clothing · running

The Sports Bra Dilemma

Under Armor Sports bra.

Lately I’ve been looking for something very specific in a sports bra: something that fits comfortably without chafing, provides adequate support, and dries quickly.  I have been fortunate in the first two categories, probably because I’m not all that busty anyway.  I find the under armor sports bras I’ve been wearing are just about right for me.  They come in different cup sizes and they have three different hook settings.

They have padding, which some of us object to. See Sam’s post on nipple phobia and padded sports bras. But I don’t object to a bit of padding. Except that it doesn’t dry really quickly. And after the triathlon swim, it’s not all that comfortable to do the bike then the run with a wet bra.

So I tried my other favourite, the Champion compression-style sports bra, in my last triathlon. I got a two-pack of these at Costco for under $20, and I I have found them surprisingly comfortable for my home workouts. They don’t have padding, but the compression gives enough support for me.  But when I swam with it in Kincardine, it didn’t even come close to drying.  In fact, I think the Under Armor bra does better on that front except for the padding.

But my bra woes are just a fraction of the complaints that are out there, and minor by comparison. An article this week says that 75% of women marathoners report problems with sports bra fit!  The top complaints are about chafing and discomfort from shoulder straps.

According to the article:

In a survey of women at the 2012 London Marathon, three-quarters said they have issues with how their sports bra fit.

In the new data from the survey, of the 1,285 women who responded, three-quarters reported problems with how their sports bras fit. Chafing and shoulder straps digging in were the most common complaints, with larger-breasted women more likely to report problems.

In the previous study, which we reported on last April, lead researcher Nicola Brown, Ph.D., and colleagues found that the incidence of breast pain among the women marathoners was high even though 91% of them regularly ran in a sports bra. Brown told Runner’s World Newswire that sport bras don’t offer enough options in shape and construction to match the variety of everyday bras.

“Bra manufacturers need to do more research and work closely with scientists and women to design bras which allow women of all shapes and sizes to lead active and healthy lifestyles,” Brown said.

This is a really demoralizing report.  As Sam asks on our FB page, do you think if 75% of men had a complaint about some basic piece of running gear there would not be a solution yet?

Someone commented on our FB page that it’s not surprising, given that most women wear poorly fitting bras most of the time. There just are limits to how comfortable a bra can be.  And when you want comfort in an everyday bra, you need to pay for it.

But for the most part, sports bras are not cheap. Though the Champion two-pack was a bargain for sure, the Under Armor bras that I use most of the time when I run are almost $70 each. If you look at what’s on offer in most running stores, you’ll find that most sports bras that come in cup sizes and are good quality are at least $60 and often more than that.

It’s sad to think that lack of adequate breast support could be something that drives women away from pursuing the activities they enjoy.  When 75% of marathoners are reporting problems, this signals that manufacturers of sports clothing need to pay more attention to the needs of women athletes.

If you have found a sports bra that is excellent and comfortable, especially for women who need more support, please share about it in the comments. Also, if it has these features and dries quickly, even better!

28 thoughts on “The Sports Bra Dilemma

  1. I look forward to reading comments from people who have had success!! I am so painfully chafed from my sports bras. I’ve tried champion and just spent a small fortune on a couple of reebok bras that seemed to fit but clearly cut into my skin under the bra area while I’m running. I will try under armour on my next shopping trip!

  2. Try Lane Bryant in the US. They have a huge selection and ship to Canada. They also have plenty of sales to take advantage of. I am more busty so I go for a bigger size in Sports Bra but they have a selection all across the board. Check it out if you don’t mind shopping on-line. Depending on your ship preferences, your order comes in approx a week or so through Can-Post regular shipping but they ship sooner. Good service, won’t disappoint. Always read reviews on the bra you are interested in because some women always suggest going a band size up depending on the bra and fit or discuss any issues that may come with it. Women are the best experts when it comes to bras!

    PS. For the record, I have no idea why bras and clothes are often crap here in Canada, but it seems across the border, variety and quality is ten-fold better. I am sold going across the border when it comes to certain necessities. Speaking of, there is another on-line store called Bare Necessities. I haven’t ordered from there yet but they seem to fall in line with Lane Bryant.

  3. I’m a 32FF and I live in the UK, which is an advantage because from what I’ve read on bra blogs (I read a lot, thanks to my size!), the US is way behind the UK in terms of larger-cup bra options.

    Personally I swear by a Freya Active. It’s moulded, which I like (I have no issues with padding/moulded bras for everyday wear, I find they give better shape) and I can sprint & do box jumps in it just fine. I also really like the Shock Absorber.

    If shoulder straps are digging in, the usual culprit it too loose a band. The weight of the breasts should be supported mainly by the band, NOT the shoulder straps. When people get measured for a bra properly for the first time, they often find the band uncomfortable because they’re used to looser bands. The old-style of measuring a band, where you added 4/5″ to your ribcage size, is NOT relevant today. is a great resource for bra fitting.

  4. I know the numerous reasons a person might not want to shop at Lululemon, but I break my boycott against them only for their (terribly named) Ta-Ta Tamer II. Their size range isn’t great but it works for me, and they can stay chafe-free and comfortable through a marathon and beyond.

    Moving Comfort was my go-to for a long time but the ridged texture at the bottom of the band started chafing me even on very short runs.

  5. I second the Moving Comfort Fiona. Easily adjustable, comfortable, just enough compression, dries quickly. I’m a 36D.

  6. Here in Australia we have Berli. They develop their sport bras with the Australian Insitute of Sport and have multiple levels of support. I’ve always found them fantastic.

