Raising The Bra, Runner's World, August 2014

sportbra1With sports bras--as with so many things in life--women can’t have it all. “It’s like shopping for a car,” explains LaJean Lawson, Ph.D., a breast motion expert and bra designer. “You need to figure out which features are most important to you, because you won’t find everything you want in one model.” The good news? Runners enjoy more choices than ever before. Established brands are improving upon classic designs, and new, passion-driven companies are bringing fresh approaches to market. All this innovation means runners of every size can now find sports bras they love. Here are the newest models that earned our testers’ thumbs-up.

 

BEST BETS FOR A/B

[flattering adjustability]
Asics Adjust Bra
Thanks to separate molded cups, “It looks like I’m wearing a regular bra, not a uniboob sports bra,” says one A-cup tester, who reports “no bounce on runs, and just a little bounce while jumping.” The band and straps are both adjustable; testers preferred the cross-back configuration for its increased support and freedom of movement. Fine mesh on the back minimizes clamminess, but the padded cups “feel like a sweat barrier,” says one wearer. $42; XS-XL; asicsamerica.com

[simple and affordable]
Oiselle New Lesko Bra
Removable molded cups are this bra’s only frill. “They eliminate ‘headlights’ and add a nice bit of oomph for small-chested folks like me,” says one B-cup tester. The rest is all business: Support is solid, and it kept testers comfortable through long speed workouts. Wide racerback straps and soft fabric prevent chafing, and a mesh lining wicks moisture fast. “The padding soaks up sweat more than the bra itself does, so when it’s really hot I just take out the pads,” says one runner. $37; XS-XL; oiselle.com

[easy on/off]
Saucony Curve Crusader
“I never thought I needed fasteners in the back,” explains one B-cup tester, The hook-and-eye closure eliminates the hassle of wrestling out of a damp and clingy bra. Molded cups lend modesty, and a mesh panel keeps sogginess in check. $45; 32B-40DD; saucony.com

[chafe-free support]
Skins A200 Women’s Speed Crop
“I typically have to wear BodyGlide,” says one A-cup tester, “but I didn’t chafe at all in this bra, even when I skipped that preventative measure.” The racerback design “felt very secure without digging in or being too tight,” and the fast-wicking fabric kept her dry throughout a 6-mile run in Florida humidity. Removable cups let you choose between modesty and breathability, and the ample support makes it a “go-to bra for harder workouts.” $60; XS-XL; skins.net

[odorless comfort]
Smartwool PhD® Seamless Racerback Bra
This seamless, unpadded bra proved “comfortable enough to wear all day,” says an A-cup runner. The stretchy blend of Merino wool, polyester, nylon and spandex “feels soft and not constrictive.” Because wool stays stink-free (even after multiple wearings), traveling runners packed just this one bra for an entire trip. Instead of seams, variations in the knit create separate, defined cups that testers found flattering. But it’s warmer and bulkier than all-synthetic bras. $60; XS-XL; smartwool.com

 

sportbraBEST BETS FOR C/D

[adjustability]
Champion Marathon Sports Bra
Most racerbacks lack adjustability, but the Marathon lets runners customize the shoulder straps to optimize fit and support. “I had no issues with the plastic pieces chafing or digging in, even when wearing a pack on longer runs,” says one tester, who also praised the “chest band’s soft material.” Gel-infused straps, slick fabric, and soft thread also help prevent discomfort on long runs, and fast-wicking fabrics kept testers dry from Colorado’s Rockies to Belize’s tropics. $48; XS-XL; championusa.com

[support that breathes]
CW-X VersatX Support Bra
D-cup runners raved about the VersatX’s low-bulk support. Most full-figured bras minimize bounce by using dual fabric layers across the entire chest, but the VersatX uses a stretch mesh web to stabilize the breasts without creating a steam chamber. The sleek fabric and few seams prevent chafing. The cherry on top? “It’s very flattering.” $65; 32B-36D; cw-x.com

[figure-enhancing]
Lucy Runner’s High Bra
Some bras control bounce by flattening curves, but not the Runner’s High. Its padded cups actually amplify the bustline yet provide enough support for speedwork. Credit the wide, cross-back straps and adjustable band that also makes removing this bra a wrestle-free affair. Getting it on is not so easy, however. “It never took me longer than a minute or two, but that is longer than I’d like,” says one runner. And because the ample padding soaks up sweat, it’s best for moderate, cool-weather workouts. $55; 34B-38D; lucy.com

[easy on/off]
Shock Absorber Active Zipped Front Plunge
“I never thought I’d try a front-clasping sports bra, but I have to admit I prefer its ease of use,” confesses one tester. The zipper also earned props from a breastfeeding mom, who appreciated the easy access while nursing. Testers deemed the V-neck “flattering,” and the support “bounce-free during all types of running.” The fabric is thicker than some, but “didn’t get bogged down with sweat,” reports one wearer, who likes how the racerback’s keyhole opening releases sweat. $69; 32B-38DD; shockabsorberusa.com

