
Silou Chloe crop bra
Best: For from gym to drinks
We first came across this kind-to-the-planet, luxury activewear brand a couple of years ago, and have been hooked ever since. Founded by yoga teacher Phoebe Greenacre, the multi-tasking pieces are designed to take you from the gym to drinks with ease. This technical yet tailored yoga sports bra feels luxuriously soft on, and effortlessly seems to compliment the female form. We particularly like the wideband which wraps around the bust, and the cut-out back.
Pocket Sport Claude bra
Best: For celeb style
Created for women who lead busy lives, Pocket Sport is an activewear brand designed by Louise Thompson of Made in Chelsea fame. The Claude bra offers style and comfort during low impact workouts – in fact, we think it’s so comfy, it could easily replace every underwired T-shirt bra in our drawer and just be used as a simple, wear-every-day bra. We particularly love the new dusky blue colour but, be warned, if you have a larger bust, this bra is quite low cut.
Contur block rocker crop 2.0
Best: For yogi’s
Contur’s block rocker crop sports bra is ideal for low-impact workouts like yoga and Pilates. Made from supportive stretch fabric that’s blended with recycled, brushed econyl yarn, choose from an array of colour combinations – from hot pink to vibrant jade – paired with Contur’s signature black and metallic gold shoulder straps. The best part? The block colours make it easy to style with your existing gym kit. Just don’t try wearing it spinning or on a turbo trainer (it won’t wick the sweat away from your skin).
Alo real bra tank
Best: For fun neon
Yoga is undoubtedly more fun when you’re wearing a fun set like Alo yoga’s real bra tank in neon apricot with its matching high-waisted leggings or bike shorts. For the days where you don’t want to wear both a tank top and bra, this soft, sculpting fabric with racerback and longline silhouette is the ideal blend of both. In fact, you’ll want to add the neutral version to your shopping bag, too. Wear it for yoga, pilates or barre.
Under Armour seamless low long sports bra
Best: For smaller busts
With its longline silhouette, Under Armour’s seamless sports bra is suitable for smaller busts and can double up as a cropped top. Made from lightweight, ultra-tight, soft knit stretch fabric, with a wide jacquard elasticated underband for added lift, the removable padding and adjustable slim straps let you personalise the fit and will keep you comfortable during your practice (but we won’t be surprised if you wear it all day).
Sports bras FAQs
How to choose a sports bra
Sports bra fitting is a minefield – even after you have your measurements. Often it is a trial and error process, sifting through different styles, cuts and support to find one that is just right. But there are a few things to watch out for while choosing a bra.
A sports bra should be snug but not too uncomfortably tight and shouldn’t restrict your breathing. However, it should be tighter than your day to day bras; a good rule of thumb is that you should be able to fit two fingers between the straps and your shoulders.
The cup should be smooth – wrinkles usually mean it is too big. If you are spilling out, it may be too small.
As with a normal bra, you should watch out for gaps. If you pick a style with an underwire, make sure it doesn’t pinch or dig in and lays flat against the rib cage.
High impact vs low impact
Once you’ve got the fit right, it’s important to consider what activities you’ve got planned. If you are a yogi or a pilates enthusiast, you can probably get away with a lower support bra. Whereas if you are an avid runner, you may need more help, so keep your eye out for thicker straps.
Also, picking a bra with sweat-wicking, breathable material is always a good idea when doing high-impact activities.
What is the best sports bra for big busts?
Those with bigger busts may need a little bit of extra support in their workouts. Generally, there are two types of bras to choose from: encapsulation bras with individual cup support, and compression bras that, well, compress everything all together to stop any jiggling. You can also go for an underwired style, although this can be uncomfortable while exercising and cause chafing.
The verdict: Sports bras
For the gym, it has to be Lululemon’s energy bra – our workout wardrobe is filled with these in multiple colours. Sweat-wicking, multi-functional and uber flattering, it’s easy to see why they are so popular.
For running, we loved Maaree’s stylish empower bra – once on, we found it incredibly comfortable, and the fact that it reduces both upward and downward motion was an added bonus. The white colour is also perfect for summer.
For yoga, there are so many buttery soft low-impact bras out there, but we really love the kind-to-the-planet minke sports bra from small start-up SOS Activewear. The minimalist design is made to let you flow.
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