Trying on and testing out different sports bras can be tedious and discouraging for many women. With so many different style and support options available it can be hard to even know where to start looking. Luckily, BikeRadar is here to help get you started with a few of the most important details to look at before buying a new sports bra, plus our picks of the best based on thorough testing.
First, decide what level of support you need. For road cycling, a bra with medium support will keep you more comfortable than a restrictive bra that is necessary for high-impact sports such as running. However, mountain biking can add a little extra bump to your ride, so if you’re more of a hucker than a smooth road kind of rider, a little extra support can go a long way.
Next, determine what kind of support works best for your body: compression, encapsulation or a combination of both.
Compression sports bras – Using elastic materials, these bras press the breasts against the body to restrict movement. Compression bras are best for low- to medium-impact activities and for smaller chest sizes ranging from A to C cups.
Encapsulation sports bras – With separate cups for each breast, encapsulating sports bras keep things in place without relying on compression or added pressure against the body. Each individual cup is typically moulded and semi-rigid to provide support and restrict excess movement. Encapsulating bras are best for high-impact sports and for women with chest sizes ranging from C to DD cups.
Compression and encapsulation combo – These sports bras use both compression and encapsulation for a medium level of support. Encapsulating each breast reduces the level of compression needed and makes for a more comfortable yet functional bra. These bras are best for medium- to high-impact and for a wide range of chest sizes including anywhere between B and D cups.
After deciding what level and type of support is needed, think about the comfort and style of the bra. Two key components to focus on are the bra’s shoulder straps and construction.
Keep in mind that every woman’s shape and size is different and that can make a big difference in comfort and fit. To tackle this issue, BikeRadar used two women of different chest size to test a handful of sports bras suited for cycling. The two reviewers had some very different opinions for several bras but also agreed fully on others. Be sure to check out the overall winner and personal favourites discussion found after the individual bra reviews.
Under Armour Get Set Go bra
Size: 34C and 36C
US$44 / AU$85 / £N/A
Support: The Get Set Go bra uses compression and encapsulation support systems. This mix of support makes for a gentler compression of the breasts while keeping them controlled in a individual cups.
Shoulder straps: The soft and wide straps are comfortable across the shoulders and don’t add any extra uncomfortable pressure. The straps change to a stretchy material as they crisscross in the back, which keeps the bra in place without digging into the shoulders. However, they are a little tight around the armpit area and may squeeze more than other bras.
Construction: Using moulded cups, this bra creates a very flattering look while remaining soft and unrestrictive. These cups also eliminate the uniboob look and make for a very flattering bra. However, to get the unrestricted and flattering design, each cup has a seam up the middle, which looks strange when wearing just the bra without a shirt on top.
Under Armour HeatGear Alpha Printed bra
Sizes: Medium and Large
US$29 / AU$51.35 / £13.50-18
Support: With a classical compression design, the Alpha Printed bra gets the job done without any fancy shaping cups or underwires. The elastic band across the rips is wide and comfortable and keeps any sized chest in place.
Shoulder straps: The straps are wide and stretchy across the shoulders, which disperses pressure evenly and painlessly. The razorback design in the back helps the bra feel more supportive without compressing too much.
Construction: This bra is very comfortable against the skin with minimal seams and a soft stretchy material. The basic design does not include any padding or removable cups to worry about. Despite being comfortable, this lack of structure also means it lacks any flattering details and leads to a very obvious uniboob.
Lululemon Energy bra
US$48 / AU$59 / £42
Support: Lululemon creates a uniform compression throughout this bra for support and comfort. With thin, removable padding, the bra supports each breast gently while relying mostly on compression to reduce movement. For larger chests however, this compression may not be enough to feel fully supported.
Shoulder straps: Each shoulder strap starts as a thick single band on the front and then splits into two smaller straps over the shoulder. These smaller straps intertwine and crisscross in the back creating a uniform pressure along the shoulders and across the back.
Construction: With the softest material of the roundup, the Energy Bra feels great and is very comfortable. It feels seamless and also wicks sweat really well. The small padding in each cup helps reduce the uniboob look but only slightly.
Handful Adjustable Handful bra
Sizes: Small and Medium
US$46 / AU$N/A / approx £27.75, excl shipping from (from US$15)
Support: Handful combines a looser compression style of support with extra padding for shape and coverage. While this looser style is comfortable, it does not provide enough support for most medium to high impact sports.
