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Shirted Benching – A Guest Article by Dan Montague

In Bench Pressing Variations, I talked about the three different ‘types’ of bench pressing and tried to talk about geared/shirted bench pressing. And while I had the basic concept right, I presented geared benching a bit wrong. The grip was a bit narrow, the tuck a bit much. You have to remember that most big powerlifters have quite a bit of girth so their elbows would never be quite as tight to the body as I showed (what Sarah/IronMan was doing was a perfect close grip bench press). What I showed was close but not quite.

Thankfully, the forums I frequent have some very smart, very strong guys to set me straight and I told them that anyone who wrote up a proper shirted bench would get run in the blog to clarify things. Note again that the instructions below ONLY apply to shirted benching. If you’re involved in powerlifting at that level, get a coach. If you’re interested in hypertrophy or general fitness, stick with the generic power bench I described in Bench Pressing Variations and examined in detail Bench Press Technique along with the cues I presented in Benching with the Pecs.

Towards that end, I give you a description of shirted benching by Dan Montague (he posts as The Deliverator on various training boards). John Henry Brown (aka JHB) was the other lifter nice enough to set me straight, hence the mention of his name.

Dan certainly knows his stuff and I appreciate him taking the time to write this up. Take it away, Dan.

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As far as the setup is concerned, JHB is right; the shoulders are pinched as tightly as they can be. We all know the support this provides for the shoulders, when dealing with a shirt pinched shoulders also tighten up the chest panel or neckline (depending on which you use to bench with) across the chest to provide more support at the start of the lift, and off of the chest.

We start with the bar over our pecs, and begin the movement by bringing the bar straight down. It will only go an inch or so, but this tightens up the neckline of the shirt and keeps it set (a lot of lifters have problems with the shirt moving during a press, this usually helps combat that). As soon as the shirt binds, we being to tuck the elbows.

Even though we all use a max-legal grip (index fingers covering the power rings), we tuck extremely hard. This is because we all use low necklines to bench with. When the neckline of a shirt is low, the bubble of support is also low. The only way to touch the bar on the stomach while keeping the elbows under it is to tuck, and to tuck violently. I will go as far as to say that a lot of the problems people have while benching in a shirt is that they don’t tuck nearly enough.

Along with tucking, as the bar is lowered towards the stomach, the “weight” in your arms gets closer to your feet and you can feel the bar want to dump. To combat this, we will roll our wrists back (a la Metal Militia). When the bar is an inch or so from touching our stomachs, we stop lowering the bar towards the feet, and just pull the elbows towards the floor and bring the bar straight down. Again, in addition to not tucking enough, another problem shirted benchers have is that they try to keep lowering the bar towards their feet, and they end up dumping. If they would bring the bar to where the shirt really binds up and then just pull the bar straight down, they’d be fine. This goes along the same lines as trying to sit too far back when box squatting, instead of pushing back and finishing those last few inches by just squatting straight down with the knees out.

For those of us that choose to arch, bringing the bar straight down coupled with pushing the heels towards the floor and pushing the belly out makes touching fairly easy. I don’t know if it’s something in the water, but not a single lifter that has trained with us has ever had any issue with touching, or dumping. I think lifters have a tendency to make geared lifting a lot more difficult than it really is, or should be.

So, our hands are at the max width, our elbows are tucked as hard as they can be, the wrists are rolled back and the bar is somewhere around the belly-button (if you’re arching) or middle of the stomach. Here, the shirt is fully loaded around the collar and chest-plate and just needs to be released.

The problem a lot of people make here is that they want the shirt to do the work off of the chest, and when this happens it tends to cause one of two problems; 1) the bar speed is pitiful and they can’t finish the press or 2) they aren’t ready to accept the weight and they end up out of the groove or a bobble of the bar.

You want to think about scooping your elbows underneath the bar and throwing it over your chest (the same way coaches tell linemen to drive through other football players by exploding up with the elbows in). The movement should be done as forcefully as possible, to take advantage of both the shirt and your own starting strength (assuming you have some from training without the shirt). This is also where you shove your heels or feet into the ground. Granted, leg drive is used through the entire lift, but you kind of “shove again” with the legs to get the bar going.

As the bar floats towards the chest, the elbows will flare and the wrists will straighten, and the bar will end up over the pecs, fully-locked out and the lift is completed. The shoulders are pinched the entire time and the traps are driven into the bench.

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