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The sports bras that could boost your performance

January 18th 2016 / Anna Hunter / 1 comment


Not to mention protect your assets…

According to the Research Group in Breast Health, a team of specialists working in the Sports & Exercise Science Department in the Faculty of Science at the University of Portsmouth, tests carried out on hundreds of women, from AA to JJ cup, taking part in different activities (from walking to cleaning to tennis), have revealed that not hitting your training targets could be down to more than just your form and state of mind:

“Our findings suggest that inadequate breast support may affect the forces produced by a female runner, which could impact negatively on sports performance. Therefore a well-fitted, supportive sports bra is recommended for women when they exercise to help reduce breast movement and increase breast comfort, which may ultimately improve sporting performance.”

The knowledge that a sports bra could possibly be as vital as our trainers to our PBs certainly made me rethink my gym kit budget allocation; I’ll shell out for snazzy leggings but rely on a greying, overwashed crop top to keep my B cups behaving. They’re only small after all. Apparently, however, size is not an excuse to scrimp on proper support, as the breast biomechanics experts at the University of Portsmouth will attest:

“Our research has shown that a good sports bra reduces the movement of the breast even at walking speed for women of all cup sizes– even AA cup size.”

“Normal bras may be designed to stop breasts bouncing up and down, but our research has shown that breasts also move side to side and in and out. During running our research found that the wearing of a sports bra reduced breast movement by a similar amount for AA cup women and G-cup women (53% and 55%, respectively)."

“If movement is not reduced, women risk stretching the fragile Cooper’s ligaments, which, once damaged, are irreparable. Movement can also result in breast pain for a great number of women, putting many off sport or leading active lives.”

Sedentary vs. saggy is, quite rightly, not a choice we need make in this modern day and age, no matter how well endowed (or not) we may be. Consider the following cutting edge designs and tried and tested favourites, bearing in mind that boob backup only lasts so long; you’ll need to swap up your sports bra should you change size or when it becomes baggy due to wear and washing (nb, skip the fabric softener and tumble drying for the ultimate in sports bra stamina). Let’s get this sports bra show on the road…

The Yoga Bra

Yoga, Pilates and barre workouts all tend to fall into the ‘low impact’ exercise category, depending on how energetic your ashtanga game is, however, the fact that you’re not necessarily bouncing around the room doesn’t mean that your boobs should go without sporty support. A full-on boulder holder will likely feel a bit restrictive, unless you’re very big of bust, but you’ll need something that fits snugly, preventing spillage during downward dog and side planks, with straps that are soft and comfortable enough for you to fully switch off during savasana.

Luxe yoga wear brand Lululemon unsurprisingly have somewhat of a monopoly in this market, and the beauty and craftsmanship of the company’s sports bras, which offer light to medium support up to a DD cup, with crops in sizes 6-16, makes investing in one of the brand’s technically impressive offerings a pretty safe bet. The Free to Be bra, £42, is as liberating to wear as it sounds, especially if you’re used to frumpy styles and suffocating upholstery, and is especially ideal if you’re in the AA or A cup category; it’s light, sweat wicking, designed to stretch and bend with you and has back straps that you’ll want to show off rather than hide. For better support and value for money for B-C cups, the Flow Y Bra IV, £38, possesses equally delicate straps but a more sturdy, chafe resistant bust band (no riding up), and a higher neckline to prevent unwanted exposure. D cups will do better with the ‘hook and eye’ strapped Tata Tamer, £52; it has stronger side panels to minimise sideways movement, greater support out front (with removable breast cups) and wider, adjustable shoulder and back straps to better ‘encapsulate’ boobs (more on that later).

If you’re drawn to ‘go faster’ stripes and prefer wider shoulder and back straps in general, Hawaiian brand No Ka’Oi’s Huki bra, £65, is top notch in low impact situations for A-C cups; fine Italian microfibre keeps you cool and dry and the seamless design is quite simply no ka’oi (‘the best’); the closer you come to forgetting you’re wearing a sports bra at all during flowing yoga movements, the better.

The Gym Bra

Weights classes, spinning and general machine work all roughly fall into the medium impact zone, as does cycling, unless you’re taking it off road, cycling for long distances or live in a particularly pothole prone postcode, in which case you’ll possibly want to opt for maximum support. Otherwise, an efficient but not harness like ‘compression’ bra (normally a shelf or crop top style that ‘compresses’ breasts closer to the rib cage for minimum movement) or ‘encapsulation bra’ (a sports bra with separate cups to limit the ‘figure of eight’ breast movement) will fit the gym floor bill. Pick according to your preference, but those with a larger bust may prefer an encapsulated style for better all round support.

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s latest designs with Marks & Spencer have the power to make light cardio chic and most importantly, comfortable, whether you’re a B cup, E cup or somewhere in between. The vintage inspired grey and muted pink colourways of the High Impact Padded Full Cup Sports Bra, £28, will appeal to the neon-averse, while the soft fabric, pretty yet functional laced back and absence of wiring are a breath of fresh air if you’re more familiar with stiffer sports bras.


