Can you rely on a budget sports bra?

sports bra
What should you look for when considering the price of sports bras? (Image credit: Getty Images)

A sports bra is an essential piece of women's sportwear, particularly for high impact activities such as running, and gym-based sessions like circuit training and body pump. Many women also look for a quality supportive bra for lower-impact sports, too, including hiking and cycling. We are focusing on sports bras for runners in this article since running is the activity that usually requires the most support for the chest.

The price range in our best sports bra for running starts at of $40 for the Gymshark Speed Sports Bra and rises to $108 for the Lululemon Enlite Bra Zip Front Bra, but there are lots of great options towards the lower end of that bracket. Some of our recommendations include the Adidas Don’t Rest Badge of Sport Glam-On Bra at $45, and the BAM Bamboo Flexa Seamless Compression Crop Top at $51.

So what exactly do you get for your money, and is it worth splashing out on a more expensive sports bra? Let's take a look...

Woman wearing sports bra under lightweight jacket

A sports bra needs to do more than look good (Image credit: Getty Images)

Do I need a sports bra?

Whatever your chest size, a good quality sports bra for running is vital because without adequate support your breasts will bounce, both up and down and sideways. This bounce has the potential to irreparably stretch the Cooper’s ligaments (the ligaments that support breast uplift), as well as cause breast skin strains and longer-term sagging.

It has also been found that breast movement can negatively affect athletic performance, while the right sports bra can improve performance

In summary, researchers from the University of Portsmouth discovered that exercise feels harder when breasts are not properly supported; physical fatigue can be reached sooner due to increased upper body movement; and stride length may be reduced by up to 4cm when adequate breast support is not achieved by a sports bra.  

In addition, a chest that bounces while you run is annoying for many women, as well as being uncomfortable and painful.

The aim of a sports bra is to minimize the bounce as much as possible, but without restricting your overall movement or causing discomfort.

Woman wearing tank top with sports bra

Good breast support is vital for all runners (Image credit: Getty Images)

What makes sports bras so expensive?

There are different types of sports bra and broadly speaking they can be split into low, medium, and high impact designs. Runners are advised to wear high-impact sports bras, and these are usually the most expensive. 

The reasons for higher costs for some sports bras could be that the garments require more research and design, as well as high quality materials. Putting it another way, if a sports bra is to be used for low impact sports it doesn’t need to be so robust and supportive but one that is required to keep the chest in place during high impact sports will need to be designed with more supportive fabric and features.

The cost of some sports bras also tends to rise if the garment is specifically made for larger chested women. As well as requiring more fabric, the structure and support will be increased to reduce the bounce of the larger chest. 

The size range of some sports bras may increase the price of the product. A company that makes a greater range of sizes may increase the cost to accommodate the cost of creating this choice. 

The price of a sports bra can also be influenced by the features. Some sports bras include sophisticated strapping, fabrics that manage the moisture of sweat, anti-chafing designs,  in-cup pads, under-wiring and different clasps and fastenings etc. A sports bra that looks good enough to wear as a standalone crop top, as well as a sports bra, or is sold in a range of colours and patterned prints, rather than standard black or white, might also be more pricey. 

Another factor of pricing is the brand. Some brands with a reputation for making good quality and recommend products will sometimes command higher prices. If you think about it, these brands will normally have spent more money on research and development and this will increase the price of the sports bra. Some brands simply charge more and it’s up t the consumer to decide if that is what they want to pay.

However, there are still good quality sports bras that can be bought with a lower price tag. These bras might not be as durable as others and so you will probably end up needing to buy a new bra sooner, which, of course, pushes up the price of purchasing sports bras for years of running.

Woman wearing sports bra and headphones

Sports bras should be quick drying if possible (Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you even need an expensive sports bra for your activities?

Sometimes, to get the best fit, comfort and adequate support for your chosen activity, you might need to pay more for a sports bra. We are all different and what fits one wearer comfortably might not fit another person at all. 

The features that most women look for include how easy the sports bra is to get on and off (some sports bras can be incredibly difficult to get on), comfort, support, colours and the look when wearing the bra. Sports bras that create a “mono boob” are not favoured by some women and they tend to prefer for sports bras that offer a more flattering look when worn under a sports top. 

