What Is a Sports Bra and When Should You Wear One?

The sports bra: if you’ve got one of these in your underwear drawer, you know just how vital it can be. Sports bras are supportive, comfortable, and stretchy while still providing ample security –– what more could you want?

Sports bras aren’t just for those who spend a ton of time doing pilates or high-intensity workouts. They can provide a welcome alternative to traditional bras, as well as provide compression for those who want that effect. Not just that –– they can make very stylish tops.

If you are considering getting your very first sports bra, here is your handy guide on what to expert. 

The Invention of the Sports Bra

The very first modern sports bras hit the scene in the summer of 1977, smack in the middle of the women’s liberation movement. They were designed by Lisa Lindahl, Polly Smith, and Hinda Schreiber Miller, who saw the need for a bra to keep runners’ breast tissue secure while jogging. Their first idea consisted of two jockstraps sewn together.

These early designs featured many of the prime features of today’s sports bras: a crossed back and a wide elastic chest band. 

But many still found that this design wasn’t enough. Over the years, many new innovations have been made. Less elastic sports bras were created to accommodate larger bust sizes. These were again adjusted to opt for more forgiving designs that allowed big breaths.

Today, we continue to strive for sports bras that provide support and comfort to people of all genders and cup sizes.

What Does the Modern Sports Bra Look Like?

While there are as many variations on sports bras as there are on any other type of garment, there are usually a couple of common factors.

Here are some characteristics you’re likely to find in the best sports bras :

Tend Not To Have Underwire

Sports bras are made, first and foremost, to keep you comfortable. The right sports bra is highly breathable and provides extra support during high-impact activities like HIIT or weightlifting.

Many find the feeling of underwire to be restricting; the rigid wires can poke and dig into your boobs and ribcage. Plus, if you’ve had a bra for a while, you may be familiar with the sensation of the underwire coming loose and poking you. 

Note that some sports bras do have wiring. Wired sports bras are aimed at lifting the breasts and are more geared for aesthetics than comfort or functionality. 

Stabilizes Breasts

Nowadays, some compression sports bras do come with push-up. Others come with molded cups that can keep everything strapped down while still retaining a rounded shape.

However, what many want out of a sports bra is a garment that can flatten the chest and simply keep everything in place. Whether it be for athletic or aesthetic reasons, sports bras can help compress the chest without feeling restrictive.

Thick Straps

Sports bras are strappy and built to put your comfort first; part of that means taking pressure off of points that would otherwise be bothered with a regular bra. Thick shoulder straps prevent the awful digging feeling that some traditional bras give you. They also help keep your chest in place when running or jogging.

In addition, sports bras often have adjustable straps to adjust the level of support that you get during your workouts.

Scoop Neck

While the neckline of a sports bra can vary, you can expect your typical sports bra to come in a scoop neck variety. A scoop neck is a U-shaped neckline that rounds out just below the collarbone.

This is a universally flattering neckline and also leaves room for larger busts to breathe. Some types of sports bras can have a higher neck or a jewel neckline.

No Clasps

This is not a universal rule, but many sports bras don’t have clasps or hooks (although some options definitely do).

Instead, these bras consist of one garment that you pull over your head, just like a t-shirt or pullover. This eliminates any wardrobe malfunction when you’re doing your favorite physical activity, like your tennis racket getting stuck to the back of your bra. 

Back Coverage

Most traditional bras feature straps that come down horizontally in the back and connect to a strip of horizontal fabric. Sports bras are different, but we do love the racerback silhouette. 

The racerback bra features straps that connect through an X-style cross-back strip, or a criss-cross, partially (or completely) exposing the shoulder blades. The function of a racerback sports bra fit isn’t just for a cool visual; it helps relieve pressure from the shoulders, instead distributing it across the back.

Pure and Practical

A lot of sports bras do come in funky prints and fun colors. However, most do not feature some of the bells and whistles of the traditional bra –– which means you would be hard pressed to find a sports bra featuring things like lace. The primary function of a sports bra is, after all, utility.

