Everything You Wanted To Know About Bench Shirts and More


What Exactly is a “BenchShirt” and How Does It Work?

A bench shirt is a stiff, supportive shirt, you can use to improve performance in the bench press. Most frequently used by powerlifter’s in competitions to increase your 1 rep max. The bench shirt is artificial shoulders and pectoral (chest). The shirt resists the bench press movement (like compressing a powerful spring) thereby giving a boost off the chest.

History of the Bench Shirt

Originally the attire for powerlifting was similar compared to that for Olympic lifting. Subsequently, lifters acquired the choice of wearing a one-piece lifting suit, called a singlet, or a two-piece one made up of a tee t-shirt or tank top and a pair of shorts. Although, knee and wrist wraps were allowed in the form of ace bandages. Additionally, a belt no wider than 4″ could be used. However, at the 1968 AAU Senior Nationals, there was significant controversy over lifters wearing multiple layers of trunks and wraps to aid their lifts. Soon, special squatting and support shorts turned up that helped when lifting. In 1973, the National Weight lifting Committee banned these supportive suits and all other supportive lifting gear other than a belt. These rules continuing until 1974 when the IPF came into existence.

After 1973

Bench shirts were brought to the market as a protective device originally, much like a lifting belt, knee wraps, etc. The “Bench Shirt” as we know it now came in 1983 whenever the at the time college student and powerlifter, John Inzer began making t-shirts that reinforced benchers’ shoulder blades and deltoids. The initial t-shirts were good polyester materials that helped protect the pectorals and shoulder blades during heavy benchings. These shirts were ideal for wearing during competition. Excitement spread about increasing personal records through the use of clothing. The shirts not only helped avoid injuries but also actually helped competitors by allowing them to bounce the weight off thier torso.

Do People Still Use Bench Shirts

Gear use is very widespread in powerlifting with more companies providing equipment. Additionally, more competitions allow the use of equipped lifting than unequipped.

What Can A Shirt Add toYour Lift?

Bench shirts can add approximately 10%-15% for a low-quality shirt. You perhaps could see as much as 20%, 30%+ to your single paused legal bench press with a good Inzer, Metal Jacket or Titan shirt. This is not instantaneous, like any piece of equipment you must learn how to use your shirt.

Bench Shirts are Not Magic

You must learn how to use the shirt. Additionally, you need to choose a shirt that fits correctly, and that fits your lifting technique. Consequently, having the correct equipment is key to get the most out of your lifts. Many lifters depending on the equipment rules have gotten even higher percentages (45%-50%) from a bench shirt. Though, failure to use the shirt correctly, or choosing a shirt that does not fit properly to you or your technique can result in hurting your 1 rep max. Leaving you with a lift that is is less than a your “raw” or unassisted (no shirt) lift.

Bench Press with Bench Shirt World Record Holder (2007-2013)

Super heavy weight Ryan Kennelly, benched 1070 pounds (476.3 kg) on 4/13/08 at the APA WestCoast Iron Wars held in Kennewick, Washington using a bench shirt. It is said that his “raw” ma was less than 700 pounds.

Ryan Kennelly Benching 1070

At the time heaviest bench press without any equipment to assist was held by Scot Mendelson with a lift of 715 lbs (324.3 kg).

 Rules Governing BenchShirts

Different power lifting federations have different rules governingallowed equipment – for example:

·The only supportive equipment allowed by the 100% Raw Power lifting Federation for bench press is a leather belt.

·International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) rules stipulate that support shirts must be “of one ply stretch material”.

·American Powerlifting Federation (APF) is the most popular powerlifting federation in the World and only allows single ply, and closed back shirts.

·United States Powerlifting Federation (USPF) only allows single ply, and closed back shirts.

·American Powerlifting Association (APA) allows open back shirts and 2 ply gear. However, the APA also keeps limitations on the gear. Such as no canvas, no shirts pulled down past the shoulders, etc.

·USA Powerlifting (USAPL) allows single ply equipment only.

·The World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters (WABDL) allows single or double ply, poly or denim, but the neck must be closed.

·World Natural Powerlifting Federation (WNPF) allows single or double ply, poly or denim, open or closed back, but no canvas.