Shoulder straps: Adjustable straps allow for different levels of pressure and support throughout the bra. The straps can also be rearranged into razorback or traditional straight straps depending on personal preference. However, the thin straps aren’t as comfortable or as supportive as thicker straps of other bras tested in this roundup.
Construction: The bra’s material is very comfortable on the skin and wicks sweat well. There is also some rushing in the middle of the bust area making the bra feel more flattering and reducing the uniboob look.
New Balance Smooth Operator
US$57 / AU$N/A / £N/A
Support: The New Balance Smooth Operator sports bra uses a compression style support system that presses the breast against the body to reduce movement. However, the compression wasn’t enough for our larger chested tester to feel fully supported.
Shoulder straps: These straps are not very stretchy, which makes wiggling in and out of the bra a bit tricky. Once the bra is on, however, the straps are comfortable across the shoulders.
Construction: The material is soft and the seams don’t rub making this bra comfortable against the skin. But the lack of stretchy material in the straps along with too much stretching in the bust area makes for a bra without enough compression bigger chested women need it.
New Balance Shapely Shaper
US$41 / AU$N/A / £N/A
Support: Like the other New Balance bra tested, the Shapley Shaper uses compression to support the breast. The bra also has a small bit of padding to help shape the chest and reduce the uniboob look.
Shoulder straps: With thick straps and a racer-back design, the Shapely Shaper bra holds everything in place firmly without much movement. The straps are a bit tight and create extra pressure across the shoulders.
Construction: The material across the chest feels great but the strap material is rough and uncomfortable. The bra is very durable and will likely last a long time without breaking down.
Athleta Va Va Sports Bra
We had to separate this review into two different sections because of the drastic difference in opinions by our reviewers. This is clearly a love it or hate it kind of bra and should be tried on before purchasing. Please note the size differences in our testers as this bra may be better suited for larger chested women.
US$54 / AU$N/A / £34.55
Support: The compression and encapsulation support system worked great for our larger chested reviewer. The “sling” between the cups helped provide more shape and more support throughout the bra.
Shoulder straps: The racerback straps are very comfortable. Using wide straps, Athleta creates even pressure and support without pressing too hard.
Construction: The seams of this bra don’t rub and the material feels nice on the skin. The hooks in the back were intimidating at first but it turns out they are fairly convenient to make adjustments as the bra stretches over time.
Support: While the combination of compression and encapsulation works well with many bras, the Va Va Sports Bra is so uncomfortable overall that support really isn’t an issue.
Shoulder straps: Made of a scratchy material and full of seams, the straps on this bra are very uncomfortable. They don’t stretch well and do not have any adjustability so if they don’t fit perfectly out of the packaging the bra becomes unwearable.
Construction: The hooks in the back make the bra unnecessarily hard to get into and hooked up without help from another person. As mentioned above, the straps are too tight and short making the bra sit too high on the chest and squishing parts out the bottom.
The bottom line on sports bras
Clearly, individual preference comes largely into play when choosing such a personal piece of clothing. However, Under Armour and Lululemon came away from the review with the most consistently positive reviews.
The Under Armour HeatGear Alpha Printed Bra received the highest combined score between our two reviewers and walks away with the overall win in this roundup. Surprisingly, this was the most basic and classical bra that was tested. Relying solely on compression for support, this bra kept both sized chests happy and comfortable.
While the Under Armour HeatGear Alpha Printed Bra wins the overall, it was not the top pick for either of our reviewers. The personal favourite bras included the Athleta Va Va Sports Bra and the Under Armour Get Set Go Bra.
For larger chested women who need a little extra support and control, the Athleta Va Va Sports Bra could be your match. This bra mostly uses encapsulation to support each breast separately while compressing just a bit for overall support. The hooks in the back help individuals dial in the exact amount of pressure and support desired.
The Under Armour Get Set Go Bra is a great choice for smaller chested women who not only want great support but also seek a little flattering as well. This bra relies mostly on compression to support the chest but the moulded cups add some sass to the bra making you feel sexy and comfortable in any activity or sport.
Finding the right sports bra for you may seem like an endless search with so many option, styles, colours, and fits. Trying on a bra in the store is the best way to test the fit and feel before purchasing. But also keep in mind what kind of support system works best for your chest size and support needs. While it may take some time to find the perfect one, the feeling of a bra that fits well and moves as one with your body is well worth this journey.