UPPER BODY PROTECTIVE SYSTEM

A contact sports upper body protector having an inner, breathable fabric layer and an outer layer composed of multiple, individual padding elements. A tensioning system is integrated into the inner layer to comfortably secure the protector to the body without impeding movement and includes reinforcing such as stitching running over the shoulders and joining together front and back before proceeding toward the waist of the wearer where a tensioning strap on either side is cooperatively engaged. The tensioning strap extends from the front portion of the garment through a D-ring on the rear and returns to the front where it is removeably secured at a point below its original departure point so as to provide tension both around the body/waist and over the shoulders to secure the protector in place.

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Description

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

The present application claims the benefit under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 61/807,091 filed Apr. 1, 2013, which is incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to upper body protective wear for use during contact sports, and more particularly, to a lightweight upper body protective garment constructed to be stable but yet adjustable in multiple directions.

2. Description of the Background

Protecting players from injury is a primary concern for any sport. Sports such as hockey, football and lacrosse feature player-to-player contact as well as player-to-ground and player-to-equipment (i.e., ball, stick, puck, etc.) contact that has the potential to injure participants. Consequently, players participating in such contact sports wear protective gear such as helmets, elbow/knee pads, rib/kidney protectors and shoulder pads. To be effective, padding such as shoulder pads must absorb and distribute the force of blows or contact but also must not impede the player's range of motion, agility and speed. Player health also requires that pads provide adequate ventilation so that players are not overheated or overly fatigued through use of their equipment during the intense physical exertion of game play.

To accomplish these opposing requirements of protection and breathability without impediment, protective gear is typically constructed of an assembly of soft padding in combination with molded, semi-rigid or hard shells or plates configured to be worn by the participant only over the areas of the body most likely to be impacted during play of the particular game with which the pads are intended to be used. Such pads are relatively heavy, inflexible and non-breathable. Shoulder pad construction may also vary depending on the on-field role of the intended wearer. For example, a lacrosse defenseman's pads may preferably be both light and minimally protective whereas an attackman's might offer much more protection as they are more likely to be the target of much checking and physical contact. A midfielder's pads might be a balance of the two or skew towards one extreme or the other. Likewise, a football quarterback's shoulder pads should emphasize freedom of motion whereas a lineman's pads should offer much more protection while being streamlined so as to offer as few handholds as possible for opposing players to exploit. In all cases it is desirable that the pads and protective gear be properly fit and securely attached.

Regardless of the game, shoulder pads typically take the form of a garment donned over the head and harnessed atop the shoulders and upper body. Because of their rigid or semi-rigid construction and so as not to impede movement, conventional shoulder pads typically cover the shoulder and ribcage areas but do not extend down over the abdominal area to the waist. The pads are secured around the ribcage, the chest and back portions being joined by straps or fasteners extending underneath the player's armpits for this purpose. Some lacrosse attackmen or football receivers prefer more rib/kidney protection. Supplemental pads are available either as separate rib/kidney protectors worn around the midsection or hung by suspenders, or as integral rib/kidney protectors secured to the shoulder pads. The net result is often a hodge-podge of pads tightened against the body along random seam directions, and exhibiting poorly-planned stretch characteristics. This creates additional bulk and restriction. What is needed is an ultra-lightweight upper body protective garment that combines a unique pad pattern with an undergarment having a particular seam alignment for improved fit and increased mobility, plus a fastening-strap system that first tightens the garment in a diagonal direction and then around the lower torso for a stable and secure fit.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, it is an object of the present invention to provide an upper body protector that is lightweight so as not to fatigue the player, breathable for comfort and constructed from flexible materials so as not to impede the player's motion.

It is another object to provide an upper body protector that integrates a diagonal pad pattern, diagonal seam alignment, and novel tensioning system that first tightens the garment in a diagonal direction and then around the lower torso for a stable and secure fit and increased mobility.

In accordance with the above-described object, an embodiment of the present invention is a contact sports upper body protector having an inner, breathable fabric layer and an outer layer composed of multiple, individual padding elements including rib and sternum protection pads substantially oriented along a “V” extending from the shoulders to the naval, and kidney and abdominal pads on opposite sides of the base of the “V.”