[rock-solid support]
Sturdy Girl Santa Monica
Speedsters loved the Santa Monica, which “totally straightjacketed the girls,” says one C-cup CrossFit devotee. The absence of any clasps or buckles means that it’s “not easy to wrangle on, but once on, that’s it!” reports one D-cup runner, who found it amply supportive for tempo workouts. Credit the compressive fit and substantial, three-layer fabric that includes padded cups for uniboob-preventing separation. $69; 32B-38DD; sturdygirlsports.com

 

BEST BETS FOR DD+

[versatile support]
Anita Momentum
“It’s a grandma-style sports bra,” admits one DD tester, who was won over by the Momentum’s “amazing” comfort and support. “I felt virtually no bounce while doing intervals.” A back clasp makes it easy to get on and off, and “the straps are wide enough to keep from cutting into my shoulders,” says another. The non-sporty styling lends itself to everyday wear. But despite the lack of padding (modest testers wished for more nipple coverage), runners found it clammy during workouts exceeding one hour. $66; 34B-34E; anita.com

[bra top]
Freya Active AA4003 Performance Sports Top
Ideal for hot-weather workouts, this flattering top eliminates the need for additional shirt. “I never felt overly sweaty and experienced zero bounce,” reports one tester. But all wearers wished it were simpler to put on. Says one, “This bra just had one too many hooks.” $98; 30D-34FF; freyalingerie.com/active

[wearable underwire]
Moving Comfort Maia
Underwires and adjustable straps sometimes dig into runners’ skin, but the Maia turns both features into soft, never-noticed-it comforts. “The underwires keep everything in place, and I never felt any rubbing from them on runs shorter than 16 or 18 miles,” says our DD tester. Gel padding on the straps minimizes pressure on shoulders, and a back clasp makes it easy to slip on and off. Two layers of fabric provide modest coverage and enough breathability for all but the hottest, most humid days. $56; 32-40 C-E, 42-44 C-DD; movingcomfort.com

[practical and attractive]
Nike Pro Rival Bra
Too often, large-busted runners must sacrifice cute styling for support, but the Pro Rival offers both. The plunging neckline looks great beneath most shirts and tanks. Yet one DD tester experienced “minimal bouncing” during tempo runs, thanks to stabilizing fabric in the straps and cups that reduce the fabric’s stretch. “The molded cups encapsulate, support, and divide without compressing,” she explains. The nonadjustable racerback design eliminates chafe points, and breathability is good enough to “go the distance,” says one. $65; 32B-38E; nike.com

[daylong comfort]
Lynx Cross Back
“This is the first time I’ve felt no bouncing!” one 36DD tester rejoiced after a 6-mile run. Yet unlike most bras designed for DD and above, the Cross Back isn’t bulky or constrictive. “It’s the only bra I can imagine wearing all day long,” says another full-figured runner, who reports no chafing from the cute, strappy design that looks attractive on its own or under a shirt. Thanks to lightweight fabrics and mesh panels between the breasts, “breathability is great,” says one runner, who prefers this bra for steamy indoor treadmill workouts. $60; 28D-42F; lynxsportswear.com

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Why Can’t My Sports Bra Have…
…stretchier fabric? “Elasticity feels nice, but doesn’t support the weight and movement of B-cup or larger breasts,” explains LaJean Lawson, Ph.D., an authority on sports bras who consults with Champion.
…a racerback? “Dispensing with skinny bra straps and their metal adjusters is exactly what made the original Jogbra unique,” says Lawson. “But it’s harder to make an adjustable racerback with wide straps, so they generally fit just one torso length.”
…lots of adjustability? “Every place you have adjustability, you create a point of weakness and potential for chafing,” says Lynx Sportswear founder Cynthia Smith. “Plastic is weak, metal can be poky, and Velcro’s rough edge can cut into skin.”
…a lower neckline? “A high neckline keeps the breasts from surging up,” says Lawson. “In the lab, we’ve seen that breasts actually bounce up more than down. If you’re a D cup or above and you opt out of a higher neckline, you’re also opting out of more support.”
…more shape? “Pullover compression styles often create the dreaded uniboob, but they minimize seams,” Lawson explains. “The more seams a bra uses, and the more constructed it is, the more chance there is for chafing.”
…more padding for modesty? “Breathability,” says Smith.“As soon as you add those molded cups, you lose the ability to transfer heat and moisture through the fabric. And as padding absorbs sweat, it gets heavier and increases the risk of chafing.”