When it comes to workout or running gear, a supportive, well-fitting sports bra is just as important as a good pair of sneakers. Not having the right fit and design can place greater demands on your spine, leading to discomfort and back pain later on. “The better sports bras are the ones that help to minimize breast motion, decrease force generation and support the thoracic spine during activity,” explains Dr. Daphne Scott, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery. In short: Heavy duty sports bras win the race here.
With its four rows of hooks in the back, Nike's Dri-Fit Alpha is our top pick for an adjustable ... [+] sports bra.
As someone whose workout routine isn’t dependent on the best new shoes or fancy tracking watch—instead, it’s the amount of hold I’m getting from my bra—I felt I needed to try out hyped-up high impact bras for myself. So, I tested 13 so-called high impact sports bras from brands like Nike, Athleta, Reebok and Lululemon to find out which options are truly the best sports bras for large breasts, and only five made the cut. Whether running, HIIT or boxing is your thing, these bras will hold you in without holding you back.
I have an old Athleta bra from 6 years ago that I am still loyal to (and in high impact sports bra years, that’s very old). So I was extra excited to try this newer favorite style from Athleta, and it didn’t disappoint. This bra is so comfortable I’ve been wearing it weekly.
The smooth fabric glides along skin, and the bra holds you in without any underwire. It’s also very true to size, unlike a handful of bras I tried, which makes online ordering a cinch. It’s also sweat-wicking and quick-drying to keep you comfortable and help prevent chafing. All in all, a solid pick for your sports bra drawer.
Often, at the beginning of a run while I’m trying to find my groove, I wonder if my sports bra is constricting my lungs. It’s partially a mental excuse to slow down or stop my run, but it’s also based on the fact that I am usually strapped in so tightly that a large inhale is a little tricky. Not so with the Enlite Bra Weave.
The soft, silky fabric, which Lululemon calls Ultralu, wicks sweat and has just the right amount of stretch. The thick, seamless straps lie flat and stay put, making chafing impossible. And somehow, the whole thing is supportive without any constriction. This is the priciest bra I tried, but it’s so great I’d say it’s worth the investment. This is my go-to race bra—but it’s just as good for HIIT workouts and boxing too.
This is the most supportive sports bra I’ve tried under the $40 mark. It’s pretty low frills, with molded cups and a bit of additional compression. I found it supportive enough, but did notice that the hook-and-eye closure was warping a bit after a few wears, and the thin shoulder straps started to chafe on my long run day. Still, given the price, it’s hard to not think this one deserves a place in your workout wear rotation.
I’m not the only one who loves this sports bra: Time magazine called an earlier iteration one of the top inventions of the year. The bra boasts some very techie details, like a proprietary fabric treatment called Motion Sense technology meant to offer a tighter, less flexible fit only when the runner is in motion.
I’m no garment scientist, but I will say, this was the most comfortable sports bra I tried. Thanks to its hook-and-eye closure it goes on easily (no dancing or tugging to get it into place), and for a moment, I felt like a lady who doesn’t need to work up a sweat strapping in her chest before the workout. It was blissful. Then, I took it for a run—and promptly forgot I was wearing it. It’s so smooth against the skin and supportive without being constrictive, thanks to the wide, seamless straps. As a bonus, the straps are convertible so you can wear them straight or criss-crossed.
The higher neck on this bra was comfortable and provided a bit more sun coverage, and the overall support was high without any constrictive underwire. It also has perforations in the front to allow airflow. My one complaint is that it ran a bit small in band size, which meant a bit of pulling and tugging on my back. So if you’re between sizes, size up.
That said, I loved that this bra has four rows of hooks instead of the usual three. I always start on the loosest hook, and then slowly start to cinch in towards the tightest as the bra inevitably stretches over time; one more row means a little more use. While this one goes to a G cup, the similarly designed Nike Rival starts at a 32F and goes through a 44G.
(Editor’s note: The original Nike Alpha Sports that was tested for this story has since been discontinued and the Nike Dri-Fit Alpha, featured, is a similar but newer style. The Dri-Fit Alpha is made with recycled polyester and offers a wider size range than its predecessor. It also has a fourth row of hooks on the back of the band, a feature that our tester loved from the original style.)
When underwear startup Knix set about developing their sports bra, called the Catalyst, the retailer apparently tested it against 800 other bras. The bra boasts a well-ventilated, smooth fabric that somehow keeps you supported while also wicking sweat away; I noticed after even the hottest of summer runs, I was less sweaty than usual in the Catalyst.
One other bonus: It’s easy to get on and off. This might seem like a small bonus, but to anyone who has ever wrestled with the hooks on a tight sports bra post-workout, this is a big perk.
To land on my list of best sports bras, I ran at least three miles in each option, then judged them on comfort and support. I tested 13 sports bras in total and narrowed it down to these six. Note that my top picks offer the best support for high-impact exercises like jogging, boxing and HIIT.
The best sports bras do more than just hold down; they offer comfort and the appropriate amount of support for the activity at hand (and the wearer’s cup size). Below, see a few points to consider before making your purchase:
Most sports bras come in three main style and you can choose one that suits the type of support you’re looking for.
When looking for a supportive bra for larger breasts, consider sports bras with hook-and-eye or front-zip closures. These make putting your bra on and taking it off much easier than traditional styles (especially if you have large breasts and especially after you’ve gotten sweaty). One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of bras with hook-and-eye closures have a fixed racerback, which means you still have to pull the band over your head and chest, which can be difficult. If that’s a concern, bras like the Champion Spot Comfort, the Knix Catalyst or the Reebok PureMove+ are excellent easy 0n/off options.
Some sports bras are made with low-impact workouts in mind, others offer more support for high-impact workouts. If you plan on doing high-impact exercise like running, HIIT or anything that involves jumping, look for sports bras that offer maximum support, like the encapsulation or combination bras mentioned above. If you plan on doing lower-impact workouts like biking, yoga, pilates or barre, lighter weight, less structured sports bras will suit you just fine.
For bigger-busted women, finding the right size is crucial for your ideal fit. Instead of buying bras in small, medium or large sizes, look for options that offer your correct band and cup size.
Materials made with moisture-wicking properties, like nylon or polyester, will help keep you dry even as you’re sweating (depending on the workout, of course). Ideally, it should also be blended with spandex-elastane, which offers body-molding stretch for added comfort. If you know you’re doing an intense session, look for bras that have mesh or built-in perforations to enhance cooling and drying.
Most sports bras have similar care instructions: machine wash on cold, then skip the dryer and lay flat to dry. If you want convenience, pick sports bras that can go in the washing machine for easy washing versus hand washing.
To put it simply: yes. When you have large breasts, a supportive sports bra is essential for a comfortable workout. Without the support you need, exercise—especially something high-impact—can lead to a lot of bouncing, discomfort and pain. A sports bra made with breathable and stretchy materials can also help keep you cool and dry throughout your workout session.
If your main concern is keeping your breasts separated in the bra, then avoid compression bras. Made to compress your breasts for low-impact workouts, these bras do tend to smush your breasts together tightly against your body. Instead, look for encapsulation bras, which are made to separate your breasts with underwire or molded cups.
The most important part of a good sports bra is the fit. Look for sports bras that come in band and cup sizes and get fitted to make sure you’re buying the correct size. Select a comfortable and slightly stretchy material that makes the sports bra feel supportive but not restrictive. To make getting dressed easier, look for hook-and-eye closures or front zippers to make it simple to put the bra on and take it off.