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How you can stay in shape at the gym; IT'S ABOUT TIME: DESIGNERS ARE RACING TO GIVE WOMEN THE SUPPORT THEY WANT FOR EXERCISE.

SPORTSWEAR is sexy ... seriously. Gym kit is so cutting edge it looks fantastic on the street as well as the aerobics studio.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of what lurks underneath.

The sports bra is so undeniably, unavoidably unattractive that it is worn only in cases of dire necessity.

A study at Herriot Watt University in Edinburgh found that only 23 per cent of women bother. This makes it all the more amazing that, until now, designers haven't tried to give them some sex appeal. The bras have not changed since the first was invented in 1977.

The gap in the market is huge - breast tissue is notoriously vulnerable to the downward plunge of age, and evidence shows that even A-cups need support.

The only support breasts have is the surrounding skin and the Cooper's ligaments, which extend from the nipples to the pectoral muscles. If your breasts bounce during exercise, these ligaments will be pulled and stretched. Eventually, they become less elastic and your breasts will sag.

But the revolution has begun.

Nike upped the stakes, producing the world's first sexy sports bra, revealed when Brandi Chastain pulled her shirt up after scoring the winning goal for the USA's soccer team in last year's FIFA Women's World Cup.

Then everyone got in on it - Triumph and Berlei promised a new look and, in line with their overall facelift, great things were expected of Marks & Spencer's sports division.

But all they have produced so far is a big disappointment. Manufacturers such as Triumph and Berlei have managed to create sexy sets to wear under everything except sports gear.

Berlei hired tennis beauty Anna Kournikova to prove Shock Absorbers can be sexy. But even the player more celebrated for her perfect pout than her perfect service cannot make Berlei look anything more than practical.

We recruited fitness enthusiast Kay MacAdam to road-test the new sports bras and mark them for style, comfort and support.

And Kay voted the Shock Absorber a winner. She said: "I rated it my favourite. It didn't seem to do much for my cleavage, but I still thought it looked pretty good."

The Triumph series also fails to inspire. Available only in white, they are no sexier than a maternity bra.

At least Nike and Adidas are putting traditional manufacturers to shame by creating sports tops that work as underwear or outerwear.

A good sports bra is as essential as a well-structured pair of shoes and being properly measured is not a question of choice.

A loose fit will offer no support, while one that is too tight will restrict the ribcage and make breathing more of an effort. Berlei are soon to introduce a sheer fabric bra and a plunge- effect bra that promises the ultimate glamorous edge.

Triumph and Marks & Spencer both offer a free fitting service. Contact 01793-

MARKS & SPENCER

MARKS & SPENCER, SPORTS BRA (NON WIRED), pounds 12

"Oh dear. This looked awful and felt even worse. It didn't seem to fit too well and it felt very restrictive. However, the fabric felt very breathable. Sorry, but I'd only wear this in an emergency."

Style: 0/10 Comfort: 2/10 Support: 9/10 Breathability: 7/10

TRIUMPH JOGGER

TRIUMPH TRI-ACTION JOGGER, pounds 20.

"This didn't look promising at all - more like the kind of thing I wore for PE at school. But it was really comfortable. The broad shoulder straps stop it digging in at the shoulders which would make it perfect for the well- endowed athlete. The fabric was very modern, very comfortable and durable. A highly-recommended bra." Style: 2/10 Comfort: 10/10 Support: 9/10 Breathability: 7/10

BERLEI B102

BERLEI SHOCK ABSORBER B102, pounds 20

"This looks fine and feels good too. It's got thick, padded shoulder straps which make it a dream to wear and it was really, really supportive. You could wear this for things like long-distance running, which can be murder on your breasts, without any problems. Definitely a good buy."

Style: 6/10 Comfort: 9/10 Support: 10/10 Breathability: 8/10

ADIDAS

ADIDAS EQUIPMENT BRA, pounds 20 approx.

"This was by far the best-looking bra, so I was drawn to it immediately. I would even wear this on its own as a top. It feels tight but it does offer enough support. However, I don't think it would be ideal for a C or D cup because it seems to compress rather than support. The fabric felt very breathable and comfortable."

Style: 10/10 Comfort: 5/10 Support: 7/10 (if your bust is less than a C cup) Breathability: 9/10
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Paterson, Roz
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 29, 2000
Words:768
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