It doesn't take a professional athlete to see how a bad sports bra can make working out uncomfortable. Without a supportive one that fits just right, you either won't work out or won't enjoy it.
No matter what cup size you're working with, the trick is to figure out if your bra fits correctly before you're in a compromising position, i.e., bouncing all over or completely suffocating yourself. So look out for these subtle signs that you're wearing the wrong sports bra, and use these tips to find the perfect one for your pair:
1. It's not as comfortable as your everyday bra.
Because physical activity subjects your breasts to stress that can cause breast tissue to stretch out over time, sports bra fit is as important—or even more important—than the fit of your everyday bra, says Jenny Altman, style and fit expert at ILOVEAGOOD.com.
2. It's the same one you wore to work.
Everyday underwire bras might lift and separate your breasts throughout the day, but they won't provide the support you need at the gym. It could have something to do with the fact that breasts tend to move in a figure eight shape when you work out, says Nike's Vice President of Global Design, Julie Igarashi, who recently spent more than 600 hours testing female athletes in motion to develop Nike's new Pro Revival bra.
3. It's more than six months old.
Just like all bras, sports bras stretch out over time. It's why they need to be replaced after four to six months, depending on your frequency of wear and quality of care. To extend the life of your sports bras, treat them like Fancy Lingerie: hand wash (Try it while you shower!) and hang dry. If you must use a washing machine, toss them in a lingerie bag for extra protection. And never put them in the dryer, which can cause shrinkage, disintegrate the fabric, stretch out the shape, and ruin the underwire. "It's suicide," Altman says.
4. The band rides up in the back, or you're using the tightest hook.
It's a telltale sign that the bra is either too large or stretched out, which means it won't provide proper support—even if the straps are intact. (Because the bra band, not the straps, does most of the work, your band is your bestie when it comes to support.) The band should fit snuggly, but not painfully.
5. The straps dig in to your skin.
While strap style (i.e., racerback or wide-set straps) is a personal preference, straps should never, ever hurt. If they do cause pain, it's because the band isn't offering enough support.
There's a reason why some sports bras have ruching or separate cups: Separating your breasts allows air to circulate and encapsulates each breast for extra support that benefits every cup size.
7. Your nips are visible.
Altman recommends sports bras with light molding in the cups—even for small-breasted women. While molding has nothing to do with size or support, it makes for a smoother, rounder, and all-around more flattering shape.
8. You're wearing the same bra to yoga that you wear when you run.
It's like wearing a ballet slipper to run a marathon. A sports bra for yoga or ballet can be a light, seamless number, but you'll want a more supportive one (i.e., thicker, cushioned straps, molded cups, and even underwire) for running and other rigorous activities.
9. You're wearing two of them.
Technology is a beautiful thing: Nowadays, many manufacturers understand the trials and tribulations of big-breasted women, and offer appropriate bras. "The technical features are amazing, and the level of support is life-changing," Altman says. Instead of double-bagging, look for a bra sold by cup size that has wider straps, a zip or clasp in the front, and cups that fully encapsulate each breast.
10. It 's WAY too cheap.
Inexpensive pullover bras with no wire or shaping are inherently less comfortable, less supportive, and less flattering than bras that cost their weight in fabric, Altman says.
11. You're stuck in it.
In the dressing room, a sports bra should come off as easily as it goes on. If you struggle to remove it when you're clean and dry, think about how uncomfortable you'll be when you're wet and sweaty and want out ASAP.
12. Your breasts hurt after you work out in it.
Jiggle = breast pain = wrong bra.
13. Your cleavage puts most push-up bras to shame.
If your breasts are spilling out of your cups, the cups are too small.
14. It's made of cotton.
Special technical fabrics are designed to support the breast and wick away moisture, while cotton just stretches out and sops up sweat. (Gross.) For maximum breathability, seek out sweat-wicking fabric with air holes, ideally under the breast and across the back.
15. Your breasts hit your chin when you jump.
Before buying any sports bra, do a few high jumps. Run around a little in the fitting room. If your breasts go flying, next.
16. There's spillage when you bend over.
Do a downward facing dog in the dressing room. If it ends in a nip slip, the bra isn't for you.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.