A tensioning system is integrated into the inner layer to comfortably secure the protector to the body without impeding movement and includes reinforcing such as stitching running over the shoulders and joining together front and back before proceeding toward the waist of the wearer where a tensioning strap on either side of the wearer's body is cooperatively engaged. The tensioning strap extends from the front portion of the garment through a D-ring on the rear and returns to the front where it is removeably secured at a point below its original departure point so as to provide tension both around the body/waist and over the shoulders to secure the protector in place. In effect, the tensioning system first tightens the garment a diagonal direction and then around the lower torso for a stable and secure fit.

The combination of the unique pad pattern, undergarment seam alignment and tensioning system provides an improved fit, more comprehensive protection, and increased player mobility.

The above and other objects, features and advantages of the present invention will become readily apparent from the following detailed description thereof which is to be read in connection with the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Other objects features, and advantages of the present invention will become more apparent from the following detailed description of the preferred embodiment and certain modifications thereof, in which:

FIG. 1 is a three-quarters front view of an upper body protector according to the present invention configured as worn on an athlete's upper body.

FIG. 2 is a front view of an upper body protector according to the present invention configured as worn on an athlete's upper body.

FIG. 3 is a side view of an upper body protector according to the present invention configured as worn on an athlete's upper body.

FIG. 4 is a three-quarters rear view of an upper body protector according to the present invention configured as worn on an athlete's upper body.

FIG. 5 is a rear view of an upper body protector according to the present invention configured as worn on an athlete's upper body.

FIG. 6 is a front schematic diagram of an upper body protector according to the present invention shown prior to being placed on an athlete's upper body.

FIG. 7 is a front schematic view of an upper body protector according to the present invention in which the outer layer has been omitted for purposes of the illustration, shown prior to being placed on an athlete's upper body.

FIG. 8 is a three-quarters front schematic view of an upper body protector according to the present invention in which the outer layer has been omitted for purposes of the illustration configured as worn on an athlete's upper body.

FIG. 9 is a side schematic view of an upper body protector according to the present invention in which the outer layer has been omitted for purposes of the illustration configured as worn on an athlete's upper body.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

The present invention is an upper body protective garment or protector for use during contact sports. The protective garment is constructed to be lightweight and breathable, to offer protection from blows and contact to the upper body experienced during game play and to be affixed securely to the wearer at the lower torso so as to be stable during use.

With combined reference to FIGS. 1-5, an embodiment of a protective garment 1 according to the present invention is shown with an inner fabric layer 10 (see also FIGS. 7-9) configured to be worn over the upper body of the wearer. The inner layer 10 is preferably formed of lightweight synthetic woven or non-woven materials, and is most preferably a breathable synthetic mesh material such as polyester mesh. The inner layer 10 defines a harness covering all or a majority of the shoulders, and has a front portion 12 and a rear portion 14 extending downward to respective lower ends at or near the waist of the wearer. The front, rear and neck/shoulder portions need not be distinct panels or elements but rather may constitute portions of a larger element or fabric panel. The front portion 12 is worn over the chest and comprises an array of padding arranged substantially in a butterfly-shape with four wingtip corners at the shoulders and abdomen. The rear portion 14 is worn over the back, and is attached to the front portion 12 at all four wingtip corners, essentially forming a harness with two over-shoulder straps. At the waist the rear portion is attached to the front portion by two length-adjustable straps as will be described.

The lower corners/ends of the front and back portions 12, 14 of the inner layer 10 may extend to or even slightly beyond the hips of the wearer owing to variations in player physiology, but are preferably truncated at or just above the hips to provide optimal, secure fit of the protective garment 1. As with conventional jerseys, a hole is provided through the center of the neck/shoulder portion for the player's head. In alternate embodiments, the front or back portions 12, 14 may be split vertically in the manner of a buttoned shirt to allow easier donning of protective garment 1, however it is imperative that the split front or back portion be capable of being securely closed or rejoined so as to transmit loads under tension as will be described. The front and back portions 12, 14 of the protective garment 1 are preferably, but not necessarily, independent below the neck/shoulder, which is to say that they do not rejoin one another below the arms of the wearer. Rather, as shown in the depicted embodiment, the sides of the front and back portions 12, 14 and the protective garment 1 as a whole remain open, subject to attachment only by the tensioning system, and preferably no side panel(s) are incorporated. This eliminates bunching of fabric side panels which otherwise impedes the movement or comfort of the wearer.

