The best activewear is the activewear that makes you feel good. “No matter what, you want to feel comfortable and confident,” Kaila DeRienzo, certified personal trainer and certified run coach, tells SELF. That comfort and confidence comes from a piece of clothing that’s functional, fits well, and is suited for the activities you like to do. So while it’s important to like the look of what you’re shopping for (hello, tempting Instagram ads), that shouldn’t be your only standard.
Here, we’ve enlisted fitness experts to create a comprehensive list of criteria that will help you shop for your next workout outfit, no matter what you like to wear and how you like to move—whether you’re running a race, gearing up for a hike, or taking a well-deserved rest day.
Sports Bra Evaluation and Testing Criteria
Arguably the most important thing to focus on when testing a sports bra is whether it provides the support you need for any given activity. The simplest way to test? “Make the fitting room your playground,” Alison Staples, RRCA-certified run coach and physical therapist assistant, tells SELF. “Jump up and down, do a few jumping jacks, twist side to side, run in place.” Take note of whether the bra moves up and down or stays in place and if it’s too constrictive or not supportive enough, Staples says. When determining if a bra is good for a certain level of impact, we consider:
Low-impact support: Low-impact bras are usually stretchy and comfortable but probably not very supportive, so the breasts will move freely as you do. “Low-impact bras are good for things like yoga class or lounging around,” Sarah Taylor, certified personal trainer, plus-size model, and owner of virtual fitness studio Fitness by Sarah Taylor, tells SELF. “I wear these kinds of bras in my day-to-day life but very rarely to teach a class or do a workout unless it’s yoga.” For some people with larger breasts, bras with low-impact support may not be sufficient for even yoga.
Medium-impact support: “If the bra has at least medium support, the [breast] movement will be minimal,” Janeil Mason, M.A., personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and creator of dance cardio method Fit and Lit, says. These types of bras are usually good for a strength class that may have a little bit of cardio in it, Taylor says, but not a lot of constant jumping or other quick movements. Bianca Vesco, certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and fitness model, notes that medium-support bras can be great for yoga and lifting weights—they are supportive enough that you don’t fall out during a downward dog pose, but comfortable enough that you can still move around a bit.
High-impact support: “If a bra has high-impact support, there is typically no [breast] movement and full coverage of cleavage,” Mason says. Many people need high-impact bras for HIIT classes, dance cardio classes, and running—all activities that involve jumping motions for a significant period of time. High-support sports bras usually have a very tight fit, Vesco adds.
A good sports bra should always fit you well and be comfortable during your workouts. “See how the bra feels when you put it on, while you sweat, and what it feels like an hour or two after your workout if you still have it on,” Vesco suggests. Take note of where it sits on your rib cage, and if your breathing changes at all when you have it on, Staples says. All brands aren’t cut the same way, and some come in cup and strap sizes like a regular bra, while others come in small, medium, large, etc. “You may need to try a few different sizes to find the right fit,” Staples adds.
Cut and Style
Some sports bra styles may fit some people well, while they don’t work great for others. And some styles may work for you for one type of workout but not another. For example, Staples says she finds crop top bras with a longer hemline to be a little too constrictive on her diaphragm when running, in particular. But depending on your body shape, this style may feel fine. It’s important to test a specific cut and style for the workout you’d like to use it for to make sure it’s comfortable considering the motions you’ll be doing.
You may find that some strap styles fit your body better and feel more comfortable during a workout. For example, Taylor says she avoids racerback bras because they tend to bother her neck and shoulders. In addition to style, the thickness of a bra’s straps can help make it more supportive. “Wider, thicker straps will tend to provide more support in higher-intensity activities,” says Staples. Also, adjustable straps tend to increase the support factor.
Ease to Put On and Take Off
“Being able to get a supportive bra on and off is also important to me because after the workout is done, I do not want to have to struggle to get a sweaty bra off. That is misery,” Vesco says. Bras with zippers in the front, or a clasp in the back, are usually easier to take on and off. If the bra needs to be pulled on and off over the head, it’s important to be able to do so without struggling too much.
Sports bras that are made of quick-dry material can make a huge difference in comfort during a workout, Vesco says. To test this, we considered how wet the bra felt during a sweaty workout and how long it took to dry after the workout was over. Did the fabric get wet and stay wet? Did it cling to the skin? Did it cause chafing once wet? Or did the fabric stay somewhat dry and feel breathable despite an intense workout?
The feel of the material is also important, Taylor notes. Is it soft and comfortable or scratchy and stiff? If a bra is supportive but has rough seams or otherwise just doesn’t feel comfortable against your skin, you’re not going to feel good wearing it.
How You Feel
The most subjective item here is feel. But it’s important! A sports bra should feel comfortable, fit well, and perform during a workout, but it’s also important that you feel good wearing it, Staples says. When we put on a sports bra, we take note of how it makes us feel. Do we like the style? Does it make us feel confident and ready to crush a workout?
How SELF Tests Sports Bras
- Do at least one workout for the type of intensity the sports bra is indicated for (high impact: HIIT, running, boxing, etc.; medium impact: strength training, weight lifting, cycling; low impact: yoga, stretching, walking).
- Jump up and down, do a few jumping jacks, twist side to side, run in place.
- Keep wearing the sports bra for an hour or two after a workout (to note comfort and wetness).
Tank Top Evaluation and Testing Criteria
Getting a tank top that’s well-fitted to your body type is key, Lauren Leavell, certified personal trainer and barre instructor, tells SELF. You don’t want something that’s too tight, which might constrict your movement, cause chafing, and not feel very comfortable. But you also don’t want something that’s too loose, since excess fabric could get in the way of your workout and, coincidentally, also cause chafing. The right fit is going to vary person to person, and some people may feel more comfortable in tighter clothes and vice versa. However, everyone—regardless of your preferences—should pay attention to how the arm sleeves fit.