News flash: If you have any type of breast discomfort or pain during your workout, you're likely wearing the wrong sports bra. And, honestly, it wouldn't be all that surprising if that's the case. Research published in the Science Publishing Group discovered that most sports bras don't offer the support you need to minimize the multi-directional movement that your breast tissue goes through during exercise. But it's important to have a good, supportive sports bra, as it "can help reduce the risk of sagging caused by damage to the ligaments, tissue, and other supporting structures," says Jessica Matthews, M.S., senior advisor for health and fitness education for the American Council on Exercise.
Before you buy your next sports bra, heed these 6 common shopping mistakes.
You buy one bra for all workouts. If you're busting out a high-intensity workout one day and a more chill one the next, then you should have more than one sports bra in rotation—and not just for the cleanliness factor. The type of workout you're doing determines what style of sports bra you should wear, says Sarah Pace, certified personal trainer and health coach. A more supportive option (like a compression bra) is great for running or a HIIT class, whereas one that allows more movement and flexibility (good sign: a wider chest band) is ideal for yoga or Pilates, she says. Brogan Horler, research associate for the Research Group in Breast Health at the University of Portsmouth, says to expect to shop by category, as many brands arrange their styles by impact/support level.
You don't know your bra size. If you're still shopping for the same bra size you were fitted for three years ago, it's time for an update. It's important that you get fitted at least once a year, as a woman's body changes, says Nadia Ruiz, running and triathlon coach and motivational speaker to school groups and endurance athletes. Those changes may even inspire you to try a new style. "Larger-busted women may want an encapsulation sports bra because of the heavy-duty construction and molded cup design, which tends to provide more support than a compression bra—those are often a better option for women with smaller busts," says Matthews.
You purchase based on price. Just because a sports bra is inexpensive doesn't mean it isn't worth buying—and vice versa. "Sports bras can cost anywhere from under $15 to nearly $100, but the price alone doesn't tell you anything about the fit, the support, or the quality of the material," says Pace. And just like jeans come in all price categories, so do sports bras. Can't decide which end of the spectrum to fall on? "It depends on how new you are to the exercise you plan on doing," says Pace. If yoga is a new endeavor, consider spending less—that way, if you find yoga just isn't doing it for you, then you won't regret having spent a ton of cash on a bra you never wear. (Just make sure you try these yoga poses before ditching the workout entirely.)
You choose the wrong material. One of the last things people think about when buying a sports bra is how it will affect their skin, says Ruiz. But that's a mistake—if you're allergic or hypersensitive to certain material, wearing the bra (especially as you get sweaty) could irritate your skin and cause redness, itchiness, and even blisters.
Unfortunately, it's tough to tell in advance whether you're allergic to a material. But moisture-wicking tech fabric, like Coolmax, is usually a safe bet as it helps absorb sweat from your skin. Polyester is also a common fabric used across all styles of sports bras, says Horler, so if you haven't had a skin reaction yet, keep an eye out for that on the materials tag. Pace says to also look for smooth or bonded seams to avoid skin irritation, and if you tend to get super sweaty, opt for sports bras that have mesh paneling to add an extra layer of ventiliation that keeps you cool.
You don't customize the fit. Sports bras are not a one-size-fits-all situation, which is why components like adjustable straps are important—they make it easier to contour the bra to your body, says Horler. "The underband should fit firmly, but should not be too tight or uncomfortable, and it should be level all the way around the ribs," she says. Then, think about what you need based on bust-size. "The breast should be enclosed within the cups; there should be no bulging or gaping at the top or sides. And if the material is puckering, then the cup size is probably too big," adds Horler.
To help figure out if it's a good fit, Pace says to do a little experiment: Once you get in the store, try the sports bra on and do a few jumping jacks in the dressing room. If you're constantly readjusting, the sports bra leaves indentation marks on your skin, or the straps dig into your shoulders or the sides of your chest, then it should go back to the rack immediately.