The front portion 12 of inner layer 10 provides a base layer for attachment of the padding of the present invention, and toward this end the front portion 12 comprises a chest portion 12a, which extends from the wearer's neck/shoulders downward in a generally “V”-shape, from the shoulders toward the center of the waist, and an abdominal portion 12b, which flares outward below the waist on opposite sides of the base of the “V” of chest portion 12a to cover the lower abdomen (see FIG. 2). The back portion 14 of inner layer 10 also provides a base layer for attachment of additional padding, and toward this end the back portion 14 may extend from the neck/shoulder downward substantially covering the player's back, and flaring outward slightly on opposite sides of the lower back (see FIG. 5).

It should be here noted that terms of relative position used herein such as “upper/lower” or “inner/outer” refer to the relative position of elements as depicted in the drawings and are not intended to be limiting in and of themselves. The relative positions of the layers of a protective garment 1 according to the present invention may be changed within the scope of the invention.

With reference to FIGS. 5-9, a tensioning system is provided on both the front and back portions 12, 14 of the protective garment 1 to adjustably secure the garment to the torso of the wearer. As part of this system the lower end of the front portion 12 is characterized by an adjustable fastening strip 30 affixed to front portion 12 horizontally, running along its lowermost lateral edge (see FIG. 6). The fastening strip 30 may preferably be one or more panels of hook-and-loop fastener such as sold under the trademark Velcro®, though snaps, hooks, buckles or other known means to releasably and adjustably secure a tensioning strap may also be used.

A strap-guide element 32 such as a nylon D-ring is attached at each flared lower corner of the back portion 14, as seen in FIGS. 8-9 in the depicted embodiment. The strap-guide element 32 may alternatively be any ring, loop or slot through which the tensioning straps (to be described) are slideably passed-through and retained.

A tensioning element, preferably in the nature of a flat strap 34 such as 2 inch wide nylon webbing, is engaged to each side of the abdominal portion 12b of front portion 12 at its upper lateral edges and above the fastening strip 30, and protrudes outwardly to the side at a slight downward angle. Each strap 34, in its entirety, is preferably about 15 inches long within an acceptable range of from 10-20 inches, and is preferably formed from elastic or another suitable stretchable fabric material. The straps 34 may be stitched or otherwise affixed at one end directly to the lateral edges of the abdominal section 12b of front portion 12, and terminate at distal ends, which are initially free from attachment. In use, straps 34 wrap around the wearer's sides underneath his/her arms, are passed through the respective strap-guide elements 32 on the rear portion 14, and are returned to the front portion 12 of the garment where they engage with fastening strip 30. To accommodate their engagement with fastening strip 30, each strap 34 is provided at its distal free end with a fastener 31 complimentary to the fastening strip 30 on the front portion 12 (such as the opposing hook-and-loop fastener portion). This way, straps 34 can be releasably and adjustably affixed to the front portion 12 to secure the front and back portions 12, 14 to the torso of the wearer.

As best seen in FIG. 9, the strap-guide element 32 is preferably positioned at an elevation (E2) below the point at which the strap 34 is permanently affixed to the front portion 12 (E1) such that the first segment 40 of the strap 34 has vector components in both the horizontal and vertical directions. Similarly, the strap-guide element 32 is preferably positioned at an elevation (E2) above that of the point at which the strap 34 engages fastening strip 30 (E3) of the front portion 12 such that the second segment 41 of the strap 34 also has vector components in both the horizontal and vertical directions. In certain embodiments the elevation of the strap-guide element 32 (E2) may be adjustable. The strap-guide element 32 is most preferably positioned at an elevation mid-way between those of the two points at which the strap engages the front portion 12. Because of the horizontal and vertical vector components and the routing of the tensioning strap 34 through the D-ring, the tensioning system serves to tighten the inner portion of the protective garment in both the horizontal (i.e. around the waist/torso) and diagonal and vertical (i.e., along torso and over the shoulder) dimensions for an improved and secure fit.

