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If you’ve never taken a Barry’s Bootcamp class, there are a few things you should know: It’s totally OK to adjust the suggested weights to suit your fitness level, you'll definitely want to bring a water bottle and when you run on the treadmill you will suddenly be forced to observe exactly how supportive (or in my case, unsupportive) your sports bra is through the large mirror placed a foot away.

Holy hell, I desperately need new sports bras, was the only thing I could think of as I left my first class. Followed shortly by, Well, duh, Abby, you’re wearing a sports bra you bought freshman year of college almost TEN YEARS AGO. Needless to say, ten years is definitely too long to own most items of clothing, let alone a bra you profusely sweat in and push the limits of the fabric each time you wear it. But it left me wondering, how often should we be replacing our sports bras? 

We asked the experts, Mollie Barr, project manager for women’s studio apparel and sports bras at New Balance, and Julianne Ruckman, product line manager for women’s apparel and bras at Brooks Running. And the answer may shock and terrify you.

woman running in a sports bra
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First things first, how often should we be replacing our sports bras? Short answer: Every six to 12 months. "Generally, we recommend that a sports bra should not celebrate a birthday," says Ruckman, but of course it depends on the type of exercise you're doing and how often. Training for and running a marathon will wear down a bra faster than a quick jog or yoga, and unfortunately the rate at which your sports bras lose effectiveness is also directly related to how big your boobs are.

How can we tell if our bras are past their prime? Look out for worn labels and bottom bands and straps that are no longer providing tension for support. "An easy test is to tug on the bottom band. Little to no resistance means your bra is ready for retirement," Barr explains.

Other than being less supportive, are there any risks to working out in an expired sports bra? While the primary negative effect is simply discomfort, continued use can actually damage the breast tissue. "During a workout your breast tissue has to withstand a great deal of movement and impact," says Ruckman. "In fact, when a woman runs, her breast tissue moves in a figure eight motion. Without the right level of support, this movement can lead to discomfort and over time could lead to the breakdown of breast tissue," which in turn can mean stretching and sagging. Not exactly the look most of us are going for.

woman working out in a sports bra
Getty Images

Lesson learned. Now, how can we make sure we're getting a sports bra that will fit our needs? Choosing the right sports bra depends on two important factors, your body and your workout. As Barr explains, "Everyone's breast tissue is different. Those with firmer breast tissue might be able to work out with minimal support and experience little to no movement. Others (regardless of cup size) might need more support." And if you're doing a medium or high impact workout (like running, boxing, HIIT or spinning), you'll automatically require a higher level of support than someone doing a low impact workout (like yoga, barre or weight training).

What about making sure we choose to right size and fit? Lucky for us, the advice from Barr and Ruckman can be best summed up with a neat four-point checklist.

1. Start with the bottom band. Because this is the foundation of a sports bra's support, it's crucial that the bottom band lay straight and secure. It shouldn't ride up anywhere, nor should it be easy to move around.

2. Next, look at the cups. There should be zero spillage or gaping, and if the bra has an underwire, it should evenly surround each breast without any pinching or prodding.

3. Adjust the straps. There should be some tension that keeps the straps in place and offers additional support, but they definitely shouldn't be digging in (or sliding off, for that matter). If the straps can't be adjusted and aren't sitting right, then that style bra probably isn't best for your body shape and rather than try another size, you should look for one in a different cut.

4. Now jump! You should be able to jump up and down in the fitting room with little to no movement.

Any last words of wisdom before we go out to replenish our collection? "Skip the dryer! Excessive heat will break down the fabric and shorten your bra’s glory days," says Barr. You can also use a sportswear specific laundry detergent that more effectively deals with bacteria from sweat to increase the longevity of your bras. As for how many sports bras you should have in your drawer, "a general rule of thumb that we like to follow is that you should have at least three sports bras you love, within your rotation," adds Ruckman.

Sounds like it's time to treat your girls to something new (and actually supportive). Shop some of our favorite sports-bra styles below.

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