T Nation

Bench Shirts

I Just thought I would add a new thread so people could take their Raw vs. Gear debate somewhere else. I have been put in my place before on this topic and have a new perspective on things. The problem I think many people have is similar to my old problem… my idea of a bench press was just an exercise I did in the gym. The idea that people could bench 700, 800, 1000 or whatever sat wrong with me since I could only bench… (well, a lot less). That’s the problem with most people criticizing geared lifts, they’re still thinking of the bench press in terms of the exercise they do to increase the strength of their chest, shoulders, and tri’s, rather than a competitive event. I think a big part of the problem that people have with geared lifts is an ego thing. " yeah they may lift more but it’s just the equipment and the steroids." I just thought I would start this thread so that those who know about geared lifting can educate those (like me) who dont’t totally understand it and those who have legit questions about how gear helps/changes lifts can understand it.

For a startin point I thought I would included an article by Louie Simmons which helped me draw the lines a little clearer.

Westside Barbell

The Bench Press Shirt
By: Louie Simmons
There’s always a lot of talk today about the bench shirt. In the
beginning everyone welcomed it on the scene. Unfortunately, bench
shirts provided only a small increase over one’s raw bench record.
That was the 1980s. in the late 1990s, shirts became much
stronger. As the shirts got better, the bench records started to move
up little by little. Working with Inzer Advance Designs, Kenny
Patterson helped refine the denim shirt. They developed the radical
cut shirt. The records then started going up and up.
Todd Brock had a 480 bench and was stuck. After wearing an
Inzer radical cut shirt, he skyrocketed to 540 in the same weight
Then Phil Guarino had the insight to cut the back of the shirt,
making it an opened-back version. What an innovation that was. I
helped him warm up at the Bash for Cash, one of Kieran Kidder’s
meets, in Daytona, some years ago. After Phil warmed up, he
amazed me with a 661. I knew he had a great idea.
Vanessa Schwenker, a 132 pound woman, had a 260 bench. We
went to a bench meet and somehow the back of her shirt tore
completely. She didn’t have a backup shirt and had to use the torn
one. She benched 290, a PR. We felt lucky. When she got back
home, she had the shirt sewn back together, but meet after meet she
never made more than 260. She eventually retired and it wasn’t until
a year later that we realized it was the open backed shirt that
increased her bench.
Westside Barbell

Now we know that the openbacked shirts are the best. Just look
at the big money meets and see what they’re wearing. Looking back I
am amazed how Phil mastered that shirt.
Like a fast race car, these shirts are hard to master. I took Todd
for a ride in my 1960 corvette, and it made him sick. At the time, the
car went 10.70 seconds in the quarter mile with about 475
horsepower. It seemed faster, but not for long. I got bored and added
nitrous to the 355 Chevy. It went 9.40 in the quarter mile with 800hp.
Again, that seemed slow to me, so I put a 404 motor and soon made
an 8.60 pass. My reflexes were matching the car’s horsepower, now
about 1000. You guessed it, I got bored again. So a 598 on nitrous
was added. It went 7.90, 175 m.p.h. So what’s the point of all of this?
Had I started with a 7.9 car, I would be dead, and Todd would be real
sick. My reflexes would not have matched the strength of the car.
That same thing happens with lifters. they try shirts much stronger
than they are.
Oh yes, and there are people who think the shirt is doing
everything. They’re wrong. At Westside we have held the all-time
best in the bench at 132,198,220,242,275, and 308 at one time or
another. Why don’t the rest of us put on their shirts and bench the
same? We were not strong enough. You’ve got to have the right size
bait for a particular size fish. The same is true for bench shirts.
How do you master a bench shirt? Most lifters don’t know how to
use one correctly. Dan Cummings visited from Iowa and trained with
Becca Swanson. He stayed a week. His best was 600. On max effort
day, I saw him work out, and I felt he was closer to a 700 bench. He
Westside Barbell

disagreed with me. The next workout, we worked with him, and in a
span of 45 minutes he made 665. Not bad huh?
I did a seminar in Tennessee for my good friends Tony Hutson
and Brent Tracy. We worked with eight guys and seven got new
PR’s. Here’s how we did it, using Brent’s workouts as an example .
Brent’s best is 528 at 198. First he warmed up to 315 off his chest.
Next, with the 4-board press, he did 365 x 1, 405 x 1,455 x 1 with no
shirt. Then he did a 3-board press with his shirt with 495 x 1. Then he
did a 2-board press with 515 x 1. Next he did 530 off his chest and
then 545 off his chest for a second PR. I know this sound too good to
be true, but it’s true. The trick is each time you go to four boards,
raise your head and lower the bar as far down your torso as possible.
With three boards raise your head and shoulders if necessary in
order to touch the board and go even lower down your torso. With
two boards, raise your head and start lowering the bar as low as
possible by rolling the shoulders up like a sit-up. Each time you go to
fewer boards, pull the shirt a little lower off the shoulders. This of
course, makes the shirt a bit stronger. As you increase the weight,
raise your head and shoulders and keep your eyes on the bar until it
touches the chest. This enables you to touch the chest with a lighter
weight than thought possible and at the same time lift a lot more
Now that the secret’s out, we’re all even, right? I just told you
how to kick our ass. If you don’t do it, its your problem, fool.
At the 2003 Arnold Classic, Fred Boldt (165) warmed up as I just
described. He did 405 off his chest, skipped the four boards, put on a
Westside Barbell