  7. I’ve recently started to attempt running, however my biggest issue is support. I recently went and tried on almost every bra i could find in my size (at least a 34DD) and the one that was the winner was the previously mentioned Ta-Ta-Tamer by Lulu. Someone has already mentioned the importance of band tightness, so I made sure it was tight enough to support and do it job, jumped up and down lots, jogged on spot in my change room, etc. Thought it was great… then I went for a run in it. I couldn’t take deep enough breaths in it. It’s the right tightness for support but too tight to breath and try not to die from my asthma. Is it that my chest/rib muscles aren’t strong enough to push it out? Or are there better materials that stretch more readily yet support?

    If anyone else has had this problem or has any suggestions or solutions, I’d love to hear them!

  8. I’m usually a 38 D and I’ve run two half-marathons in the Moving Comfort Juno bra. Very little bounce, most comfortable running bra in my experience so far.

  9. I wear a 32J.

    Freya Active is incompatible with my shape, largely due to the fact that their idea of pectoral muscle doesn’t match my body’s idea of the same.

    So… ideas?

    1. Hi Tori,

      I’d recommend trying the Panache sports bras, although they only go up to an H (maybe you could try sister-sizing it?). George of Fuller Figure Fuller Bust wears a 36H (I think) and wears that one. She has some other sports bra reviews on her site:

      There’s also the Max Sports bra by Shock Absorber (up to an HH) and Royce Impact Free (up to a K). Bravissimo have just started doing their own sports bra, also up to a K

      Finally, Bratabase is a great resource:

      Hope you can find something suitable!

  10. I’m a 32H and have a few bras that are okay, none that are wonderful. My biggest issue is when I find a sports bra in my size it is cut too low and I spill over. Thanks, but I don’t need a demi cup in a sports bra.My current favorite is a Wacoal that provides full coverage and encapsulation. My absolute biggest pet peeve is hearing that statistic about so many women wearing the wrong size bra!! No shit we are, it’s like finding gold if we can find one that fits.

    1. Whenever I see that sign in a lingerie department fitting room, I fight the urge to scrawl, “And yet, you don’t carry my size!” at the bottom of it. 😉

      1. Yeah 90% of stores don’t carry a 34DDD so I order online a lot which is a total crapshoot as even if you get the “right” size the product may vary company to company or between styles.

        I can’t wear my moving comfort bra for more than very short runs due to the ribbing at the bottom that leaves painful indentations. I have a Champion bra I like that fits well and is a 34D but stretches to accommodate and supports. My biggest bra pet peeve is having the boobs squished together in the center creates more sweat/heat and discomfort. Tried getting a Panache from EBay but due to the molded cups having 0 stretch its too small in the cup so definitely make sure you get the correct cup for the difference between ribs and tip with them.

        I chanced getting a 34 single D bc on EBay it was half the price I’d have to pay on a regular site and I don’t have $70 to drop on a single piece of clothing I wear only a few hours a week :/

  11. Rightio I’m aware that M+S don’t stock the widest of sizes, but for those who are able to fit in it, this style works great for me:

    I’ve found that it often is sold out in my size online but if I go in store they have it. I really like the zip front which others may not, but it’s got no lining and no underwire. Also I’m not sure how comfy it is to run in (I’m not a runner) but it’s great for lifting weights!

  12. Found this via a Google search and was surprised to see Kincardine mentioned… I grew up there! 🙂 Back on topic, I found the Moving Comfort Maia 2 at MEC and really like it – except that I think my cup size (34DD) is shrinking thanks to running more, and so now it’s less perfect. 🙁 It dries super fast though which I love! I can hand wash it quickly at lunch time and it’s dry after work. I also have a Champion bra that I got at Sears but I don’t like the material as much. I wish I could find a comfortable racerback bra to go with all the cute workout shirts, but for a larger-chested girl I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. Oh also, the Running Room is not known for being cheap, but they had some great bras for many sizes there when I went to look recently.

    1. Meant to add that yes, the lack of a comfortable sports bra that provided adequate support did keep me from many forms of exercise for years, and was a huge reason why I had detention every week in middle school for “forgetting” my gym clothes. The embarrassment and discomfort seemed worse than getting in trouble. Definitely an important issue!

    2. I am still loving my under Armour bra and I too am in the 32/34 DD zone. I can’t remember which model off the top of my head, but it’s racer back and I did a post about it (her name is Agnes).

  13. Reblogged this on FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE and commented:

    Five years ago, I wrote this post about sports bras and how active women struggle to find the right one for them. At the time, lots of people shared their stories of “success” on the sports bra front. I figure it’s time for an update, since maybe there is some new product out there. I also just realized that I haven’t replaced mine in FIVE YEARS, so it’s not just the post that needs updating. It’s also my sports bra collection (still Under Armor and Champion). Read on, and please let us know what your best gear in the sports bra department is!

  14. Lululemon zip front elite is the most expensive bra I’ve ever bought at $108, but I will never go back to another. At 36DD I’ve wasted a lot of money on a lot of bad bras. The fabric and design is super comfortable. It’s molded but not padded. Excellent support. Given the amount of fabric I worried it would be hot in summer but I don’t even notice the bra once it’s on. They make it with and without front zip, but for me the ease of not having a wrestling match to get the front zip on is bliss. You can occasionally get it 50% off and then it’s a great deal!

    PS – additional bonus is that it doesn’t hold “stink”, that turned acrid sweat smell, that so many sports bras do.

  15. I don’t think anyone’s mentioned the Enell Sport yet. I love it: I’m in between sizes and I size up for weightlifting, hiking and cycling and down for running. Can’t recommend it enough. They say handwash only (obviously), but I admit that I put it in a mesh bag and wash it in the machine on a gentle wash. It’s fine. My oldest one is 5 or 6 years old and it’s still totally wearable.

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