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Choosing the best sports bra: finding optimal support for every workout

When it comes to exercise, finding the best sports bra is crucial for both comfort and performance. Regardless of breast size, the proper support is essential. Not only to prevent discomfort from chafing and pain of excessive breast movement; but also long-term structural damage, leading to the dreaded sag.

In this article, we will delve into the various styles of sports bras. Including compression, encapsulation, and hybrid options. We will guide you through the considerations when choosing the best sports bra for you. 

Which is the best sports bra style?

1. Compression Sports Bras.
Compression sports bras work by pressing the breasts firmly against the chest, reducing movement through compression. Although not a universal truth, compression sports bras are generally best suited to smaller cups sizes. They are also best for low to medium impact activities, such as yoga, pilates, or cycling. 

2. Encapsulation Sports Bras.
Encapsulation sports bras use individual cups to support each breast separately, similar to regular bras. This style provides a more natural shape rather than the monoboob of a compression style. They support each breast individually, minimizing both vertical and horizontal movement.

3. Hybrid Sports Bras.
Hybrid sports bras combine the benefits of both compression and encapsulation styles. They typically have a compression layer to reduce overall breast movement. Underneath this there are individual cups for additional support and shaping.  

Where do I start finding the best sports bra for me?

First thing to remember- you are not buying the bra for anyone else, this is literally all about you. You need to think about what is really important to you as an individual. Focus your search around fulfilling those requirements.

1- What level of support do you need? 

Here is a good point to introduce our unique KnockerLocker Power Rating. We developed this as we were fed up of so many bras claiming to be high impact support but actually delivering nothing of the sort. A study* found that 31% of bras marketed as high impact did not achieve the required level of breast bounce reduction to achieve that accolade.

The Power Rating provides a rating of 1-5, combining the impact of your chosen sport with your breast size. So as an example: if I am an E cup and want to run, I need a Power 4 or 5 bra to provide great support. If I want to do Pilates, a Power 2 or 3 sports bra will work fine.

If I am a petite B cup and want to run, a Power 2 will do the trick.

Once you have ascertained what Power level you need- filter our bras by this and you will have a selection of bras that will deliver the support you are after.

Remember you can always use a bra with a Power Rating beyond what you need (eg a 4 when you only ‘need’ a 2), but not vice versa. No one ever complained their sports bra gave them too much support!

Otherwise, just check out our quick link sports bra high impact category! These bras are all rated power 4 and 5.

The Enell sport bra pictured here is one of only 2 bras to have earnt the elusive Power 5 rating. It really is in a class of its own in terms of breast support.

"Only 69% of bras marketed as 'high support' actually achieved bounce reduction in this study that classified them as such"
Knocker Locker Logo
Norris et al 2020
University of Portsmouth
freya racerback sports bra

2- Shoulder strap orientation

Interestingly shoulder strap orientation has not been found to be strongly associated with increased support*.

Although, I think most of us get a increased feeling of security from a racer or crossback style. This maybe that fastening our J hook (seen here) just effectively shortens the straps.

Have a look at our racerback sports bras.

Or regular?

Straps on sports bras are a source of much consternation and angst, and are the number one complaint point for women. This is either because they slip off the shoulders or dig into the shoulders.

Many sports bras with regular oriented straps have them ‘centered’ at the back. (See the elomi and freya dynamic pictured as an example) meaning they are less likely to slip off. In addition, a good sports bra should have straps with some stretch in them, making them less likely to slip off.

Freya Dynamic sports bra
Elomi Energise sports bra

The main reason bra straps dig in is because women are wearing a band size too loose. What? 80% of your bra’s support comes from the underband. If it is too loose, to feel more secure, ladies will over tighten the straps, resulting in the gouging effect on shoulders. 

How do you know if your underband is too loose? First- measure your ribs- pull the tape snug but not constrictively so, the band size you are wearing should be 0-2 inches bigger than your measurement. Any more- you need to go down band size.

Other tricks- does you band rise up as you raise your arms? Is band arching up in the middle at the back? Both signs of a loose underband. Check out our fitting blog article for some nice images.

3- Shoulder pain

This is generally from 2 sources. Either that loose underband not taking enough of the strain. Or otherwise from the pressure of racerback straps on the trapezius muscles at the top of the shoulders.

We know how to fix the underband issue. So what about the second issue? Well there are a couple of considerations. Find a bra with a J hook on the shoulder straps. This means you can just do up the hook when you feel the need for a bit more security. The rest of the time leave the straps regularly oriented. (Freya, Elomi, Panache and Pure Lime all have this option.)

Otherwise, look at a Runderwear Power bra. Reputed to be the most comfortable bra in the KnockerLocker, in sizes from C to H. It has straps that sit halfway between a racer and regular back. Meaning they won’t slip off, and they won’t put unwanted pressure on your traps. 

Showing a well fitted Runderwear sports bra

4- Don’t fear the underwire!

Another study found that an overwhelming 74% of British women do not like an underwire in a sports bra. 

I think oftentimes wires cause issue digging in when the fit of the bra is incorrect and this is where the problem actually lies. The new wired sports bras from Panache, Freya and Elomi all have well encased and padded wires meaning all they give you is great shape.

5- How much??!!

It might seem like an investment, yes. However a quality sports bra that actually does what it claims is worth 5 rubbish ones that will not support you and you will not actually wear.

Women also do not tend to renew their sports bras as often as they should. So it is a piece of kit you may well have with you for a good couple of years. Think of it on a cost per use basis:

My husband has recently had to have a dental implant, the princely sum of over £3000. He is a man who enjoys his food so I suggested that on a cost per chew basis it is probably pretty good value. Sometimes we have to look a little longer term.

So before you baulk at spending £50 or thereabouts on an essential piece of sports kit, remember. It will mean you can exercise in comfort and confidence, and make you feel good about yourself…. Ladies, let me assure you: YOU ARE WORTH IT.

The bottom line

Selecting the right sports bra is a crucial step in ensuring comfort, support, and confidence during workouts. Whether you opt for compression, encapsulation, or hybrid style, understanding your specific needs and breast size is essential.

The rest is really up to your personal preference! What is the best sports bra for one lady will not necessarily be the best sports bra for her best friend.

Need a little more guidance as to what might provide great support for your breast size and chosen sport? Please take a minute to read about our unique Power Rating or book in for an online fitting to chat through some options.

"Ladies, let me assure you, you are worth it."
enell racerback sports bra
Dr Rachel Ballantyne
Founder KnockerLocker
* “How the characteristics of sports bras affect their performance”

Michelle Norris, Tim Blackmore, Brogan Horler, Joanna Wakefield-Scurr.