Sports Bras for Big Boobs: A Guide

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Sick of clean eating, perfect gym outfits, and chiseled abs? A Swole Woman is here to help you be healthy, enjoy carbs, and get jacked.

Can you talk about being a woman with boobs doing all of this and what bras and shirts and other crap you’ve found to be helpful?

—RR

So—I have had large breasts, like D-DDD, all my life. Not as big as some, but big enough that they are a legitimate consideration during any high-impact activity, including sports in school; running, which was my main form of exercise for several years; and any recreational softball teams my various groups of friends intermittently decide to get involved with. I can’t just go and do a sport; I have to equip myself with specific armor first. Real ones remember the dark ages when that meant wearing two sports bras at once.

Not only are my boobs an active menace during high-intensity activities, but they have also proven to be very resilient in size regardless of my body weight. That means I have many consecutive years of experience with this problem, and continue to have it, regardless of what I do. (Joy!)

While I haven’t experienced all of the possible issues that can come with large breasts—mine are still a manageable-ish size, and I have a cup size/band size that is usually represented in product lines—I can share some lessons I’ve learned with my fellow be-titted aspiring athletes, and even a couple tips for people who are bigger or have a hard time finding their size.

Sports bras are a problem that no one seems to care remotely enough about. I love this article by Rose Eveleth on the sports-bra landscape, where she highlights an important fact: Many women avoid exercise because it’s fucking hell on their tatas. That! Is! Messed! Up! In the extreme!!! Here we are, trying to do One unit of health, and gazing upon the field of adequate, necessary sports equipment, we are finding it barren. The absolute injustice of this is infuriating, but speaks to the fact that it’s an issue worth taking seriously.

I was a runner for several years, and now have been lifting weights for several years, and there’s one thing I want to point out that I feel perhaps doesn’t get pointed out enough: The bra demands of lifting are SO MUCH LOWER than for running. When you become a runner and you have big boobs, the task of tit management rules over the entire endeavor. I never found the perfect running bra; that is, maximally contained motion, was comfortable for any length of time, AND looked nice. It is my feeling that this bra still does not yet exist, and possibly cannot exist, for reasons I will explain; however, thanks to recent innovations, you can get pretty close, which I will also further explain.

Now that I’m a lifter, though, and floppy tits are kind of the rage, I can wear all manner of “low impact” garments and nothing hurts or gets out of control, because when you lift, you simply aren’t moving very much. You’re doing various kinds of moving up and down in very controlled patterns.

Do you have a sports bra you love that you think I should know about? Got a question about working out, eating, health, or why you shouldn’t be afraid of lifting heavy weights? Send it to swole.woman@vice.com and follow @swolewoman on Instagram.

If you, like me, have large boobs and have always harbored a frustration with high-impact sports, whether it be running or burpees or those classes where you jump on little trampolines—you should step this way to the low-impact sport world, not just for this reason but many other reasons as well (no, I don’t mean yoga). Torturing the titties is NOT a given for exercise in general, and if I’m here to preach any fact, it is that one. This bra world really opens up in the low-impact world, from bras that show no tit, to A Lot of Tit (ALOT), to maybe even Too Much Tit (TMT). If you’re really attached to cute bras, honestly, consider a low-impact sport such as lifting.

Lastly, on a deeply personal note, I’ll say this: almost all the sports bra advice I’ve seen online, particularly for high-impact sports bras where support should be the number-one priority, seems a) extremely preoccupied with the cuteness or attractiveness of bras, and b) given by people who have apparently never actually worn a supportive bra where their boobs don’t move at all.

For a), I gotta say, and I’ll get into this more below, but a good high impact bra will encase the tits top and bottom, and sadly this does not provide for cleavage. If you can see cleavage, it’s not a good high impact bra. People who say otherwise probably don’t have boobs that are very big, or they’re trading off a lot of support for this factor, which brings us to b). This is an understandable data sampling problem: If you’ve only ever worn terrible bras, and then one day try a bra that’s even a little supportive, you may be compelled to shout from the rooftops about what an amazing bra it is. But it could still be not a great bra, objectively. Just look at this database of supposedly good 36DDD sports bras; the sheer number of ill-advised racerback models (see below for more on why) is unbelievable, as is the collection of otherwise obviously flimsy models.

Probably the easiest way for me to help here in the near term would be to just link to some good bras and let you figure it out, but these things come and go fast. So I would rather offer some facts I’ve learned about how to identify good sports bra design, in hopes that we all can shop for good sports bras and never waste money on a garbage sports bra again.

When I buy a low-impact bra, I always look for a thick band, because about 90 percent of a bra’s support is supposed to come from there (not the straps). I have found even bralettes with little spaghetti straps to be comfortable and supportive enough when the company put some thought into the band. Don’t buy bras with thin, flimsy little bands; we need that structural integrity for the entire operation to work.

I have to condemn racerback bras. I understand the impulse; I’ve been fooled many times, and all they do is put 100 percent of the weight of your tits on your traps (the tops of your shoulders) and the back of your neck. Even when I have gotten such bras and on the first wear they seemed fine, after one wash, they become torture and cause tension headaches. In my experience, even a thick band cannot save them. I too love the look of them on smaller-titted people, but I have had to accept they simply don’t work for my kind.