What Are the Most Important Sports Bra Features?

Ultra Comfortable

The number one reason for wearing a sports bra? To be comfortable, of course!

For many of the aforementioned reasons, sports bras are made to be comfortable. Stretchy, soft, and elastic, the sports bra can easily be worn without the kind of need for adjustment you might feel with an everyday bra or lingerie.

Can Be Worn as a Shirt

A bunch of sports bras can be worn both in and outside of the gym as a casual cropped top. If you love that form-fitting, athletic look, a wearable sports bra is a great tool to have in your arsenal. Whether you pair it with high-waisted jeans or some yoga leggings, the sports bra is a versatile top.

Great for High-Impact and Low-Impact Sports

In case you haven’t already guessed from the name, the primary use for a sports bra is –– sports! When you’re packing a lot of heat up front, certain movements can be painful or even downright impossible.

High-impact sports bras ensure that your chest is compressed in a way that is comfortable while you exercise. Running, jumping, and dancing becomes way easier with high support and the right bra size.

Even when you’re doing low-impact activities, a sports bra can help you avoid chafing and discomfort. Some even have moisture-wicking properties, which can help prevent getting drenched in sweat. 

Lots of Cute Styles

Much like the modern-day bralette, the sports bra is often meant to be seen by the outside world. That means that beautiful styles are being made every day.

You can use your sports bra not just to show off your shoulders and stomach but to express your personality. Bright colors and fabulous prints are a great way to spice up your ensemble.

Gender Affirmation

People of all genders can use a sports bra to feel better in their own skin. Having a chest that is prominent can sometimes feel uncomfortable; traditional bras (or wearing no bra at all) might have the opposite of the desired effect. If someone doesn’t choose to wear a compression top, sports bras may be a nice alternative.

When Should You Wear a Sports Bra?

At the Gym

Let’s get the obvious answer out of the way: perhaps the most popular place to wear a sports bra is at the gym. After all, they were originally made for runners.

Wearing a traditional bra can often leave you feeling pinched and sweaty while going braless simply isn’t an option for well-endowed individuals. There’s a good reason why breasts can make exercise painful — recent research revealed that breasts move 10 centimeters in three directions while running. Ouch. 

To keep everything in place, a sports bra is a must-have for a lot of gym-goers and fitness enthusiasts.

While Dancing

This is one occasion where you might forget to wear a sports bra. But think about it: dancing can involve just as much jumping, spinning, and all-around movement as a trip to the gym.

A sports bra can help you stay comfortable when your favorite song starts blasting. When paired with baggy pants, it’s a classic dance fit.

Lounging at Home

We all know the cliche of taking off a bra after a long day and enjoying the sweet feeling of freedom.

But when you wear a sports bra, that part isn’t really necessary. Sports bras are often so comfortable; it’s just like you’re not wearing a bra at all. That’s what makes them the ideal at-home undergarment.

In the Summer

A sports bra paired with an oversized flannel, relaxed jogger, or even tennis skirt can make a real trend-starter of an outfit. Nothing screams cool summer vibes like a casual sports bra outfit. 

If you don’t feel totally comfortable baring that much skin outside of the gym, try pairing a sports bra with some high-waisted pants or a loose hoodie.

Any Time You Like

Sports bras are wonderful for their simplicity and versatility. If you want to wear a sports bra every day of the week — to school, work, the club, or your local grocery store — then, by all means, do so! We know that nothing feels better than comfortable underwear, and a sports bra is one of the best examples of that there is.

Final Thoughts

Providing security and support to people all across the world, you can’t help but appreciate the sports bra. Whether you rock one to express yourself or simply to feel a little extra cozy, they are a welcome addition to anybody’s wardrobe. 


A Brief History of the Sports Bra | Runner's World

The first sports bra was two jock straps. Meet the New Jersey women who invented it | USA Today

Sore Boobs While Running? Here’s Why You Might Be Experiencing Discomfort | Women's Health