Does Training In A Bench Shirt Make Your Raw Bench Weaker? by Jared Bachmeier for CriticalBench.com
There are many factors involved in answering that question. A lot of it depends on how you train your shirted bench. I train in my shirt almost every week and I compete in my shirt only. I think if you warm up and get into your shirt before getting into heavier weights I do think you will lose some power off the chest. On the flip side when you train primarily in a shirt you will increase your lockout strength. You can have the best lockout in the world but if you cant get the weight off your chest and to that point it is useless.
To answer the question we stated for this article the answer is yes and no. Training in a bench shirt can help both raw and geared strength but it can also hinder parts of your bench. Don't be discouraged there are several ways to try and avoid this.
During a workout I will always work up to 405 or so raw before shirting up. By doing this the lower half of my bench still sees somewhat heavy weight and gets a workout. If I need a deload week I will just go raw and work up to 405 or so off a 2 or a 3 board as well. If I am feeling run down or a shoulder is bugging me I will jump in my shirt after 315 to take it easy on the joints. But for the most part I always try and hit some heavy raw stuff.
The muscles used in benching in a shirt and raw are totally different. When raw, I use a narrower grip. And by not being in a shirt I touch a little higher, being just under my pecs. While in my shirt I like to touch around my second ab. When I bench raw I feel that I use a lot more pec and shoulder than when I am in my shirt. I use more lats and tri's and a lot less pec and shoulder in my shirt.
I think heavy shoulder training is a lot more important to raw benching than it is to being in a shirt. I feel that someone that is really strong in the shoulders and tri's has a good chance of having a big raw bench. Most big raw benchers are that way and use a semi narrow grip. But that same person can put a shirt on and not see much gain or some actually bench less than they do raw due to the shirt having a totally different groove than the person. Being in a shirt can add support in areas you need and change the areas you need extra strength to excel. The bench shirt can provide more support and strength in your lats and tri's and less in your pecs and shoulders.
Lats and tri's are the two biggest part of a huge shirted bench in my opinion. If you still hit your lats hard and heavy during a shirt training cycle you will keep them strong and in shape. If you have weak or lats that are out of shape you will not be able to keep your elbows in under heavy weight shirt or no shirt and will lose a lot of pushing power off the chest.
That's where a bench shirt really helps out and lets people that know how to use them properly get that much more out of a shirt. I can tell after several weeks that my lats somewhat become dependant on my shirt if I let up on my lat acc. work and raw training. The shirt helps add support and allows me to keep my elbows in. Where as raw you only have the strength of your lats to do that. If your elbows flare out around your chest you will most likely miss the lift whether you are in a shirt or not. I will train lats twice a week most weeks.
To me the lats are the biggest and most important part of my bench. I try and keep all my lat training in the form I would use to bench with. By this I mean when doing any pulling or rowing exercises I try and keep my elbows in and pull the weight to my upper abs like I would while benching. I will also switch my grip from narrow to wide on my pull downs while keeping my elbows in and pulling it as low as I can with that weight.
The other big part in your bench is your tri's and your ability to be able to lock out the weight. Obviously by being in a shirt you will be able to move more weight off your chest but to be able to finish a lift you have to be capable of locking it out. By shirt training more often you will be able to get your tri's to handle heavy weight more often and make them stronger over time. I will also train tri's raw with a narrow grip and bench off a 4 board for heavy sets of 3. This is a great triceps exercise whether you are raw or shirted.
In summary, as long as you maintain your strength of your chest, you may actually see an increase in your raw bench when you go back to it. The reason for this is because your lockout has improved making your triceps stronger.
By training for long periods of time in your shirt and not training any raw and bottom half of your bench I believe you will develop weakness in vital areas needed to have a big raw bench. And by only training in a shirt it is likely you will neglect certain muscles which can often lead to an increase in your shirted max but a decrease to your raw max.
By keeping all the muscles strong needed for both types of lifts you can train mainly one and see gains without losing much on the other lift. By working in some raw training and by keeping your shoulders, pecs, and lats strong you can have a long shirt training cycle to increase your shirted max and increase your raw max as well.
Over the past few years I have trained mostly just in a shirt and my raw max has definitely gone up since I started training in a shirt. Over time your lockout strength will increase from handling the heavier weight which will give you the ability to bench more shirted or raw. And when you are used to handling 700-800, 400-500 doesn't feel near as heavy as it used to.