How to Put on a Sports Bra


Sports bras are designed to keep your breasts in place while you exercise. Many women complain that breast movement during exercise causes pain, and may even put them off exercising altogether. So, a good sports bra can be a difference-maker for a woman’s comfort, health and confidence.

Because sports bras have a serious job to do, they are usually constructed of thick performance materials that ensure full breast coverage, and even expanded back and shoulder strap support. Depending on the style of bra, this can lead to different challenges putting on sports bras than with your regular everyday bra...

Catalyst sports bra

Answer: It Depends on the Style

When we complain about getting in and out of sports bras, we’re usually complaining about the pullover style of bra. With thick elasticized fabrics, it can be difficult to pull this style on (especially if you’re not flexible or have ample bosoms to cover). What’s more: You don’t want to stretch these bras excessively as that will lessen their support.
However, the pullover style of sports bra isn’t the only style. And the challenges of getting into and out of sports bras can be greatly reduced by choosing a different style than the pullover style. Let’s look at the different styles of sports bras.

Different Types of Sports Bra Support

There are (high level) three styles that offer different sport bra support:

1. Compression

Compression bras focus on doing exactly that - compressing your boobs against your chest wall, so they lie as flat as possible against your body. By compressing you, they minimize movement and bounce.

However, compression bras do not have cups built in for each breast and can also cause an appearance of “uni-boob”. Many women won’t be bothered by this, but others will want to preserve their breast shape even when working out.

2. Encapsulation

Encapsulation bras do have cups that surround and shape each breast. There is generally no compression with these bras, which makes them ideal for low impact activities.

Because each breast is “cupped”, encapsulation bras do a good job preserving your natural body shape.

3. Encapsulation-Compression

Don’t want to choose? You don’t have to. There are bras that do both! These bras usually have an inner layer that provides cupped support and an outer layer or band of material that compresses your boobs against the chest wall.

These bras provide the best-of-both-worlds in terms of both appearance and support and can be good for high impact levels of exercise and all sizes of chest.

Other Sports Bra Features to Consider

In addition to compression or encapsulation as types of bras, there are other features that provide more options for you. Depending on your size, style and exercise impact level, some of these features may be more important than others.

  • Adjustable straps: Adjustable straps allow you to lengthen or shorten straps depending on your torso size and shape. For larger bust sizes (C cup and above), adjustable straps are more important as more support is required.
  • Strap style: As sports bras have become more fashion-forward (and are often worn revealed, or even without tops), different styles of straps have emerged. There’s the traditional tank top style (often a pullover bra). There are also racerback—if you experience slipping shoulder straps a lot, you may love this style. There are also crisscross straps that make a bigger style statement.
  • Underwire: As with regular bras, sports bras come with and without underwire. While underwire is often considered to offer more support, it can also be uncomfortable for many women. Underwire bras are also more likely to require handwashing. With many technical fabrics and designs on the market, underwire is a personal choice rather than a support necessity.
  • Moisture wicking fabrics: In addition to providing you with ample support, a bra’s job is also to withstand whatever activity you throw at it. Sweating is a natural by-product of activity but boob sweat can also cause irritation and chafing. Moisture-wicking fabrics will help keep you dry as you work out.

Putting it On: Different Styles / Types of Closures

There are already a lot of different variables to consider, so it starts to become clear that the question of “how to put on a sports bra” isn’t a straightforward or easy one. 

When it comes to getting a sports bra on and off, the biggest factor will be the different types of closures it has, or whether it has closures at all...

Pullover Bra 

A pullover bra has no closures. It can have a tank top, racerback or crisscross style of strap, but there is only one way you can put it on: Over your head, arms through the holes.

This is the style of bra that some women struggle with. It has even become a butt of jokes, including warnings to remove glasses before attempting to put on or remove. While some of these exaggerate the challenge for humor’s sake, it can take a bit of practice (and flexibility) to gracefully get in and out of pullover bras. 

Follow these steps (think of it like a pullover)

  • Grab the bra. Hold it upside down (by the band), cups facing you.
  • Stretch the brand slightly and slide the arms into the armholes, bringing the band to your elbows.
  • Now whisk the bra above your head and stretch your arms so the bra slips to your shoulders. The bra will be “stuck” above your bust now.
  • Using both hands, shimmy the bra over your breasts and back. It’s now on!

Once the bra is on and covering both breasts, make adjustments before hitting the gym:

  • Lean forward and massage your breasts into place
  • Tighten (or loosen) any adjustable straps to ensure they’re snug but not too tight.

If you don’t want to go through the contortions that sometimes seem necessary with pullover bras, consider one of the following...

Front Closure 

Front closure bras do exactly that: They close at the front, often with a zipper or series of hooks.

Putting on a front closure sports bra is easier than a pullover bra, but may still require a little practice. Basically: 

  • Put your arms through the holes, like you would a vest. 
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so they are tight but not too tight.
  • Pull the front two sides to close, again like you would a vest or jacket.
  • You may need to squeeze or physically lift your breasts into place to get the closure secure.
  • Once the bra is fastened, you can make adjustments by bending forward and fine-tuning the adjustable straps.

Back Hook Closure 

Back closure bras work the same way most everyday bras do, so there will be the least amount of mystery about how to put these on.

That said, because of the thickness and volume of material on sports bras, you may find getting in and out of a back closure sports bra a tiny bit more challenging than your everyday bra. 

Never fear: The process is just the same... Arms through straps and then fasten at the back. For some racerback styles there may be an additional clasp or hook at the top of the racerback. As always, make adjustments to ensure the sports bra is snug, but comfortable.

Notes on Maintaining Your Sports Bra

Once you’ve found the right sports bra for your size, shape and activity level, you’ll want to take care of it. Some tips:

  • Wash after every wear or use: Because your bra absorbs a lot of sweat, wash it between every wear or use. This will ensure sweat and body oils don’t cause elastic to break down.
  • Keep a few in rotation: Let your bas rest between each wear by keeping a few in rotation.
  • Get measured regularly: Just as with regular bras, you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing the right size. If your body undergoes changes, such as weight or muscle gain or loss, get measured again.
  • Replace when it's time: Look out for any sign that it's time to replace your bra, such as stretched straps or tears in the elastic.