Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
I was in a hurry. I had a day to unpack from one trip, do my laundry, and pack for the next trip. As I was gathering a bunch of running bras, I was frustrated that I had to take the time to put them back together. Who thought removable pads were a good idea?!
Usually I take those pads right out after buying a new bra. They pile up in the closet and I lament the waste. Do I toss them in the trash so they can live forever in a landfill? Do I repurpose them somehow? Why do they exist in the first place?
As any angry woman does in 2021, I tweeted about it. And I quickly realized I was not the only one who had so many questions (and opinions) about padded running bras. It seemed like everybody had something to say—even men.
“As a husband who does the laundry, I’ve never understood why they are removable. Does anyone ever take them out on purpose? Would someone ever need to adjust the pad? So many questions…” replied Jonathan Kisch.
I decided to investigate. Actually, I decided to call my friends at Brooks to find out why on earth the entire athletic industry has conspired against all people who wear bras. Julianne Ruckman, senior manager of apparel/run bra product line management, gave me an education on all the reasons why running bras with removable pads exist. Truly, I had no idea.
Why Sports Bras Have Removable Pads
It turns out there are four very good reasons manufacturers still include removable pads in their bras.
1. The research says enough of the market wants running bras with removable pads.
My anecdotal evidence doesn’t hold up to the focus groups and other evidence that the industry relies on to create product lines. I mean, go figure—we shouldn’t rely on Twitter to give us the complete picture. Different size women (who run different mileage) want different features when it comes to their bras—different band widths, different cups and compression, different padding.
“There are so many parts of a bra that are preference driven,” Ruckman said. “We have 10 different bras in our product line—out of those 10, we have two that have removable cups…when you think about 20 percent of our line having removable cups, that statistic for us seems pretty low, but it’s also very aligned to the women’s preference on removable cups.”
2. Women choose bras with removable cups because their needs change from day to day.
The biggest reason women choose to use the pad or not? The weather. On a hot day, the pads stay home. On a colder day? They go back in the bra to cover the nipples (we recognize the “free the nipple” movement, too, but we aren’t all there yet).
“We have lovely triggers in our bodies and hormones that change; nips showing when it’s cooler out or after you’re sitting in your sweat after a run,” Ruckman said. “Most women who wanted coverage talked about not wanting padding or extra bulk, but a reduction of attention by not having their nipples showing.”
Most of us grew up thinking of “padded bras” as devices to make our boobs look bigger, but that’s not actually why sports apparel makers started producing padded running bras.
“When it comes to sport, a lot of women related padding to a sense of safety and less attention being drawn to them,” Ruckman said.
3. It’s still true that we get frustrated with the removable pads on laundry day.
The makers of these bras know that the design isn’t flawless.
“Women ultimately highly dislike removable cups because they fold up, they get lost in the wash, they can’t keep track of one—it’s like the ‘Lost Sock Monster,’” Ruckman said.
And while the nipples might be covered, depending on the size and tissue makeup of your breasts, the removable pad creates other uncomfortable seam lines showing through, like rings or triangles.
“In addition, the women who hate them also say getting the cups in and out is a high point of frustration,” she said.
So, if you’re purchasing a bra with removable pads, look for one that has a big enough opening to make it easier to assemble, but also designed to keep them in place during the wash. Brooks, for example, has started manufacturing a foldover opening and tested the washing process to see how it holds up. It’s not a perfect design, but the tests revealed it worked better than most.
“How you wash your bras, what else is in the load, and what cycle you’re using will all change the outcome,” Ruckman said.
4. We’re all different.
A lot of people have two different sized breasts, and having the option to pad one side might make a runner more comfortable.
“We haven’t ever met a woman whose boobs are perfectly aligned,” she said. “Some women want to smooth out their shape, so they’ll use them on one side.”
Also, our breast size often changes depending on the time of the month.
“Removing that cup can give you added capacity when your natural volume is increasing,” Ruckman said.
