Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Great Bra Review - Does what it says on the tin!

Now, I write this not just as a desperate attempt to get yet more people to click on this blog in search for a sports bra... but as a show of real desperation. Desperation at the lack of information out there; at the lack of reviews from women of different sizes; at the fact that the same bras keep getting great reviews. I’ve tried them, and I’m not convinced.

So many of these tests say that ‘the bra’ reduces movement by 40% ... or similar. These tests are done on the difference between a naked bra tester, and a tester with the sports bra on. No shit this makes a difference.

What I’m looking for is a bit more than that. I wear a bra all the time. I have ordinary every day bras which keep the boobs pointing the the right direction (mostly) and give me a nice(r) shape under my clothes. They stop me from hurting and make me more confident ... but running in these bras is a no-no. I have to wrap my arms across my chest and hold them in place. What I’m looking for here is a SPORTS BRA. This should be, in my opinion, DRAMATICALLY more supportive than my everyday bras (which are underwired and mostly from M&S should anyone care).

Over the last 3 years I’ve tried to find the perfect sports bra. And I’ve failed. But along the way I found some pretty good, and some pretty bad ones.

All of the comments relate to my boobs and how the bras have worked for me; it also relates to how these bras work for a DISTANCE RUNNER, lots of the problems with bras (apart from basic support issues) occur because you’re really using them for hours of high impact exercise. I’m sure almost everything I review would do pretty well for a quick trip down the gym; or a short jog, or any variety of low/middle impact exercise.

When I started running I was a 40D, now I’d wear a 37 C1/2 (in an ideal world)... but generally have to make do with a 36 or 38 C depending on brand. I am always careful to wear the size most fitting and appropriate at the time. Please remember if you do lose weight, or just boobage, though exercise you really will need a new bra, as irritating and expensive as that is.

This list is not designed to be comprehensive. I can only wear what fits me. So if you’ve got less than a C cup many of these bras will not be available in your size. (But there are loads of other great bras out there that will probably help you; and you’ll have far more choice than than your larger friends!) With that in mind, I’ve listed the sizes that all the bras come in so you can quickly tell if it’s even worth reading a section.

I am aware of the great bra sites now available and tend to buy from:
But I have also used: and
No prices are listed as they are subject to change/special offer.

Other retailers are available but very sadly most shops, and running shops in particular, tend to stock very few brands so you never get to try them all on and see what really works for you. You try whatever they have and the least worst, or most readily available, is often the most bought.

That said, the most popular bras do tend to be popular for a reason. With that in mind I have trawled review sites and tried to find most of the best rated bras (for my size and support level) to give them a personal work out.

How the scoring works:
COMFORT this is out of 10 as without comfort a lot of the rest is irrelevant.
ADJUSTABILITY this is out of 5 as the fine tuning helps, but does not make/break the bra
APPEARANCE this is out of 5. A great looking bra is a fine thing, and an ugly bra might languish in a drawer for considerably longer. But it doesn’t affect how they ‘work’.
BOUNCE CONTROL this is out of 20. The only bit that really, really, matters.
All of the bras listed are designed to be top-level control for high impact and larger boobs.
Total score is out of 40.

I haven’t given scores for washability as not all of my bras have been put trough the same rigours. I was them all the same way (30 C cotton wash, fast spin, net bag if they’ve got catches and straps, air dry) and if they can’t withstand my gentle treatment they don’t deserve to be bought.

I’ve tried lots of the main bras, and even if they didn’t work for me I’ve listed them; as this gives a truer comparison for the ones that did work!

Enell - sizes 32C - 52E (but check their sizing table!)
Now I am aware that this bra is meant to be the bra to end all bras. And I don’t have one. The price and sizing have put me off, as has how large it is. I get hot enough without a massive layer of elastic holding me together. I’m prepared to change my mind, if anyone can tell me if it will fit I’d be delighted. It seems to be designed for ladies a little larger of boob, than me. And if you’re a C cup they’d quite like you be a 34”....
I’m prepared to be convinced and it will be my next purchase!

Anita High Control Sports Bra 5521 available in 32A - 40G
Initially ordered this as it was GMTV Best Bra Spring 2008
Sent this straight back as it did not support in any way as far as me and my boobs were concerned. Flimsy.

Thusane Force 3 Sport Bra with Top Strap available in 32B - 40E
Another sad disappointment. Really liked the design and idea of this bra but no support for me. Flimsy.

