High Impact Sports Bras for Running

high impact sports bras for running

Park RunningYou’ve just started a new running program, or you’re in the shop replacing that worn-out sports bra (yes ladies, like all other bras they do succumb to the 6-month rule replacement rule too – or, depending on use 30 – 40 washes, or even 3 for every pair of new running shoes), but what should I look for in a high impact sports bra for running? Whether you’re training for a marathon or heading out on a couch to 5k program your sports bra is a key piece of training equipment, and failing to give it proper consideration can cause just as much damage as running in the wrong shoes!

Firstly, sports bras come in three different levels of support which correlate to the different levels of impact associated with various sports. So when you ask what is a high impact sports bra, what you are really asking which level of support do I need from my sports bra for a high impact activity like running?

For questions like these, we really need to start with a basic understanding of breast anatomy (the structure of the breast) and physiology (the way it functions).

Basic Breast Anatomy

Your breasts are located between your pectoral muscles and your skin. They are mainly composed of adipose tissue (a type of fat) with glands that produce milk in lactating women which are connected to the nipple by a series of ducts. They are supported by fibrous connective tissue called Cooper’s Ligaments. Cooper’s ligaments provide the shape and support for your breasts and over time they naturally stretch causing your breasts to lose some of the perkiness for which teenagers are so renowned.

There are multiple factors contributing to breast droop. A lot of these factors are outside of our control, things like:

  • age
  • breast size
  • weight fluctuations
  • pregnancy

There are some factors that can increase the stretch in the Cooper’s Ligaments and lead to breast sag that we can influence: cigarette smoking and inappropriately supported exercise are two other such factors. Being proactive can also help, some exercises and tips to help maintain the shape of your breasts can be found here.

Basic Breast Physiology When Running

Research conducted at the University of Portsmouth in the UK on hundreds of women of varying breast size has shown runnersthat while running the breasts move in a butterfly formation with 50% of the movement in a vertical direction, 25% side to side and 25% forward and backward. They have determined that there is a delay between the body movement and the subsequent breast movement that increases the stretch on the Cooper ligaments and that using an appropriately supportive sports bra to reduce the discrepancy between the body movement and the breast movement and can even help reduce fatigue and prevent injuries. More details of their research can be found here.


How to choose a sports bra

Debbie Risius (Senior Research Associate at the University of Portsmouth) recommends these steps for the best fitting bra:

  • The band should be horizontal all the way around
  • The cups should not bulge or gap
  • The underwire should follow the natural curve of the breast tissue
  • The front of the bra should sit flat against the chest wall
  • The shoulder straps should be adjusted correctly



In addition, make sure that the fit is snug, but not so tight that it restricts your shoulder movement or breathing. In addition to bulges (too small) and gaps (too big) lookout for wrinkles, as they can also indicate that the bra is too big. If when you move around in your sports bra you find it riding up, pinching or digging in try adjusting the straps or back catch if it has one, otherwise try a different one!

Attributes and adjustments of a high impact sports bra

High impact sports bras are constructed using multiple methods of supporting the breasts. They often have defined cups to enclose and support the breasts. Supportive yet stretchy fabric with multiple layers of fabric can be used to compress the breasts firmly against the chest and minimize the movement delay between the breasts and the torso. Extra support to the bra can be provided using seaming to reinforce areas requiring extra rigidity and stiffness.

Try to adjust your bra so that you can fit one finger under the band. You may find that when you head off on a long run or as the elastic starts to wear that you need to tighten it by one notch to reduce the risk of chafing. This is also why when you buy a bra, it should have adjustments available both tighter and looser. It has the added advantage that as your body shape changes reflecting your athletic and lifestyle changes you don’t need to replace your bra until its wear warrants it!


Running and riding horses is actually not that dissimilar in terms of the pressures that it places on your breasts – the top riding bras we’ve selected are the top high impact sports bras available on the market today, I’d encourage you to check them out for your high impact running bra requirements! Research supports the use of high impact sports bras particularly for applications with lots of breast movement, like running. What do you think? Do you have a favouite bra you’d recommend?





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5 Responses

  1. JoAnne says:

    Thank you, I too am a runner and have found it hard to find a decent supporting Bra.
    Such useful information, thank you for sharing. But, no I am still struggling to find the perfect one.

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Jo, Thanks for your input, its amazing how hard it is to find the perfect sports bra, I have also not yet succeeded.

      I will have some recommendations and reviews up soon though, so hopefully they’ll bring you some new ideas to try!


  2. Cathy Allen says:

    I did not know there was a 6-month rule! Is this just for runners, all sports bras, or all bras? I’ve had some for years. I don’t run, though. Living a rather sedentary lifestyle, I’ve haven’t had to worry about the bounce for decades. Thank you for the advice on sizing and fit. That’s always been my biggest problem. I have no skill at all determining the correct size. Are underwires important? I usually end up removing mine because they aren’t comfortable. Thank you for this informative article!

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Cathy – I know, the 6 month rule seems ridiculous in light of the ongoing push towards sustainability, but experts say that if you wear any bra almost every day it can be past its useful life in less than a month! There is more info here if you’re interested.

      Like you, I often find underwires to be the bane of my existence, so if I can get away with it (and its often possible in a sports bra) I will buy one without. However, if you happen to be well endowed in the bosom department, you should be able to find a tolerable underwired bra with the assistance of professional bra fitting advice.


  3. suzanne says:

    Hi Lisa,

    I enjoyed your post and the anatomy lesson. It’s amazing what we women don’t know about our own breats, lol.

    I’m not a runner but I do use a sports bra for other activities. Though I have to admit, I keep them much longer than 6 months lol.

    At my age and breast size, when I find something that fits well, I tend to hang on to it for a long time.

    I could always use your 3 for every pair of new runners. I keep them for quite long too! haha.

    Thanks again,

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Suzanne, I was amazed at how complex breasts actually are, there is a full research group local to me who only study how breasts move and what effect that movement has on the body!

      While running shoes are supposed to be mileage based, I keep my old ones for other activities and only get rid of them when they start to suffer structural failure. Although its worth being careful with what you’re using them for too if they’re old, as if they have advanced wear patterns or internal material failures that you can’t see old running shoes can offer altered support to your feet and throw your full body alignment out.


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