Affixed to the inner layer 10 is an outer layer 20 of padding mechanically affixed to the inner layer as by sewing, adhesive or other suitable means. The padding layer 20 preferably comprises a plurality of individual molded, resilient, expanded open or closed-cell elastomeric foam elements 22 affixed to front and rear portions 12, 14 of the inner layer 10 as shown in the depicted embodiment. The individual padding elements 22 may themselves be fabric covered and include elements shaped to protect the shoulders (epaulets), chest, sternum, upper back/shoulder blades, lower back/kidneys and abdominal area. Importantly, while the individual elements are securely fixed to the inner layer 10, they are positioned so as to leave small gaps or channels 24 between them to both permit flexing of the garment as the player moves during play and to permit some movement between the applied elements 22 relative to one another to promote secure, proper fit of the protective garment under the control of the tensioning system.

Relative movement of the applied elements 22 to ensure secure fit is, as described, accomplished by tensioning the straps 34 and stretching of the fabric of the inner layer 10 within the channels. However, uncontrolled or indiscriminate stretching of the inner layer 10 will result in a poor and inconsistent fitting garment that is not sufficiently secured to the player. Such a garment would be stretched or tensioned in undesirable locations that impede movement and reduce player comfort. Stretching of the fabric of the inner layer 10 under tension of the straps 34 must be controlled and some support is provided by the mechanically affixed elastomeric foam elements 22. Additional control of the stretching of the inner layer is provided by opposing reinforcing seams 50 extending diagonally along the torso and over each shoulder of the wearer, crossing or engaging each other on the front portion 12 of the inner layer 10 at approximately the sternum, extending sideward and downward along chest portion 12a to align with the upper lateral edges of abdominal sections 12b, and arching inward and downward from the upper lateral edges of chest portion 12a to roughly the middle of the lower lateral edge of abdominal portion 12b underneath fastening strip 30. Seams 50 also extend along rear portion 14 diagonally from each shoulder and cross or engage each other at approximately the wearer's mid back (not shown). If desired, the seams 50 may be reinforcing sashes constructed by applying piping, cording, webbing or additional fabric to the inner layer 10, though seams of reinforced stitching applied to the inner layer 10 of the garment may be used.

The reinforcing seams 50 may be fiat lock stitching to provide a flat seam for comfort and increased durability, or any other known stitch suitable for use with the woven polyester mesh or other fabric of choice of the inner layer 10 that resist stretching in their longitudinal direction. With particular reference to FIGS. 7 and 8, in a preferred embodiment the stitching 50 on front portion 12 includes two lengths 51 extending upward from proximate to each of the points at which the ends of the straps 34 are affixed to the upper lateral edges of abdominal section 12b. Lengths 51 cross, overlap or join at the chest point 54 and continue over a shoulder of the wearer, proceeding to cross, overlap or join again in the middle of the wearer's back before descending to terminate in proximity to the D-ring strap-guide elements 32. In both cases the strap-guide elements 32 and/or straps 32 may be directly engaged to or by the seams 50 or may be in close proximity so as to be engaged via the fabric of the inner layer 10.

Each seam length 51 in conjunction with the strap 34 forms a reinforcing sash that divides each of the front and back portions 12, 14 into 4 diagonal quadrants centered on the chest point 54 or (comparable back point—not depicted) to control overall movement and compression of the garment under tension of the straps 34. By joining the lengths 51 at the chest point 54 the lateral vectors of the two tensioned straps 34 cancel one another resulting in only a vertical component securing the garment down onto the shoulders of the wearer. At the same time, the opposing straps 34 in conjunction with the lower ends of the front and rear portions 12, 14 form a band around the wearer further securing the garment in place. Additional lengths of stitching may be provided to further reinforce the fabric of the abdominal portion 12b including lengths 52 extending from proximate the mid-portion of the lower edge of abdominal section 12b to proximate the juncture of chest portion 12a and abdominal portion 12b. In some embodiments, portions of lengths 52 may join and be coextensive with the stitching along the lateral edges of the protective garment and thus may further extend upward from proximate the juncture of chest portion 12a and abdominal portion 12b and continue over the shoulder before descending to the waist again proximate the D-ring of the depicted strap guides 32.