How Prevalent is the Use of Bench Shirts?

While the use of bench shirts is always hotly debated, it is a fact that the majority of lifters use them. In particular, the vast majority of elite and famous lifters use some form of bench shirt. For instance, the current bench press world record holder Tiny Meeker used a bench shirt at Cajun Hardcore Powerlifting meet in Buena, Texas. His the first man to bench press over 1100lbs (1102 pounds (500 kg) on 12/14/2013).

Tiny Meeker Set Bench Press World Record 1100 lbs

Tiny Meeker first bench press in history to break 1100. World Record 1102 pounds/ 500 Kilos

Types of Bench Shirts

At first, there was just one form of bench shirt available. Now, Bench press shirts come in a variety of styles and types. Bench shirts are constructed with polyester, denim, or canvas and come in single – or multi-ply thicknesses. The two most popular types are the polyester and the denim bench press shirt. Kennelly has made a number of his most significant lifts using an Inzer double Rage-X, and an Inzer double denim.

It is essential if you are going to use a bench shirt to pick the right one for your lifting style. Because each shirt, as well as the brand, changes how you lift the weight. Therefore, you must practice in a shirt to identify which brand and type that works best for your style of lifting.

Single Ply vs. Multiple Ply 

This is a simple concept that improved shirts by leaps and bounds. A single ply shirt is just that, one layer of poly or denim sewn into a shirt. A double has two layers in critical areas; a triple ply has three layers of material in critical areas. The thicker the shirt, the more resistance is given, and the more additional power the bencher has available. Most polyester shirts these days are double ply, and double ply is essentially a standard in a denim shirt or canvas shirts, as the extra layer prevents ripping of the material under extreme loads. 

Polyester (Poly) Shirts 

These Shirts were one of the first designs on the market. Likely why they by far the most popular type of bench shirt being used by benchers and world record holders today. Additionally, these shirts are tight fitting shirts made with 1 or 2 layers of polyester.

The 3 Types of Polyester Bench Shirts

There are three main types of polyester bench press shirts today. They are:

  1. Shirts using the same (or similar) type of fabric throughout the whole shirt. These types of shirts are extremely tight and hard to get on. It usually requires three people to get one on.
  2. Shirts which has the back split open (either permanently, or the backs may fasten up with Velcro). This type of shirt gives the lifter a bit more flexibility when they’re not lifting.
  3. Shirts with a thin, “stretchy” material on the back (said to be created to get around “no open back” rules by some of the federations, such as the USAPL and APF.

Bench Shirt Construction and How They Work

The shirt is made in such a way, that the fabric of the shirt needs to be stretched when the bencher is holding the bar and moving it downwards. When the bencher pushes the bar back up, the fabric is relaxed.

In general, the sleeves of the shirt are angled in such a way as to require stretching the fabric to move the arms toward the chest when holding the bar. Therefore, the stretch of the shirt adds to the force a lifter’s muscles can provide.

Bench Shirts Generate Extra Power

The additional benching power of the poly shirt comes from the stretching of the shirt material and the compression of the lifter’s body.

This power can make it difficult to make the bar touch the chest. For advanced lifters, thicker shirts built from multiple layers of material can make touching the bar even more difficult. The multiple layers to add additional resistance, and therefore the power to the shirt.

Several manufacturers make poly shirts in many different designs. Some shirts are made entirely of the same material throughout, others have a different material for the back of the shirt, and still, others have the back of the shirt split open and fastened with Velcro, or even left completely open.

How to Select and Wear the Poly Shirt Bench Shirt

Poly shirts must fit the wearer very tight and can be extremely uncomfortable. If a poly shirt doesn’t hurt, it is much too loose. Consequently, Poly shirts are known to chaff, cut and bruise the under arms severely. Therefore, many beginners might opt to try a looser fitting shirt,like denim, first.

You Might Find it Hard to Put on a Polyester Bench Shirt

You may find it can be tough to get on. Shirts made entirely from one type of material with a fully closed back are especially difficult. Specifically, you may require several helpers to place the shirt on the lifter. Although, shirts with Velcro backs, stretchy back material, and completely open backs have become much more common simply because they are easier to get on the lifter.

