What is a Chest Protector?
A chest protector is a plastic or metal plate worn underneath the jacket and plastron for additional chest and breast protection when fencing.
It is usually secured by three straps. One across the back and two going over the shoulders.
When fencing foil, the chest protector must also have a soft covering on top.
Chest protectors generally cost between £30-£50.
Do You Need to Wear a Chest Protector in Fencing?
According to the FIE, you must wear a chest protector in fencing if you are a woman. They are optional for men and junior fencers. The FIE states:
At all weapons, the use of a breast/chest protector (made of metal or some rigid material) is compulsory for women and optional for men. At foil, this breast/chest protector must be worn below the protective plastron.
At foil, the protector will have the following characteristics: The entire outside of the chest protector (the side facing the opponent) must be covered with a soft material such as E.V.A. (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) of four mm thickness and density of 22kg/m3. (The material can be attached to the current plastic models or incorporated into the manufacture of new chest protectors). The material must have the SEMI technical mark at the center of the upper edge.
Your fencing club, as a member of a national body, is likely to follow these rules and insist these are followed during club fencing, training and coaching.
Why Do You Need Soft Material Over Your Chest Protector in Foil?
This is because in the early-to-mid 2000s foil fencers began to wear chest protectors in order to increase the chance of the opponent’s point sliding off and reducing the chance of the tip being depressed. This is because when making contact with the hard surface of the chest protector, even under the lamé and jacket, the point could slide off.
Chest protectors were then used to gain a tactical advantage in foil. The soft material over the chest protector is therefore designed to reduce the advantage gained from wearing a hard-covered chest protector when fencing.
This has resulted in some stigma around men wearing chest protectors, as others may perceive it to be unsportsmanlike. However, you should feel free to wear one if you want to or need to.
Can Male Fencers Wear a Chest Plate?
Yes, men can wear a chest plate or protector when fencing, but they are optional.
Why Are Chest Protectors Worn?
Chest protectors are compulsory for women. The rationale behind this is that this helps to prevent various damage to the more sensitive breast area, reducing:
- Breast soreness
- Tissue damage
- Fat necrosis
Anecdotally, it can be painful and sore to fence without a chest protector for women, with repeated hits on the breast area causing some immediate pain and lasting soreness.
Aside from protecting a sensitive, regularly hit area of the body, it also offers additional protection in the rare event a sword breaks and a sharp point is thrusted towards the body.
While fencing chest protectors are optional for men, men may choose to wear a chest shield for general protection of the chest area or because they may have sensitive breast tissue themselves. It may also be because they have very limited muscle or fat in the chest area, and the chest protector helps compensate for this.
Injury or Health Condition
Another reason why someone might choose to wear a chest protector while fencing may be because they have had a previous injury, scarring or surgery in the area which continues to be sensitive.
Additionally, wearing a chest protector may help the fencer feel safer if they have a health condition, such as a lung or heart condition.
A fencing coach is often used as a targeted practice for fencers of all ages and abilities, but more often than not younger or beginner fencers.
As such, if they are acting as a target for a fencer to land touches, they may wear a chest protector to reduce discomfort when being hit repeatedly. This may be particularly important for beginner fencers, as they may not have the necessary technique to score a touch with good form, which might result in unintentionally aggressive painful touches.
Young and Junior Fencers
Younger fencers may want to wear a chest protector due to being in fencing situations where:
- Their opponents may be less experienced and score more painful touches.
- They could be fencing against older or more physically developed fencers when starting out.
- They may be more psychologically uncomfortable being hit.
- They are physically less developed and may feel more pain when being hit than an adult.
- They may be going through physical changes through puberty and want additional protection.
Types of Chest Protectors in Fencing
The rounded chest protector is designed for women to allow for breasts to fit comfortably under the chest protector. Women’s cup guards are also available, which are attached to the inside of the chest protector to make it more comfortable.
Flat chest protectors are unisex, but are more commonly worn by men and junior fencers should they choose to wear them.
Whatever your reason for wearing a chest protector, you should feel comfortable wearing one when fencing. They’re compulsory for women, but no matter who you are, chest protectors are a great way to provide additional protection when fencing.
Take a look at our other fencing clothing and equipment guides below.
Guide to Fencing Swords
Learn more about different sword types and their differences.
Guide to Fencing Masks
Find out more about masks with our in-depth guide.
Guide to Fencing Jackets
Learn more about fencing jackets with our guide for fencing beginners.
Guide to Fencing Lamés
Find out more lamés and their use in fencing with our starter guide.
Guide to Fencing Breeches
Learn more about fencing breeches with our guide for fencing beginners.