When I watched my first powerlifting contest, there was no such thing as a
bench shirt. This contest was the Michigan State Championships in 1982.
I'm pretty sure Inzer launched the "bench press shirt" sometime about 2
years later. The promise of benching bigger weights was a lure I could not
resist. Especially since the bench press was my weakest lift. I'd never
been very good at the bench.
When Bench Shirts First Came Out...
Looking back I think I may have been good for
close to 400 in the 198lb class. I never came close to that in a meet due
to injuries that linger today (multiple pec & shoulder strains). Bench
shirts were such a pain in the rear to get on and off. I probably got
20-30lbs out of the shirt. That's probably in the pathetic range even for
back then. But, I am not sure.
I have been retired from competition since about 1993. Recently, there have
been some HUGE benches made. In fact, huge benches are being made left and
right in all weight classes. Inzer recently launched their new shirt The
Phenom while competitor Titan put out the Fury. I figured they definitely
had made improvements in these shirts. It appears they had it wrong years
ago. The concept was right, but I don't think the design was right for
where the support should be.
I am not sure who was the first person to
split the back on the shirt, but I believe that change may have been the
most significant along with changing the arm positions. Couple that with
greater triceps support and guys and gals figuring out that they need to use
the bench shirt (for those who are smart) all the time in their training and you have BIG bench presses. I was very curious though about my theories. Thanks to Bob Lipinski I was able to actually test a Fury bench shirt and
see for myself.
Bob lent me a size 48 Fury. I guess it's not one of the latest with the new
material either. Bob gave me some tips that were "spot on" for using the
shirt. When it arrived in the mail, I opened it up and could see right away
how Titan had skirted the "no open back" rule that I believe the USAPL has.
They merely put a stretchy material for the back. Bob had said I would
probably be able to put the shirt on myself and he was again right on the
money. He told me to line up the seams on the back of arms and make sure to
use a belt to hold it down. I put the shirt on myself with no problem. No
bloody knuckles this time!
Using The Bench Press Shirt
First, I was in no shape to be trying for maximum singles, so that was out
of the question let alone risk blowing out another shoulder or pec. I knew
a measly 225 would likely give me an idea of the shirt's capabilities. Man,
the shirt was TIGHT across the chest when I tried to just push my arms back.
Bob told me when I laid down that I should push out on my abs to help keep
the shirt in place.
Sure enough, I could feel the shirt want to pull up. A
very tight belt would also help keep it in place or like I have seen in
videos -- a partner doing one last tug down while you lie on the bench. So,
I take 225 off and start down. It starts ripping the crap out of my
triceps. Boy, MUCH different than the old Inzer blast shirt. I put the bar
back after I went half way down. Geeez!
Ok, I guess it was time to PULL
the bar down to my chest. So, I laid back down again and got the handoff
from my son. I pulled and pulled all the while my arms felt like they were
in blood pressure cuffs. Down... down... then it hit my chest and I put just
a slight upward force and it literally FLEW UP off my chest.
I was shocked. All the pressure built up on the way down was released like a rocket taking
off. BOOM! I swear it was as easy as an empty bar! My old Inzer blast
shirt NEVER felt like that! I got up and quickly had my son help me pull it
over my head and off. It literally scared the crap out of me.
because I know how strength or perceived strength can hypnotize you and lure
you to the dark side of stupidity. What scared me is the fact that these
shirts enable one to handle poundages much greater than what they are really
capable of lifting without the shirt.
Frankly, I am surprised there isn't
more pec tears due to these things or triceps injuries. Let me tell you
this, I sure have a new respect for those wearing them when they help them
lift much heavier weights. It's called having BIG KAHUNAS! I sure don't
have the kahunas now to load up to 100lbs or more over my raw max and try
and bench it. Maybe I am just getting old? :) It's probably the thought of
finally ripping a pec in full that makes me cluck like a chicken.
Especially since one of these shirts would likely allow me to use even more
weight for a max.
It was definitely fun trying one of the modern day bench shirts; especially
since I had bought one of the first "grandpa's" of these modern day shirts
so I could compare the two. The remembrance I will have for my test is a
nice linear "zipper" like bruise on both triceps that looks like I just had
triceps surgery on both arms! Special thanks go to Bob Lipinski for
sending me the shirt so I could try it.
Bob has done an official 518 pounds (it looked easy) in a contest and my guess he's going to do more in the future. Good luck Bob! If you decide to compete in powerlifting in the
bench press, make sure you do your homework with regard to bench shirts.
Because competing without one these days would be like entering a gun fight
with a butter knife!