Per above, you can have flimsy straps as long as they don’t have a racerback structure and there is hefty band support. I have a bra that I really like where the thin straps come over the shoulders and meet at the top of the band, in a Y shape. Great bra, exposes the back muscles for maximum intimidation, looks cute and has A Medium Amount of Tit (AMAT), does not smother my cervical spine.

I also have some bralette types that I love, which fall into the ALOT and TMT categories, respectively: this one from Out from Under and this one from Free People. They are endlessly comfortable and work for both sports and lying around the house, my two activities of choice.

I think there is sometimes temptation to buy low-impact bras too small or too large, in the first case in hopes of making them work better, in the second in the hopes of making them actually comfortable. Too-small non-adjustable bras that are all one piece are a huge pain to get on and off over your head; a too-large bra obviously won’t offer much support and you might just, uh, fall out the bottom. If you’re wearing the size you’re supposed to and the bra sucks, simply let it suck; do not make yourself the problem and do backflips to give it more chances.

While I cannot endorse your entirely cardio-based workouts, I can help here. The same rules above apply here (thick band, no racerback, sticking to your size) but then there are extra ones on top. When you are, say, running, which a lot of high-impact activity involves, research shows that boobs actually do not move up and down, but in a sort of figure-eight pattern. This means they need to be contained from all sides, including the top. Again, this precludes any kind of cleavage. I think even if you wouldn’t admit to yourself that you’re actively looking for an attractive bra, we are socialized to steer away from super-functional garments here and toward the ones where, for lack of a better phrase, the models look hotter in them.

However—when looking for high-impact bras for large boobs, it’s very important to try and overcome this impulse and let this idea of flattering cuts go. Not because I do not think you’re sexy or no one wants to see that; I feel certain they do. I just think it’s more important to enable your own comfort and success in physical activity without feeling like you also have to look maximally conventionally attractive doing it.

We need to stop bending over backwards and making excuses for cute bras that suck, and hold accountable the companies that make them and the people who make us feel like we need to look conventionally cute when we work out. Let me look like a hellbeast when I lift, because I AM a hellbeast, and I simply cannot countenance any “problems” you may have with that.

There are two types of high impact bras I effusively recommend: bras with two separate straight straps like conventional bras, and bras that are effectively half a shirt.

By “bras that are half a shirt,” I basically mean racerback bras but on so many steroids that that design element is no longer a problem. This describes my favorite time-tested running bra of all time, whose equal I have never found: the Enell “high impact wire free sports bra” (which I feel comfortable pointing to specifically, because it’s been around in the same form for at least ten years, and I’ve been using it about that long).

This bra is much more like armor than an undergarment, and I think for that reason, it intimidates people (it’s also, for some reason, very shiny. Why is it shiny??). Let them be intimidated, in my opinion, because you will be enjoying completely stabilized breasts to a degree I guarantee you’ve never felt before. The support truly comes from all sides, and the bottom band is extra thick so n o t h i n g moves. Normalize the running breastplate. When I first got this bra I could only afford a single one, and I would wash it in the shower with me after a run so I could wear it the next day; it was that important to me.

There are two downsides to this bra: it can fit pretty tight, but I got used to it after a short adjustment period. It also does not accommodate small bands/large cup sizes in its standard sizing, BUT: You can order a custom size. This isn’t the only bra there will ever be that works this well, but looking for the same structural elements in high impact bras can only help.

Bras with two separate straps are likely to be adjustable in both the band and straps, which is great for longevity in a lot of cases; as it gets looser through washing and wearing, you can tighten things up.

In this category of bra I recently purchased the Elomi Energise, Wirecutter’s pick for a high impact bra for DD+ cups and has individual, adjustable straps. While it does prevent a lot of individual bobbling around, boobs still move up and down as one mass due to the lack of a thick band so that the part of the bra resting on my ribs chafes, which I don’t experience with the Enell bra. Still, it’s better than most I have tried, and comes in a much wider size range than most bras.

The Elomi bra is not that different from this Champion bra, which is fully adjustable and encapsulates top and bottom, and is quite similar to this more-expensive and often-recommended Panache sports bra. I own three of these and wear them to the gym, but I wouldn’t go running in them, or if I absolutely had to, would wear another bra over it.

This should be a solved problem and it isn’t, sadly. Insofar as I think voting with feet and dollars is not often effective, I think the very least we can all do is stop blaming ourselves for bad sports bras and (in my specific case) stop buying one racerback bra after another hoping to defy physics and wishing for a miracle when it simply isn’t going to happen. Surely you’ve had the experience of buying a garbage piece of clothing you realized you didn’t like that much, and then felt like you had to wear it for years. Enough with this! Invest in the tools that you, and your tits, need in order to work out.

Disclaimer: Casey Johnston is not a doctor, nutritionist, dietitian, personal trainer, physiotherapist, psychotherapist, doctor, or lawyer; she is simply someone who done a lot of, and read a lot about, lifting weights.

You can read past Ask A Swole Woman columns at The Hairpin and at SELF and follow A Swole Woman on Instagram. Got a question for her? Emailswole.woman@vice.com .

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