Tips to Help You Put on A Bench Shirts

  • You pull all poly shirts up the lifter’s arms as far as possible first.
  • Make sure the shirt is straight. For example, if a sleeve is twisted, it can very negatively affect a lift (a twisted sleeve can be a good indicator of straightness and positioning of the shirt).
  • Once you get your shirt on your arms, and you must pull the shirt over your head (or pulled around the shoulders for an open back model).
  • Next, you pull the shirt down to the torso until all of the wrinkles are worked out of the fabric. If the shirt is a Velcro design, the Velcro should now be fastened.
  • Once this is done the seams around the deltoid and under the armpit should be checked to ensure that they are still straight.  If not they should again be readjusted.
  • Don’t get frustrated, if your shirt is tight fitting like it is designed to be worn it can take as much as 15-25 minutes to get the shirt ready for the lifter.

How to Use a Polyester Shirt

Like with any shirt type, each type and brand of the polyester shirt has its unique characteristics. Some like the Titan Fury, or the open back version of Inzer’s Phenom, seem to work best in a deep groove where the bar touches below the pecs (chest).  People that bench high on the chest, seem to favor shirts like the Inzer Blast Shirts. It is essential to recognize that not only do shirts fit differently for different people, but each shirt has its unique groove, which must be learned to achieve maximum performance. For example, the Inzer EHPHD Blast Shirt tends to drive the bar path over the lifter’s face. The bencher has to compensate for this by purposely forcing the bar path lower.

Denim Bench Shirts

A denim bench press shirt is similar in shape to a polyester shirt and works in the same principal. You must stretch the denim to lower the weight to your chest. Denim shirts provide more support than poly shirts because denim is less flexible than polyester.

Denim Shirts Are Top of the Line

You will notice denim shirts are considered to be the top of the line. The denim shirt creates its power by twisting and straining the fabric, and by compressing the lifter’s body. Denim shirts do not work for everyone because the material and the way it is put the benchers body is under an enormous amount of pressure.

Denim Shirts are Not for Every Bencher

The shirts are also not the choice for many because for the denim bench press shirt to work effectively, the bencher must use perfect technique. If the technique is not 100% correct, the increase will be negligible (the bencher may even bomb on a weight that they could lift raw). Like poly shirts, you can get a denim shirt as single to triple ply, with velcro, etc.  Prices typically range from $40 for single ply to $300 for triple reinforcement.

How to Wear a Denim Shirt

Because denim is less flexible than polyester, a denim bench pressshirt does not have to be worn as tight as a polyester shirt. Most denim shirts have at least a mostly split back, making themsignificantly easier to put on. Completely open back denim shirts are easy to wear. Just slip upthe arms, and tug into place.

How to Use a Denim Shirt

Because of the tightness of the fabric, the denim shirt can support much more weight than a comparable poly shirt. Though, the stress placed on your body by a denim shirt can be severe. In many cases, a lifter will not be able to even touch the bar to his or her chest with a weight he or she could bench without the shirt. In general, denim shirts perform best when used in a deep groove. Open back denim shirts work best when the bar is touching the lifter’s stomach.

Using a Denim Shirt Takes Skill

A denim shirt does require a great deal of very refined technique to use correctly; therefore it takes a lot of practice and should not be used by beginners in powerlifting meets without sufficient prior experience using the shirt. Because your precise form is of paramount importance, even experienced lifters can miss lifts that they have hit before because of technique. Your form is paramount.

Canvas Shirts

There are also shirts made of canvas. Canvas bench shirts work on basically the same principle as denimshirts. They are said to be even more supportive than denim. They can be purchased with single to triple reinforcement, withVelcro, etc.  Prices typically range from$40 for single ply to $200 for triple reinforcement.

 Availability and Cost

Today’s shirts are highly evolved, purpose built garments designedwith the intent of lifting more weight.

There are now several companies selling bench shirts, offering varying levels of shirts, in various materials, various plys, ranging in price from less than $40 to well over $300. If you are in the market for a competitive bench press shirt star with a good Inzer, Metal Jacket or Titan shirt.

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