Triumph Tri-Action Extreme - available in 32B - 40E
This is a bra which has had incredible reviews (given 10/10 by The Daily Mail September 2007) and has flown off the shelves. I’ve spoken about it before as I was pretty disgusted when I received mine. Very flimsy, no support at all and was sent straight back. Two boobs, like a traditional bra. Less supportive than my ordinary bras!
Comfort 8/10 - but it was so soft it was useless
Adjustability 3/5 - promises but does not deliver
Appearance 3/5 - quite sporty but I don’t like white as it goes grey in the wash (personal thing) Too bra like for outerwear.
Support 5/20
Total: 19/40

Marks and Spencer Underwired High Impact Sports Bra (code 8465580) - sizes 32A - 2G
Works well for what it is. I find the cups a bit low cut and more like an ordinary bra. Some will love this look, others will find it a bit revealing and lacking in full boob support. Nice straps, quite wide and comfy - but I find this a nice bra to wear as everyday wear rather than a sports bra. It just doesn’t give enough support to go for a run.
Comfort 6/10
Adjustbility 4/5
Appearance 4/5 - for a bra it’s got some nice detailing and feels quite sleek and sporty
Support 13/20
Total: 27/40

Pure Lime Compression Bra 098 - available in 28C - 40G
Well, I kept it. Which is a start. Works fine but nothing special. Reduces bounce a bit but not stunningly comfortable, or stunningly supportive. Feels too soft, with too little structure. Looks v different in real life to the way it does in images. A half decent bra if you’re looking for compression and two boobs simultaneously, quite a difficult combo to pull off.
Comfort 7/10
Adjustability 3/5 - shoulder straps aren't variable enough for my short back
Appearance 3/5 - quite big above the boobs so wouldn’t work well with a lower cut sports top
Support 14/20
Total - 27/40

Berlie Shock Absorber B4490 - available in 28A - 40HH
Now this bra is meant to be the same support level as the one listed below. It’s not. I wear it for hill walking. That’s W.A.L.K.I.N.G. Oh yes. It looks lovely and I kept it as it has a place in my heart for camping and walking trips - but it is not a high level support bra. Not for my boobs. Washes well. Might be able to go smaller than usual round the back.. Crop top in compression style, but with some extra internal strapping to give individual boob support.
Comfort 8/10 -just pop it on and away you go. Although the racer back style sits differently on the neck from other bras, this does take some getting used to.
Adjustability 2/5 - barely adjustable and what it does is laughable. The tiny amount of alteration made no difference to me.
Appearance 5/5 I think these bras rock socks. Crop top style but with back fastening so you can take them off without contortions. Great colour options. Damn cute. Outerwear if you think you have the body (I don’t).
Support 12/10
Total: 27/40

Panache High Impact - theoretically available in 30B - 40FF
This Bra is now end of line... so beware if you fall in love with it, multiple order NOW.
This thing does support, initially. But to get that support I have to withstand some fat showing over the top of the sides; to be tight enough there isn’t enough fabric at the sides. I would therefore not wear this bra for a longer run as I’m pretty damn sure it would rub (I’ve not tested this, but why would I...). It’s underwired which does help the support, but also is a bit weird and unforgiving in a sports bra. Should give you the two-boob look but really it’s just a lumpy breast-shelf. I thought it felt great and supportive when I put it on, but looking in the gym mirror as I ran was another story. Movement was very obvious, and felt like a jerk up and a massive drop... don't know why. There was also still side-to-side movement too. A real disappointment.
Also really hard to put on. It has a little elastic/fabric tube section that covers the hook and eye at the back so they don’t rub (great idea)... but trying to get it on, and the bra on, I find a bit too fiddly; needed help the first few times. I can also imagine losing the little tube section really easily at the gym. Think it comes up ever so slightly small in the size dept.
Comfort 6/10
Adjustability 3/5 - small to start with, so the back hooks just give you breathing room.
Appearance 3/5 Pretty basic a cross between a crop top style and a bra style. Like the fact it comes in plain black. Could *just* get away with it as outerwear, if you’re hot, or hot and brave.
Support 15/20 Movement up and down in a tightly controlled way, but nothing side to side.
Total score: 27/40

Berlie Shock Absorber B109 - available in 30D - 40H
Now this bra saw me through all of my initial running. I had it in the cupboard and it just kept going. It did a fine job until I ran my first half marathon. Then it took chunks out of my back leaving me still scared 3 years later. It has not been forgiven.
However it does wash well, particularly now you can get it in colours. Elastic will quickly tell you when the bra has had enough. If it frays, bin it! Accurate sizing. Individual cups give great madonna-esque boobs if you don’t want your own personal breast-shelf.
Comfort 5/10 - never truly great and too many hard edges on everything.
Adjustability 4/5 - straps and 3 hooks at the back.
Appearance 2/5 - industrial looking enough to scare the horses. Not outerwear.
Support 17/20
Total: 28/40