So there you have it. Those removable pads serve a purpose in the running world after all. And if you don’t find use for them as part of your gear lineup, according to my Twitter followers, you can use them to wash windows or dishes, or give them to your friend who uses them, but has inevitably lost half of hers in the laundry.
If you’d rather just buy a running bra with no removable pads? Try these.
Sports Bras Without Removable Pads
If you, like us, are baffled by something that seems to be more trouble than its worth, shop these 10 running bras that boast no removable bra pads and no extra stress on laundry day.
Wacoal Simone Underwire Sports Bra | starting at $48
This unpadded underwire option is great for cups sized D above. It’s constructed with a moisture-wicking two-ply fabric that will hold you in place, plus an inner sling and thick straps set closer together in the back that lend more support.
Nike FE/NOM Flyknit High Support Non-Padded Sports Bra| $80
Using the brand’s iconic Flyknit technology, this style has molded cups providing high stretch and compression for a secure, body-hugging fit. Seamless design, soft fabric, and minimal bounce will keep your eyes focused on the road ahead and not on your chest.
ALWRLD Alrn Mid Support Crop Bra | $58
Made from a breathable, quick-drying material that is smooth to the touch, this racerback has the ideal amount of compression and a supportive length. A moisture-absorbing elastic under the bust is another feature that will keep your boobs dry and comfortable for the duration of your activity. Sustainably made, with nylon made from recycled fishing nets and a process that uses less water, will make you feel good about this purchase.
Under Armour Women’s Armour Mid Keyhole Sports Bra | $28
This classic pullover racerback style allows your arms to have a full range of motion. Multiple features will keep your body cool and dry: the “heat gear” technology that pulls sweat away from the skin, the lightweight material that helps regulate your body temp, and the keyhole in the back.
Brooks Dare Underwire Bra | $70
Finding a sports bra when you’re a runner with anything larger than a C cup can be tricky, but this is one of the tops. Created specifically for runners, the molded cups on this underwire were biomechanically tested and made to encapsulate each breast. Perforation is strategically placed to keep you cool and dry, while adjustable straps allow for a personalized fit that will hold you in.
Sweaty Betty Stamina Workout Bra | $40
This removable bra pad–less pick is unstructured yet completely supportive, thanks to compression fabric and a seamless design that will hug your body without causing chafing. It’s also moisture-wicking and has a four-way stretch to keep you comfortable. Under the boobs, there is a band for support and perforated mesh holes to help with the airflow. The beloved style comes in a range of colors so you can express whatever statement you’d like.
Reebok PureMove Bra Motion Sense | $65
Another standout, the Pure Move, has a second-skin feel and a minimalist design. A molded panel along the front helps to lift without adding volume. Smooth seaming will lie flat and won’t be bulky under tops. The fabric is treated with Motion Sense technology that firms up during high-intensity activities. Great for larger busts, this one can accommodate up to an F cup, thanks to adjustable, convertible straps.
Yvette Power Back Sports Bra | $32
Uniboob strikes often with some sports bras. The Power Back bra has more of a feminine cut, and the style is actually cute and stylish. Run and jump all you want, and the molded cups will keep your breast tissues supported and in place. Double straps will apply less stress on the shoulders and look flattering across your back while lifting you. Mesh along the middle with Coolmax technology helps to keep you dry and cool.
Tracksmith Run Bra | $58
Looking for a new compression style without removable cups? The Run Bra from Tracksmith holds the breasts tightly against the body thanks to a robust fabric with a wide elastic wool band along the bottom. Sleek-feeling Italian silk is double layered to provide some coverage. Effortless feel and look whether you wear under a tank or all by itself.
Knix Catalyst Sports Bra | $89 (currently on sale for $72)
As a high-impact support bra, the Catalyst is a stellar option. Molded cups won’t add bulk and help maintain a more natural appearance. It also provides individual breast support and drastically reduces any bouncing. Thanks to a normal bra design (not pullover), this is easy to take on and off and won’t be a struggle once you are sweaty.