For the smaller chested crop fan, Live The Process Printed Stretch Supplex® Sports Bra, £65, is indeed pricey but it takes pink and grey prettiness to the next level, would look very ethereal under a sheer top during the summer months and features the kind of ‘second skin’ fabric you’ll appreciate when you’re getting sweaty.


Racerback fans on the other hand might get on with the Nike Pro Fierce range; these slip on, Dri-Fit bras are favoured by the limber likes of Kayla Itsines, and are good sports thanks to their ease of wear and the fact they keep your chest close; moulded compression cups cinch in your breasts in a subtle but safe and sound fashion. The Lux Dot model, £35, like the rest of the line, looks hot, keeps you cool, has flat seams to prevent rubbing and boasts ‘strap stabilisers’ for amped up support around the shoulders and back, so that bounce is reduced from every angle. If you like to keep it simple and you’re not a fan of padding or lumps and bumps, go Fierce.


If you’d like to stand out sartorially (you will see about 29 of the former bra in any given fitness class), a classic black, structured shelf, with interesting styling, should be up your street. Michi NY Wildcat Sports Bra, £95, is the designer LBD of the sports bra world. A mesh racerback is both flattering and functional (damp back straps aren’t conducive to killer workouts), as is the soft, moisture wicking material, and while it may have a wide chest band to hold you in place, the cut out detailing adds a feminine yet tough edge, making it far from matronly.

The Running Bra

Time to bring out the big guns; pounding the pavements is about as high impact as it gets, and the stats from studies carried out by the Research Group in Breast Health bear this out:

“Our research has found maximum levels of 21 cm of breast movement during exercise. During walking, a woman’s breasts move the same amount in and out, up and down and from side to side (33% in each direction). But when a woman starts to jog or run movement is split: 51% of movement is up and down; 22% side to side and 27% in and out. The overall pattern of the movement is a figure of eight.”

“We are working with bra manufacturers to design bras that limit movement in all three dimensions and reduce much of the pain many women suffer when exercising.”

You’ll need a practically bullet proof bra that distributes weight evenly, doesn’t move as you do and perhaps has a little protective padding (also...those cold mornings tend to be ‘nippy’ in more ways than one). A member of our team who shall remain nameless swears by Panache’s encapsulated sports bras, and with sizing from B-J, there’s scope for lots of us to benefit from this particular award winner. The Black Animal printed sports bra, £40, is reported to reduce breast bounce by up to 83%, but it’s nowhere near as industrial as you might imagine; silicone wrapped underwiring, moulded cups and adjustable back straps (fashion a racerback or halterneck if you so desire) give it style and substance kudos. Our tester was on the receiving end of many ‘awkward compliments’ in the dressing room when whipping this on, which is testament to the fact that it doesn’t look like breast binding.

The Triathlon Bra

If you follow our Editor-in-Chief’s exercise exploits, you’ll know that Susannah Taylor is quite the triathlete. Along with padded shorts, and um, a lot of training, a key stepping stone to success is a no nonsense, reliable sports bra that’s tough as old boots, but doesn’t feel it (or indeed look it). Enter the golden oldie: The Shock Absorber, £32. Available in many different ‘strengths’, colours and sizes, there’s a shocker for everyone, and in the words of our in-house athlete, ‘those babies ain’t going anywhere’. Sus doesn’t wear it day to day, but for times when ‘the girls’ really need looking after, it won’t fail you.


The Fitting Finale

Finding a sports bra to suit your needs, body and aesthetic preferences can be akin to looking for a pair of jeans, i.e, an epic quest for a seemingly mythical entity. Bravissimo’s expert fitters are trained to fit by eye, not simply tape measure, and with that kind of intuition it’s certainly worth taking their ‘what to look for’ tips on board…

The principles of a good sports bra

The fabric should be comfortable and absorbent.

The bra should be smooth against your skin, with no rough seams or bindings that could rub or cause irritation.

The straps should be fairly rigid, to minimize bounce, and be wide enough to sit comfortably on your shoulders.

The underband should be firm around your body, to prevent it from riding up your back.

Finally, ‘the jump test’ is probably the best way to test how effective a bra is at reducing bounce!

P.S- sweat-wicking underpants are now a thing. Dear Kate’s hipsters, thongs and shorts, from £15, are designed to keep your nether regions cool and non clammy, while a leak resistant outer layer guards against VPL (visible perspiration lines in this case). They’re lookers too, just in case you were expecting a nappy-like garment; sheer backs and tasteful colours make them interchangeable with your regular undies in daily life. We’re yet to trial these, but we’ll report back…

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Follow me on Twitter @AnnaMaryHunter and Instagram @annyhunter

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  • Sarah M
  • January 19th 2016

I agree that Lulu dominates the yoga bra market, but you've missed their best one for the medium to bustier - the Energy Bra! I regularly do asthanga, am petite with a D cup and this is my go-to bra.

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