A good sports bra is crucial during a workout, but we (shockingly) didn’t have the bra we know today until 1977. Lisa Lindahl, a graduate student at the time, began jogging during the fitness craze that swept the nation during the 1970s but found exercise painful without support. She teamed up with theater costume designer Polly Palmer Smith and Smith’s colleague Hinda Miller to solve this problem by taking a page from the men’s exercise book: The trio deconstructed two jockstraps and repurposed them as a “JogBra.” Breasts were pulled close to the body, and the sports bra was born.
Fast forward nearly 50 years and the sports bra industry is huge, with both low-impact and high-impact bra options for all kinds of exercise.
Do you need a low-impact sports bra?
Different types of exercise require different types of bras. “A low-impact workout requires very little stress on the joints,” says Vanessa Chu, Cofounder of Stretch*d. “In other words, it’s a workout where you are not jumping around. These workouts are particularly good for anyone who deals with joint pain or injuries to the wrists, ankles, shoulders, or knees.”
Low to medium-impact sports bras work best with walking, yoga, Pilates, and strength training. They typically feature a cup-less design that still holds the breasts close to the chest but not quite as tightly as a high-impact bra. High-impact sports bras are used for activities like running, aerobics, and mountain biking. They typically feature a cup to compress and encapsulate each breast and prevent painful side-to-side swinging.
How to choose the best low-impact sports bra
Like a good pair of walking shoes, a reliable bra meets at the node between comfort, style, and the right support. “I think comfort is key, as well as coverage,” says Chu. Even when you know your size, finding the brand or bra that works for your body can be tricky. Here are some tips to get the right fit.
✔️ Test with movement: “Try them on and do some exercises,” says Sareena Rama, a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor. “It might feel weird to get into a down-dog in the fitting rooms, but sports bras are an investment!” Fortunately, many brands offer free returns so you can test at home.
✔️ Adjust the straps: Some bras come with adjustable straps so you can specialize the fit to your body. If you move your arms around and find the straps rise, it may be a sign they’re too long. If they leave a mark on your skin after an exercise, they’re definitely too tight.
✔️ Consider the material: Sports bras come in many different materials, and you should choose based on your compression and perspiration needs. “Cotton bras may work for you if you feel that your breasts don’t produce too much sweat. However, if you’re a boob-sweaty gal, something moisture-wicking is going to be a much better feeling,” explains Rama.
✔️ Try the two-finger test: Sports bras should fit more snugly than a regular bra, but you should still be able to breathe! “It’s important to not be distracted during a workout so that you can focus on your form,” says Chu. If you can fit more than two fingers between your body and the bottom band, it’s probably too loose.
Ahead, find the best low-impact sports bras for a wide range of cup sizes and body types to accommodate all of your workout needs.