If finding a well-fitting bra is a challenge, then shopping for that of the activewear variety is another beast entirely. While spandex might be more forgiving than lace and underwire, there are other factors to consider, not the least of which is limited sizing. For those of us who appreciate the precise number + letter system in standard lingerie, the vagueness of "small," "medium," and "large" can be infuriating.
That's not even to mention the necessity for a design that's incredibly comfortable yet supportive enough to withstand a long run or a punishing round of burpees with minimal bounce. Oh, and it should ideally be stylish and flattering (so no armpit pinching), and the fabric should wick sweat too. Are we asking too much?
In an activewear market that's more saturated then ever, the answer is a resounding no—it's just a matter of sifting through it all to find the designs that actually get the job done. With this in mind, I recruited two of my colleagues (with different cup sizes) to help me test-drive some of the best-reviewed sports bras on the market. After several weeks and countless workouts, we're ready to offer up our (very) honest reviews—and official recommendations.
Courtesy of Michelle Scanga
"I'm a full A cup (or at least a self-proclaimed), so I don't have too many issues when it comes to shopping for supportive sports bras. Typically my biggest challenge is finding styles that aren't too tight around my rib cage. I usually go for something with a cool back and a style that hits below my ribs so it's a little longer and pairs well with high-waisted leggings."
"The winner! For me, this was the perfect fit because the band wasn't too tight around my rib cage, the mesh detail allowed for some breeze, and the design is super supportive—and during an intense Spin class, you definitely need the support."
"I typically don't like padding in my sports bras, but I didn't mind it in this style. The design cuts low and shows a decent amount of cleavage, so keep that in mind when selecting your workout class. I wore this on a hike, so it wasn't a big deal, but I did feel some bouncing around. The strappy back situation is where it's at, though."
"I hate to knock this bra at all because it's so cute, but even with a small chest, I felt I was going to spill out because it's cut so deep on the side. If you're dying to try this bra, I'd suggest not wearing it to a yoga class, since you spend a majority of the class upside down. And I'll leave you with that visual."
"Thanks to the seamless feature, this bra is super soft, but the high neckline made my chest extra sweaty (translation: extra swoob). The fit is true to size, and the back has a super-cute cutout situation. I rated this just over 4.5 because I felt slightly overheated due to the high neck design, but I really enjoyed the butter-like material."
Courtesy of Victoria Hoff
"Fun fact: Until very recently, I thought I was a 34B, when in fact I am a 32C. Either way, my boobs exist in that infuriating place between small and medium: My cups usually spilleth over with the former while the band size of the latter is usually too loose to offer real support. For this reason, it's always kind of a toss-up whether a sports bra will fit properly without unflattering armpit spillage or riding up while I'm in Downward-Facing Dog."
"I've loved every OV piece I've ever owned, so I had high expectations for this very cool crop top. For starters, it speaks to me aesthetically: It's minimalist, but the deep V and color-blocking in the back make for the perfect amount of detail. It's honestly something I'd wear just as a regular crop top with a pair of vintage high-waisted Levi's. But I digress.
"The structure of this bra top is what gives it top marks. In addition to having an extremely flattering cut, which is not easy with my sort-of-big-but-not-really boobs, it keeps everything contained—without feeling like everything is just getting smushed. (For the record, I went with a size medium.) I wore this top to a yoga class that turned out to be an inversions workshop, and everything stayed in place—the same goes for a high-energy boxing class a few days later. I'll never understand how OV's garments are so structured and thick but still feel flexible and lightweight. It's a mystery I won't argue with."
"I'm not normally one for patterns, but I love the sporty details on this bra—especially the thick band, which turned out to be much more comfortable than expected. In fact, I was pretty much blown away by how soft, stretchy, and forgiving this bra is—the straps don't dig at all, and the fabric of the bra itself molds to my boobs without any weird spillage or over-the-top cleavage. (I went with a medium again, FYI.) I wore it to an ultra-sweaty hot yoga class and felt both cute and secure. It was definitely one of my favorites of the bunch."
"Let me start off by saying that because of my aforementioned problem with band-to-cup ratio, I really appreciate the fact that this Lulu bra comes in traditional bra sizes. I opted for a 32C, and on paper, this bra is really fantastic—I can see why it's probably a great option for someone who loves really energetic, high-impact workouts like running or HIIT. It keeps things on lockdown, that's for sure.
"But that was also its downfall for me, though I will chalk it up to personal preference. I prefer a fit that's a little bit stretchier and forgiving, and I felt extremely strapped into the Enlite—my colleague Aimee also tried it out, and we both commiserated over the fact that just getting it on is a process. For the kind of workouts I love—yoga and hiking, namely—it was just a little too intense for me. But I do appreciate the stellar construction and versatility for different sizes!"
"I'm really not big on cleavage, so I felt highly conflicted when I put this bra on and looked in the mirror. I could have honestly sized up to a medium, but I felt more secure in the small, even though it put things much more on display. Nevertheless, for some reason, I decided that if I was going to live on the edge, I'd fully commit by going to a trampoline class. As I entered the converted garage studio of celebrity trainer Lauren Kleban (aka the founder of cult-fave LEKFit), I knew there was a solid chance that I'd flash some nipple at least once in the next hour.
"And yet, even as we bounced and danced our way through a very sweaty workout routine, my cleavage stayed completely intact. So while I have to dock the score a little bit for being borderline exhibitionist, the operative word here is 'borderline.' During a trampoline class, no less."
"My Girlfriend leggings are my absolute favorite, so I was very stoked to try out a couple of the brand's bras as well. This strappy number was my runaway favorite: It's absolutely versatile enough to wear outside the gym (I've already paired it with some high-waisted cutoffs) but gets the job done during a good workout, too. It's also incredibly flattering: The sides aren't revealing at all, but they're also low-cut enough to help me evade any pinching or the dreaded armpit spill—even after I sized down to a small."
Courtesy of Aimee Jefferson
"I have DD boobs, so my primary goal is to find something that is supportive but also looks cool. I work out five to six days per week, so athleisure is a huge part of my wardrobe, and I'm always buying new pieces. Most sports bras for large boobs either don't come in cool designs or they look really aggressive (especially the ones with clasps in the front that look like a corset), so I try to strike a balance between support and style. My favorite sports bras have a higher neckline, wick sweat, and have a cool element of style like a mesh panel, a cutout, or crossed straps."
"I wore this for a yoga sculpt class. It was pretty supportive and actually wicked sweat. I wish it had a little bit more support, but otherwise, I was really pleased. I also love the design."
"I like this bra much more than I thought I would. Normally if you have bigger boobs, you can't wear the strappy or low-cut sports bra options because security and style don't always go hand in hand. That was not the case here. Even though I constantly felt nervous that my boobs would come out or move, this bra didn't let that happen."
"I wore this bra to another yoga sculpt class. There was a little bit of movement during some of the cardio moves, but overall I'm pleased with how it held up. It didn't really wick sweat, but everything felt secure."
"I am obsessed with this sports bra. The shape is perfect, I felt supported, and it's so comfortable you almost forget that you're wearing a bra. I wore this for an intense cardio and full-body weightlifting session, and I was not disappointed. I also wore this bra on a really steep hike with my dog and seven of her friends, so needless to say I had to be able to move quickly and get dirty without worrying about unwanted movements. It stood up to the challenge. I love it so much, and I want it in more colors."
"I wore this for an intense plyo workout, which means explosive movements and a lot of jumping. This bra held me in, and my boobs didn't move during box jumps, burpees, or TRX movements. I was truly impressed."
This story originally appeared on Byrdie.