As best seen in FIG. 6, an exemplary array of individual padding elements 22 on front portion 12 of protective garment 1 comprises right and left shoulder epaulets 221, 222, an inverted triangular pad 225 covering the suprasternal notch, and two elongate substantially trapezoidal protective breast pads 223, 224 each secured between a corresponding epaulet 221, 222 and the triangular pad 225, and extending downward and converging inward below triangular pad 225. The trapezoidal protective breast pads 223, 224 may be defined by cutouts as shown for aesthetics and to conserve weight. The inner and lower edges of the trapezoidal protective breast pads 223, 224 generally follow seams 50 to an open angle, and a five-sided stomach pad 226 is fitted to this angle and protrudes down almost to the fastening strip 30. Abdominal pads 227, 228 occupy the abdominal portion 12b of the inner layer 10 on opposing sides of the stomach pad 226.

On rear portion 14, as shown in FIG. 5, in addition to right and left shoulder epaulets 221, 222, which extend over the wearer's shoulder from front portion 12 to rear portion 14, an exemplary array of individual padding elements 22 also includes an inverted triangular pad 225a covering an upper portion of the wearer's trapezius just below the neck, and two elongate, substantially trapezoidal trapezius pads 223a, 224a each secured between a corresponding epaulet 221, 222 and the triangular pad 225a, and extending downward and converging inward below triangular pad 225a to cover, in combination with triangular pad 225a, roughly the entire trapezius. Trapezius pads 223a, 224a may be defined by cutouts as shown for aesthetics and to conserve weight. Lower back pads, 227a, 228a extend along the lower, diagonal edges of trapezius pads 223a, 224a to cover areas roughly overlapping the wearer's kidneys.

Again, pads 221-228 are preferably individual foam elements that collectively cover the shoulders, chest, sternum, upper back/shoulder blades, lower back/kidneys and abdominal area in a jigsaw manner, and when shaped as described the lines of spacing between pads 221-228 run transverse to the lines of tension imposed by the tensioning system, providing the greatest possible degree of freedom in the direction of tensioning. One skilled in the art should understand that the padding elements described above may be combined, consolidated or otherwise modified as a matter of design choice without departing from the scope or spirit of the invention. For example, pads 221-228 need not be individual padding elements, but can be consolidated into fewer larger padding elements, of similar or alternate shapes, provided that the tensioning system functions as intended.

The result of the foregoing is an upper body protector that is extremely lightweight, breathable and snug-fitting, yet protective and completely non-restrictive of player motion.

Having now fully set forth the preferred embodiments and certain modifications of the concept underlying the present invention, various other embodiments as well as certain variations and modifications of the embodiments herein shown and described will obviously occur to those skilled in the art upon becoming familiar with said underlying concept. It is to be understood, therefore, that the invention may be practiced otherwise than as specifically set forth in the appended claims.

Claims

1. A garment for the protection of a wearer during contact sports, comprising

an inner fabric layer capable of being worn around the neck and over the shoulders of said wearer and having an opening therein to accommodate the neck of said wearer, said inner fabric layer further comprising a front portion and a back portion, said front portion extending downward from said opening along left and right lateral edges to a distal bottom end positioned at or below a sternum of said wearer and said back portion extending downward from said opening along left and right lateral edges to a distal bottom end in back of said wearer, said back portion further comprising a pair of strap guides, each strap guide being affixed on opposing sides of said back portion proximate to said distal bottom end;
a tensioning system, comprising, a left tensioning element engaged from the left lateral edge of said front portion, passing through a corresponding strap guide on said back portion, and engaged to said front portion proximate said distal bottom end, and
a right tensioning element engaged from the right lateral edge of said front portion, passing through a corresponding strap guide on said back portion, and engaged to said front portion proximate said distal bottom end
whereby tensioning of said left and right tensioning elements results in tightening of said inner layer along the torso of said wearer, over said shoulders and around the abdomen of said wearer; and
an outer layer of one or more padding elements affixed to said inner fabric layer.

2. The garment of claim 1 wherein said strap guides are D-rings and wherein said left and right tensioning elements are straps.