Let’s take a look at the highest scores in the Advnture best sports bra guide. The most expensive at $108 is the Lululemon Enlite Bra Zip Front, which was also a highest score of five stars. The tester gave the bra points for being easy to get on and off; excellent stay-put support; and a flattering and comfortable cut. However, on the downside, the bra straps tended to hold some damp from sweat but the reviewer concluded: “While the price tag is high, you can be confident of getting a lot of miles out this high-quality, super-wearable bra.”

The next most expensive in the review round-up is the Enell Sport High Impact Bra at $75, which received four stars. It is rated the best bra in the guide for larger breasts. The reviewer gave positive comments including, very comfy, extremely supportive, robust, front opening and breast-feeding compatible. The negatives for the reviewer are: high price, heavy and warm, difficult to get on and not adjustable. She also commented that the sizing can be confusing.

Another five-star rated sports bra is the Under Armour Infinity High Bra, with a price of $50. The reviewer gave the bra a great write up and, in particular, pointed to the use of lightweight materials, good breathability, the ease of getting on and off, plus adjustably.  

Woman wearing headphones and sports bra

Make sure there is very little bounce when running in a sports bra, whatever the price tag (Image credit: Getty Images)

Which brands can you recommend for budget sports bra? 

If you are looking for a sports bra at the cheap end but still with a good review score, there is The North Face Mountain Athletics Bra at £35, which scores 4.5 stars. Sold in sizes XS to XL, rather than standard bra cups sizes, the reviewer rated the garment as good value for money and noted excellent stay-put support; a flattering and comfortable fit; plus good moisture-wicking and fast drying materials. 

On the negative side, the bra was said to be a little hard to get on and off and because it is made of synthetic fabric it has a tendency to get smelly faster (products that use natural materials, such as merino or bamboo reduce  the possibility of the odour caused by sweat.)

The cheapest bra in the test is Gymshark Speed Sports Bra at $40, which scores four stars out of five. Plus points include high coverage, soft materials, handy storage and great value for money. However, there were also a couple of downsides, including the band feeling tight and the bra being difficult to conceal under tank tops and T-shirts.

It's also important to note that this  bra is better suited to medium-impact sports unless you are smaller chested, in which case it  should offer enough hold and and compression with minimal movement. This cheaper sports bra is rated as a best buy for smaller chests. 

The next cheapest is the Adidas Don’t Rest Badge of Sport Glam-On Bra at $45, which received a score of four and a half. It is rated for being well ventilated, quick drying and great value, although it loses marks for having some “rough materials”. The reviewer also noted that it felt more medium-support than high-support. The compression is  likely to offer varying degrees of comfort and support depending on your breast size.

The North Face Mountain Athletics Bra scored 4.5 stars, and is also priced at $45. The reviewer rated the sports bra for having excellent stay-put support, a flattering and comfortable fit, moisture-wicking and fast drying fabric and being good value for money. A couple of negatives include the synthetic fabric that gets smelly with sweat and the bra is no so easy to get on and off. 

Another budget buy in our review is the BAM Bamboo Flexa Seamless Compression Crop Top, priced at $51. It also earned a score of four and a half, although the reviewer suggests this bra is better for runners  who have a small or medium sized chest. Positives include a comfortable and seamless no-chafe fit, great support and a faltering look. However, this is a bra that is slow to dry if you get sweaty so you might end up a bit chilly at the end of your run.

Is it worth buying budget sports bra?

There are plenty of sports bras at the budget end of the review that also gain four or 4.5 stars out of a possible five. Two of the bras should be reserved for runners who have a smaller or medium-sized chest so these garments are not for larger breasted women. 

If you have a larger chest, it’s important to make sure the bra is well fitting and also highly supportive. But comfort is important, too. 

A sports bra must offer the right support to prevent discomfort while running and also to ensure you do not end up with stretched ligaments. This means that the price is not only about looks or brands but about protecting your body.

The best advice is to try on a sports bra and make sure it fits well and gives your breast proper support. There should be very little movement up and down or left and right when you jump or run.

More tips buying budget-friendly sports bras

Look for last season’s sports bras, which may be discounted in price.

While you might be attracted to the colour and patterned designs of a sports bra, when. It comes to price it might be the boring black or white serves you well at a lower cost.

Ignore the brands and buy according to fit and price.

Do a jump-bounce test when you try on a sports bra to make sure your breasts stay in place. 

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.