Sports Bra 101

Sports Bra 101

June 18, 2019


The first sports bra was designed in 1977 by Lisa Lindahl and theater costume designer Polly Smith with the help of Smith’s assistant, Hinda Schreiber. It all started when Lindahl’s sister, Victoria Woodrow, complained about her bad experience exercising in ordinary bras, feeling pain and soreness on the breasts. During the course of Lindahl and Smith’s exploration for a better alternative, Lindah’s husband suggested that they needed a jockstrap for women’s breasts. Both women sewed two jockstraps together and nicknamed it a “jockbra” and was later on renamed as a “jogbra.” 


The first sports brassieres were not just pieces of fabric, nor did they belong in any lingerie department. They represented an engineering feat that sought to control breast movement. Today, using technology such as ultrasound, 3D scanning, and skin measurement, designers figure out how breasts move.


Manufacturing companies are continuously trying to make different types of sports bras with clever names or altered designs and features. However, there are three types: encapsulation, compression, and combination. Most women are unaware of these three types, choosing only the best fit judging by the feel. But in fact, each bra is really designed for different types of women or to different levels of activity.

Encapsulation sports bras 

These bras use individual cups to surround and support each breast separately. There is no compression, making them best for low-impact activities, while providing a more natural shape. Encapsulation sports bras also reduce a greater range of overall breast movement and protect the Coopers ligaments, helping to prevent breast pain and sagging. Some encapsulation bras incorporate an underwire to separate each breast. But with advances in design, many sports bras can now achieve the same results without an underwire.

Compression sports bras

From the term itself, compression bras typically pull over your head and compress the breast against the chest wall to restrict movement, and they have no cups built into the design. These are best for low- to medium-impact activities. Compression bras primarily limit the in and out movement of breasts with secondary stabilization of upwards and sidewards movement. This secondary support, if insufficient, may cause strain on the Coopers ligaments. 

Combination (compression + encapsulation) sports bras

These bras combine the two methods into a supportive and comfortable style, offering more support and making them ideal to be used for high-impact activities. Combining these two in one sports bra optimizes breast movement reduction in all directions, giving you the best of both worlds in terms of support and comfort.

For women who require extra support, some of these bra designs include zippers, hooks, or underwire. Women who are into high-impact activities and those with larger breasts should opt for either the encapsulation or combination, since they offer more support. Compression style bras are also suited for women with small or medium-sized breasts or those who are into low- to medium-impact activities.



Bands provide the primary support, and they form the foundation of a sports bra. A good sports bra has bands that are snug around the ribcage, but not too tight. If you can fit in two fingers between your body and the band, that is a sign of a good fit. 

Shoulder straps

The shoulder straps should feel secure and provide minimal stretch to reduce up-and-down movement. Same as the band, you should be able to fit two fingers between your shoulders and the strap (but not more). Wide straps bette disperse the weight and offer greater comfort than narrow straps. Good sports bras also have straps that do not slip off or dig into the shoulders during high-impact activities. Some straps are also adjustable, which are often found on encapsulation style sports bras. 

Back closure

Most sports bras are pullover bas, while some have a back closure with hooks. This allows the wearer to adjust the fit. When fitting a new sports bra with a hook on the back, use the furthest hook so that when the bra stretches out, you can use the closer hook. 


Underwires in sports bras provide support for each breast individually and can effectively minimize movement. The underwire should lay flat against the rib cage below the breast tissue and should not poke or pinch.

Wicking fabrics

Sports bras should have fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin. This will help your skin breathe and make you feel more comfortable while you move.



Crisscross straps usually provide good support, and they are often adjustable so you can fine tune the fit. 

Tank top

This style is similar to an everyday bra. They are also often adjustable, and bras with this kind of straps often have a back closure. Some tank top bras are designed to allow the straps to be crisscrossed for versatility. 


Racerback shoulder straps come together between your shoulder blades to form a Y shape. These types of bra straps are ideal for medium- to high-impact activities. However, they are not adjustable, so when buying this type of bra, it is important to size the bra correctly.

Regardless of your strap choice, remember that the thinner the strap is, the less support it gives. The only advantage of thin straps is that they are easier to conceal.


Consider the following when choosing sports bras:

  • Make sure there is no chafing around the arm holes, shoulder straps, seams, even on the snaps.
  • You should be able to fit two fingers between the straps and shoulders. It shouldn’t be too tight or too loose or they will just slip off your shoulders.
  • To determine a good band, raise your hands over your head. If the band rises up, it may be too big. Try adjusting the straps or back closure. If it does not work, get a smaller band size.
  • Your breasts should be centered and fully contained in the cups. Wrinkles or puckers in the fabric indicate that a cup is too big. If breast tissue is pressed outside the bra, it means the cup is too small or the style is not appropriate for your breast type. 
  • Test the bra’s support by jumping or running in place. Your breasts should feel secure and supported. Too much movement means it’s the wrong size or style.

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.