Champion Action Shape (Cotton) -omg it’s been discontinued (sizes were as below). Find it where you can!
My other half might just be in love with this bra. They wear it all the time and find the lack of underwire and the general shape comfy for everyday wear, sport and real life. It’s a crop top compression style with a small nod towards the notion of having ‘two boobs’ but mostly it makes a breast block. The cotton version is MUCH more supportive than the Supplex. But it is also hotter and holds sweat making it a bit of a chaffer. The shoulder straps being the biggest problem. They adjust with thick velcro which doesn’t shift and keeps them in place; but the edges of that velcro will tear strips off you. I warn you now.
However, it does support quite well and is a good crop top style, but is put on like a normal bra. Now, there is another little irritation with this bra. The back strap where the hook and eyes are has an extra long ‘tail’ which goes further across and is fastened with a little popper (choice of 3, like the back hooks) this popper ALWAYS comes off. On every one of these we’ve owned (about 6-8 bras in total). It does give extra support, but then it breaks. Washes like a champion, has even survived the dryer on occasion.
Comfort 6/10 - the chaffing can’t be ignored, but depends on your activity.
Adjustability 5/5 - really adjustable straps, much larger range of adjustment.
Appearance 3/5 the cotton doesn’t make it very sexy. Basic, boxy, cottony crop top with bra back.
Support 16/20
Total: 30/40

Champion Action Shape (Cool Max/Supplex) - available in 32 C/D - 48 D/E
As above really but smoother in appearance and more wicking. But less supportive ... also less likely to chafe as narrower straps with ordinary adjustment not velcro. Washes well enough, but elastic starts to shrivel slightly more quickly than I’d like.
Comfort 7/10
Adjustability 4/5
Appearance 4/5
Support 14/20
Total: 29/40

Sportjock SuperSport Bra in Supplex - available in 28C - 44F
Now I am biased about this bra so I’ll list the negatives first.
Has no adjustment at all. Works for me and I have a very short back. I just pull the back down so it sits lower, it doesn’t ride up! But some people might find this uncomfortable.
It is also occasionally almost impossible to take off when you’re hot and sweaty and knackered. I have to step into a changing cubicle to get it off as the chances of being trapped momentarily with it half way off are quite high.
However, it is supportive enough to please me and the most comfortable bra I’ve ever worn. You can forget you’re wearing it. I’ve run a marathon wearing this, and a few halfs and it never even gave me a moments thought about chaffing. I would not be without this bra DESPITE it not being the most supportive thing out there. Washes well and dries quickly. Have also washed it 100s of times and no signs of wear... although it does get a little less supportive over time.
Comfort 10/10
Adjustability 0/5
Appearance 5/5 - crop top in many colours definite outerwear potential
Support 15/20 - definite bounce still but I can still sprint without fear of pain or black eyes.
Total - 30/40

So overall I think the scores are pathetic. I’ve tried to be fair, but if the best I can find is 30/40 I think that demonstrates that the state of sports bras is quite dire.
I can’t try them all (much as I’d like to) and I would love to get my hands on some USA bras. I’ve heard that TitleNine are doing some very good things.
I’ll keep searching and I’ll add any new additions to the list. Damn manufacturers keep moving the goal posts. I did try the Nike super adjustable bra when it came out 2 years ago (with no success, despite trying 6 different sizes it just wouldn't fit appropriately) but it's no longer available. They have got some new ones out now though which I'm considering giving a go.

I would LOVE to hear any recommendations (please remember my size, I can’t try Bravissimo bras as they don’t make them in my size) and I’ll also happily post any other bra reviews from other runners. (Please: be a runner, and use the same scoring system as it helps to keep the comparisons more accurate, also state your bra size!)


Bra Queen said...

Good on you for taking the initiative! I get asked this question all the time. The shape of your breasts will determine which sports bra is best suited for you. I am a G Cup and I LOVE Enell and you don't get any hotter while you run. If you are smaller I like Shock Absorber however it does really depend on the individual. I wrote a post Sports Bras My Spring Day and myself are trying to review them however it is difficult to get the companies to jump on board as they can't control the outcome. But watch this space :)

MF said...

I'm a 38GG and currently loving my new Freya Active underwired sports bra (I'd check exactly what it's called, but work has now blocked 'lingerie' sites so I can't go on Bravissimo or Less Bounce to checck). It does eat my back a little, but it also stops my boobs from hurting when I run, so it's a good compromise from the last one I had (which chewed up the bit of skin above my boobs and gave little support, I think it was a Triumph, but it was old so probably not made anymore).
The Freya also kind of looks like a regular bra so doesn't give you monoboob (very rare with bigger boobs), but they also do not move independantly of each other (which normal bras would do). It looking like a regular bra is great for wearing it to work prior to going to the gym. It no doubt has its faults, but it's working for me so far! Would be interested in an Enell, if they weren't so terrifying to look at (and if they looked better under clothes)! ;o)