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Ted Arcidi concerning Bench Press Shirts

article written by: Ted Arcidi

Originally, when the supportive bench press shirts came on the market, their intended purpose was not to enhance performance but to aid lifters who were working out with an ailing rotators cuff or other shoulder problems. In fact, back in the mid 1980's the original prototype supportive bench press shirt was 50% polyester and 50% cotton and only one layer thick. It was more like a sweater and not at all like the laminated four or five layers thick armor suit that many power lifters use today. I wore the poly-cotton variety when I officially benched 705 lbs on March 3, 1985, at the Budweiser World Record Breaker in Honolulu. The sole purpose of wearing the shirt was to keep my shoulders warm.

Not only that, but I was able to put the thing on by myself. It didn't take a pair of handlers to stuff me into a supportive bench shirt that was so tight, it might have been painted on. There were no bleeding hands or body bruises either. It was truly and purely me against the darned bar! Nevertheless, I could kick myself for wearing it when I benched the 705 lbs world-record fourth attempt. The reason was simple: That 705 would still be the raw world record in my weight class today; it went up like butter cake!

The supportive bench press shirts worn by today's power lifters cause them to look like Frankenstein's monster, with their shoulders and arms extended as if they were sleep walking. The shirts are nothing more than gimmicks for enhancing performance, and the number of outrageous bench press records being set today - especially in the heavy and super-heavy divisions - prove it. I even popped a 725 lbs world record with only three months of training back in 1991. The marks today are nearly 100 lbs above my 1985 record!

If you have any lingering doubts that the bench shirt enhances performance, consider the following: First, there is Chris Confessore, who's supposedly benching in the mid-700's at a body weight of around 220 lbs. Right! I'd be willing to bet that he can't bench in the high 500's raw!

Then there's that fat boy, Anthony Clark, the one that looks like as if he swallowed a dirigible! Clark is somewhat shorter than I am (5'8 vs. 5'11) but outweighs my 290 by 50 or 60 lbs! He benched tremendous weights while wearing a double-lateral, quadruplicate rubberized denim and polyester slingshot shirt. If Anthony weighed 260 lbs, as he should, proportionately, he'd be able to bench dick without a shirt! Even at 375 he still can't bench 700 with a regular grip!

It's power lifters like the two mentioned above who claim to have the strongest bench press. Yet their poundage on assistance exercises aren't in line with their supposed biggest bench presses. Some of those 700 lbs bench pressers, like Craig Tokarski - although he's a nice guy - can use only 225 on exercises like behind-the-neck presses and triceps nose breakers. DAWG! I was using those kinds of poundage on my assistance exercises back in college, when I weighed 220 lbs as a power lifting purist and I wasn't even near a 700 bench yet...

Back in 1985, when I did bench more than 700 lbs I was doing 395 for three in the behind-the-neck presses and 375 lbs for five or six on the nose breakers. Just recently, I ended a bench cycle by doing 600 lbs without a shirt, and the poundage I used on behind-the-neck presses was 340 for a big triple, without any herky-jerky movement.

An example of true, undiluted strength occurred when I benched 650 lbs in Maryland in November '83. I weighed a mere 275 lbs and did the lift without the aid of any supportive bench shirt. At the time John Buckley computed the Schwartz formula ranking for the top lifters in the 11 weight classes (114 through Super heavyweight), and according to his stats, my Schwartz rating was 398.8. That identified me pound for pound as the number-one bench presser of all time... No one - and I mean - no one - has bench pressed more than I have, according to the Schwartz formula, without a bench press shirt! Ken Lain, the Abilene Giant, did 660 lbs in 1988 on his 3rd attempt, but I know in my heart that without a shirt he would have likely been good for only 610.

Back in 1992, when I was recuperating from extensive elbow surgeries, I began to realize how phony most of the bench press records were. At that time, however, I had to sit on my hands, so to speak, and just watch. The thought did cross my mind that there would come a day when the powers that be in power lifting would allow the use of hydraulic-assisted bench shirts with adjustable-out-put controls. What a farce!!!

Now, you may be wondering why I'm raging so much about this subject. What's the difference, you may ask, between benching with a shirt and benching without one?

To begin with, there's a major visual difference in the thickness of the muscles and tendons when you press without a shirt as opposed to results of pressing with the aid. The muscles are thicker, which translates into raw strength. Because I don't use a shirt, my tendons are very thick and have a lot of tensile strength. My ligaments are tight, and I have better joint capacity and balance than do most power lifters who rely on bench shirts.

Many power lifters I know even do their training reps while wearing a bench shirt! It's very easy to see who's training without such aids and who's the strongest of all the 700-plus-pound bench pressers! It feels good (if it felt any better, it would be obscene) to be in a midst of a comeback. My plan is to reclaim the bench press title - RAW, so to speak. In my opinion the bench press is the greatest upper-body movement around. Through my comeback I hope to spark an interest in promoting raw bench press contests. That can't help but return the sport of power lifting to being a contest of true strength. No bench shirts, no slingshot suits or armor, no gimmicks - just real muscle! In it's purest form benching is truly man against the bar, with the best - and not the best dressed - lifter winning.

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