3. The garment of claim 1 further comprising a left and a right reinforcing seam each stitched along said inner fabric layer from proximate one of said tensioning elements to an opposing shoulder of said wearer, wherein said left and a right reinforcing seams cross each other.

4. The garment of claim 1 wherein said distal bottom ends of said front portion and said back portion terminate at or near the waist of said wearer.

5. The garment of claim 1 further comprising a fastening strip on said front portion to which said left and right tensioning elements are removably affixed.

6. The garment of claim 5 wherein said left and right tensioning elements are removably affixed to said fastening strip by the cooperative engagement of Velcro® panels, snaps, hooks, or buckles.

7. The garment of claim 1 wherein said left and right tensioning elements are made of an elastic material.

8. The garment of claim 1 wherein said left and right tensioning elements are each between 10 and 20 inches long.

9. The garment of claim 8 wherein said left and right tensioning elements are each 15 inches long.

10. The garment of claim 1 wherein said strap guides are adjustable along said left and right lateral edges of said back portion.

11. The garment of claim 1 wherein said one or more padding elements collectively cover shoulders, chest, sternum, upper back/shoulder blades, lower back/kidneys and abdominal area of said wearer.

12. The garment of claim 11 further comprising a plurality of gaps between each of said one or more padding elements wherein said one or more padding elements are capable of moving relative to one another.

13. The garment of claim 1 wherein said one or more padding elements are made of foam material.

14. The garment of claim 11 wherein the edges of said one or more padding elements correspond to said left and right reinforcing seams.

15. The garment of claim 1 wherein said front portion further comprises a releasable, vertical closure between said opening and said distal end.

16. The garment of claim 15 wherein said closure is resealed with a zipper.

17. The garment of claim 15 wherein said closure is resealed with one or more buttons.

18. The garment of claim 1 wherein said back portion further comprises a resealable, vertical closure between said opening and said distal end.

19. The garment of claim 18 wherein said closure is resealed with a zipper.

20. The garment of claim 18 wherein said closure is resealed with one or more buttons.

21. A method of securing a protective garment to the upper body of a wearer comprising the steps of

providing a protective garment be worn over the shoulders of said wearer and extending downward therefrom, front and back, toward the waist of said wearer, said protective garment comprising a front portion and a back portion, said front portion extending downward from said wearer's neck to a bottom end in front of said wearer and said back portion extend in downward from said wearer's neck to a bottom end in back of said wearer;
affixing a tensioning element to each of a left side and a right side of said protective garment such that each tensioning element is engaged from said front portion to said back portion and back again to said front portion,
tensioning each said tensioning element to thereby tighten said protective garment on a torso of said wearer, over said wearer's shoulders and around the abdomen of said wearer.

22-34. (canceled)

35. A garment for the protection of a wearer during contact sports, comprising:

a padded front portion for wear over the chest, said padded front portion being substantially X-shaped with four corners;
a back portion for wear over the back, said back portion being attached to said front portion at all of said four corners, and adjustably attached thereto at least two of said four corners;
a first length-adjustable tensioning element attaching one of said front portion corners to said back portion; and
a second length-adjustable tensioning element attaching another of said front portion corners to said back portion.

36. The garment of claim 35 wherein said first and second tensioning elements are incrementally adjustable in length.

37. The garment of claim 36 comprising a fastening strip on said front portion to which said tensioning elements are removably affixed.

38. The garment of claim 37 wherein said tensioning elements are removably affixed to said fastening strip.

39. The garment of claim 38 wherein said left and right tensioning elements are removably affixed to said inner fabric layer fastening strip by the cooperative engagement of Velcro® panels, snaps, hooks, or buckles.

40. The garment of claim 35 wherein said left and right tensioning elements are removably affixed to said front portion at least at one end.

41. The garment of claim 1 wherein said left and tensioning elements are made of an elastic material.

Patent History

Publication number: 20140289938
Type: Application
Filed: Apr 1, 2014
Publication Date: Oct 2, 2014
Inventor: Austin Brown (Glen Rock, PA)
Application Number: 14/231,793

Classifications

Current U.S. Class: Guard Or Protector (2/455)
International Classification: A41D 13/015 (20060101);