'Some bigger-chested women wear five sports bras to keep them down'

Eleanor Cardwell with a netball -

Cardwell has swapped from a 36E to a 34GG

After England’s semi-final exit at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham – and with a World Cup on the horizon – Eleanor Cardwell had reached a tipping point.

“I went to get all my sports bras out ready for England camp and they were all trashed,” she says. “I could just stretch them. They were terrible. I remember the first week, I had to wear them as I had no option. I remember holding my chest down, arms crossed and warming up, jogging and making these facial expressions. I was in loads of pain. I had flashbacks of what it was like for me at school, when you’re having to run for a bus in a normal bra.”

Cardwell flagged the issue to England Netball, but the bras the organisation provided did not offer the support she needed. So, she decided to take matters into her own hands: she started reviewing sports bras on her social media channels.

@eleanor_cardwell11 So here is my first review and to kick it off im trying the panache non wired sports bra (£40) that alot of you recommended to me. This bra is super comfy when I tried it on it had more of a structured cup so definitely get fitted as the more you fit the cup the better 👌 When training in the bra I loved how much coverage you have, there’s no cleavage and I could feel the bra going all the way up to my armpits. I wasn’t used to this but don’t think it’ll take long before I adjust and cant feel the bra near the armpits.As for the support when moving about doing netball movements I couldn’t feel an excessive amount of bouncing around as I said its comfortable and couldn’t feel it on my body. Watching the footage back you can see some movement but I think this is due to it having less of a compressive component to the bra and more structured cup. Personally I do prefer to have some compression to have everything closer to the body but I will definitely be wearing this bra at England camp next week knowing that I will have alot more support then my old bras 🙄 I think there’s always going to be some movement as otherwise you going to be in a straitjacket and unable to breathe. 🤷🏼‍♀️Let me know if you guys want or need anymore information. Hopefully I’ll be helping a few of you big boob ladies out there to find the best sports bra for you and all without needing to buy every single option out there. ❤FINALLY, if you feel comfortable and supported enough in your sports bra you’ll have the confidence to go out there and play some netball or hit the gym💗… most of us big boob girls have been through this journey and it can be tedious ive got you girls. 🥰#gifted #sportsbraproblems #sportsbra #sportsbrareview #panache ♬ original sound – Eleanor Jane Cardwel

“I messaged as many companies as I could, telling them what I was doing and why I was doing it – to help any women out there who have a similar issue to me who can’t find a sports bra that’s correct for them,” says Cardwell, who recently helped Adelaide Thunderbirds to their first Super Netball title in Australia. “Some bigger-chested women wear five sports bras and keep them down.”

Women with larger breasts face acute challenges when it comes to exercise and sport. Breasts can move as much as 14cm during exercise. Studies have shown that even women with an A cup will experience up to 4cm of movement, which can impact running mechanics that have been associated with increased risk of injury. For women with a D cup or larger, this can be problematic: research has found that women in this group do 37 per cent less exercise because of their breasts.

‘It was hard to find a bra that would be ok’

As someone who was extremely body conscious as a teenager and hated having to change for PE lessons, Cardwell was hesitant about wearing a sports bra on camera for her DIY clips.

“At school, I would be so embarrassed in front of everyone knowing that I have to wear a sports bra, where everyone else is just whacking a T-shirt on and they’re ready to go,” she says. “I remember just being really shy in the changing room and feeling uncomfortable and probably having a Primark bra on which didn’t fit me properly.”

But in her videos, Cardwell is unashamedly herself. There are a number of key questions she considers when trying on a sports bra. How breathable is the fabric? Does the cup offer adequate support? What does it cost?

“Growing up, it was so hard finding a good sports bra, especially one which was cheap enough to buy because, obviously, I didn’t have my own money,” says Cardwell. “My mum and dad were getting me up and down the country to play netball, getting me to training and I’d say we didn’t have a lot of money, so it was harder to find a cheap enough sports bra that would be OK to wear.”

The results of her videos, which have been viewed thousands of times on social media, have had far-reaching results. This year, after England beat Jamaica during their Quad Series at the Copper Box, Cardwell spotted a fan in the crowd. “This woman literally lifted her top and showed the sports bra that she was wearing,” she smiles.

Ahead of their World Cup in South Africa, which gets under way on Friday in Cape Town, the England team have been fitted with sports bras by breast health experts from Portsmouth University. Cardwell’s own interest in breast health piqued last year when, despite spending most of her athlete life in and out of sports bras, she discovered she was wearing the wrong size. She now wears a 34GG, but used to wear a 36E.

If girls don’t like dresses, they might not play

Cardwell’s experience is indicative of the huge knowledge gap when it comes to breast health in sport. The importance of wearing the right sports bra is one of many subjects explored in The Female Body Bible, the debut book published this year by The Well HQ. The sports science platform, which focuses on female health, has worked with England Netball on its new “NETBALLHer” campaign, which aims to better educate women and girls at all levels of the sport about their bodies and encourage them to stay in netball.

Kit choice has been pinpointed as one of the reasons behind a drop-off in participation, especially in sports perceived to be overtly feminine. Recently published research by GB hockey player Tess Howard found that 70 per cent of girls quit sport at school due to clothing and related body-image concerns.

Hockey’s world governing body has since allowed women to wear shorts in competition rather than the traditional skort, and netball has taken tentative first steps towards making its uniform more inclusive.

“At Adelaide this year in pre-season, we could wear leggings, shorts or a vest top. You could choose what you wanted to wear,” says Cardwell, who offers a diplomatic answer on whether netball should relax its own rules around its distinctive dress.

“At the end of the day, if everyone is comfortable wearing a dress in a netball team, that’s what they want to wear, but it’s more about how you feel comfortable in performing,” she says. “It’s also [about] trying not to put off young girls and boys playing the sport. If they don’t like dresses and they see everyone wearing a dress, they might not want to participate.”

Yet winning is often cited as a key factor to boosting participation. Regular weekly participation increased in England by 130,000 following the team’s historic 2018 Commonwealth triumph and Cardwell hopes they can reach similar heights in Cape Town, where they will look to better the bronze they won at the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool.

“Obviously, we want to win gold – that’s always everyone’s aim – but we definitely want to medal,” she says. “I’m really excited about what this team can do.”

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