shirt, and did 495 on three boards. Then he did 530 on two boards
and went on to the stage and did a 540 opener. He did 551 on his
second attempt. After Markus Schick made a 567 world record, Fred
took 1 kg more and pressed it only to have it turned down for a
technicality. Not bad for a 165 who is 5ft 9in tall, benching in front of a
crowd of thousands.
I hope this information helps you break your bench record and
have a better understanding of how to use legal equipment. (PLUSA
Aug 2003)

Take two guys with identical RAW bench numbers say, 465 lbs, then one of the guys gets a good shirt, gets it fitted/modified to suit him, trains to use it properly and hits a 525 with it, he’s still NO STRONGER than the guy who stayed RAW. It’s the shirt that got him the 60 lb increase. I don’t see why others out there can’t understand this. I train with guys that use every kind of gear imaginable and we get along just fine. I even help them into thier shirts and help them up with the straps on the squat suits when we train. I still don’t get it, though. I never will. I want to see pure, raw, human effort… man vs. weight. Not man + shirt etc. vs. weight. I must be old-fashioned

powerlifting is a sport.

are powerlifters gonna start calling their lifts shirt presses or are non-powerlifters gonna start calling their lifts non-shirt presses?

That is a great way to look at the world, and its admirable. But for a competitive powerlifter, everything is different. Its about winning. Same as any competition. You play within the rules, and strive to win. The shirts and suits are used by everybody, so to lift raw would be sort of like bring your sharpest knife to a gun fight.

For anybody who is not a competitive powerlifter, I don’t see why they would use equipment.

I can get about 300 pounds from my shirts right now. If somebody handed me a shirt that will add 500, I will certainly be using the next comp I enter.

Derek, I agree with you. They are just as strong BUT Powerlifting is competition. It’s not who is the strongest, it’s the one who lifts the most, that wins.

In competition you have to use whatever gear that federation allow to have a chance to win.

If somebody don’t like “cheating” ie using gear, then they can enter some “raw” competition.

Derek: Your presumption is incorrect. Take for example two guys in our trainig group: they both bench the SAME amount of weight raw, but one can outbench the other with the use of a shirt by 30lbs. Why? Aside from you arguing how tight each of their shirts are, etc. the reason is simple. One guys weakness is the bottom of the bench press, but his lockout is strong. The other guy is strong off his chest but has a weak lockout. Guess which one can do more in a shirt? The guy with the stronger lockout, because the shirt helps him more where he is weak. You may train with competitive powerlifters, but until you train exactly like a competitive powerlifter (i.e. full gear, legal lifts, etc.) you won’t fully understand. That is not to say that you are not qualified to give an opinion on this matter. You are. It is to say that it lacks the credibility of those of us who have been there.

It’s a lot easier to understand once you wear one.

One thing, as mentioned, is the help that shirts give. It’s not top to bottom. There is more help from the shirt off the bottom (assuming you know what you’re doing) and little to none at the top. So this is why someone with a stronger lockout will get more out of a shirt. Thus the lockout is trained more if you are going to be competing in a shirt.

It’s also not like you simply bring the bar down, let it touch, and then press it back up in a shirt. If you do it with that little in mind, you will most likely dump the bar on your belly or face. Not fun, let me assure you. Think of the shirt as providing force in the shape of a bubble. If you bring the bar down in the right part, it’ll come right back up, but if you bring it down too high or too low, the help the shirt gives you will be in the wrong direction.

The ability to find the groove of the shirt gives a lot to your bench (especially compared to dumping it). You have to fight the bar into position in a decent shirt. This takes - hold on now - a lot of strength.

Some of the forces required to fight against are much greater in a shirted bench than in a raw bench. To me, they are different lifts and should not be directly compared (if you’re making any sort of fair comparison). No shirted bencher would ever tell you that it’s the same thing as raw benching. However, if the rules allow it, there is nothing inherently “wrong” with shirted benching. The best bencher still wins.

And it’s not like guys who are jacking up 800+ are weak little fairies without their shirts. Unless a bencher trains for a raw meet and does one raw, you really can never know how much their shirt “helps”. A bunch of guys at the Show of Strength this year (full powerlifting meet) benched in the upper 600s in double ply shirts. I train at the same gym with two lifters that were in it. One of them benched 680ish. He has done 600 raw. However, there were guys there benching upper 600’s, even into the 700’s that could not bench 600 raw. So does the dude bitch and moan about him being “stronger”? No. He sacks up and starts figuring out ways (read: technique and strength training) to get a stronger shirted bench.

Great post Rick.

Add to that the fact that gear can keep you healthy longer also. Try squatting wide for a few weeks without briefs or a suit straps down and your hips will be screaming murder…