Lava Barre

Is Using a Bench Shirt Cheating? The Debate on Powerlifting Gear

The products featured in this article have been independently reviewed. When you buy something through the retail links on this page, we may earn commission to help support the blog - at no extra cost to you. Learn more.

If you’ve ever watched a powerlifting competition, you may have noticed some athletes wearing what looks like a tight, supportive shirt while performing the bench press. These are called bench shirts, and they are designed to provide additional support and aid during the lift. However, there is an ongoing debate among powerlifters over whether or not the use of bench shirts constitutes “cheating.”

It’s important to approach this topic objectively and consider the different perspectives and factual information available. On one hand, some argue that using a bench shirt gives an unfair advantage over those who choose to lift raw, without any supportive equipment. Others argue that bench shirts are simply another tool in the sport of powerlifting, and that their use is no different than using weightlifting shoes or a lifting belt.

As we explore this topic, we will examine the key arguments for and against the use of bench shirts in powerlifting competitions. We will also consider the importance of natural strength and core reality in the sport, as well as the role of supportive equipment in enhancing performance. By taking a nuanced approach to this topic, we can gain a better understanding of the ongoing debate and make informed decisions about our own training and competition practices.

Understanding the Function and Impact of Bench Shirts

How They Work:

Bench shirts are tight-fitting, heavy-duty shirts used by powerlifters during bench press exercises. They are designed to provide support and aid to the lifter during the lift. Bench shirts have an arch, shoulder pads, and sleeves that work together to offer support and compression, potentially increasing bench press performance. The arch in the shirt helps the lifter maintain a tighter and more stable position, while the shoulder pads and sleeves help to keep the lifter’s arms in place during the lift.

Performance Benefits:

Research has shown that bench shirts can increase the weight lifted during bench press exercises. Single-ply gear, such as bench shirts, has been shown to provide a significant increase in the amount of weight lifted compared to raw lifting. However, the effectiveness of bench shirts can vary depending on technique, body type, and specific shirt design. Some equipped champions have reported pec tears due to the assistance provided by bench shirts, which highlights the importance of using proper technique and not relying solely on the shirt.

Limitations and Drawbacks:

One of the main limitations of bench shirts is the cost associated with high-quality shirts, which can create an accessibility barrier. Additionally, the rigidity of the shirt can limit technique and require specific adaptations from the lifter. There is also a learning curve associated with using bench shirts effectively and safely. It is important to remember that bench shirts are not a solution to lifting heavier weights, but rather a tool that can assist in lifting heavier weights. The true problem lies in developing your own lifts and not relying on assisted lifting.

Examining the “Cheating” Argument

Defining “Cheating” in Sports

When it comes to competitive athletics, the term “cheating” can be quite subjective. Some may argue that any use of equipment beyond one’s natural strength is cheating, while others may see it as simply utilizing all available resources to gain an advantage. In the case of powerlifting, the use of bench shirts is a hotly debated topic. However, it is important to note that the official regulations of powerlifting federations allow the use of such equipment, as long as it meets specific criteria and is approved for competition.

It is also important to differentiate between intentional rule-breaking and utilizing permitted equipment within the established framework. While some may view the use of bench shirts as an unfair advantage, it is not a violation of the rules as long as it meets the required standards. Therefore, it can be argued that it is not cheating, but simply a strategic use of available equipment.

Skill and Dedication Beyond the Shirt

Regardless of equipment use, successful powerlifting requires significant strength, training, and technique. It is a multifaceted sport that demands dedication and perseverance. Raw benchers, who choose not to use any equipment, are still required to train and develop their skills to excel in the sport. Similarly, gear benchers, who use equipment such as bench shirts, must also put in the work to develop their strength and technique.

It is important to acknowledge the physical demands and dedication necessary to excel in powerlifting, regardless of equipment use. While bench shirts may provide a temporary boost in performance, they do not replace the need for proper training and technique. Additionally, the use of bench shirts can potentially lead to skill development and carry-over benefits, as long as they are used with proper guidance and training.

Individual Choices and Ethical Considerations

Personal Goals and Training Philosophies

As an athlete, you have your own personal reasons for participating in powerlifting. Some lifters may compete for the thrill of competition, while others may be focused on personal growth and strength development. Whatever your reason may be, it is important to recognize that athletes have diverse goals and preferences.

When it comes to the use of bench shirts, there are different hardcore cultures within the sport. Some free bodybuilders may prefer to lift raw, while others may choose to use a bench shirt to enhance their performance. It is up to each individual lifter to decide what works best for them and their training philosophy.

It is important to acknowledge the ethical considerations of choosing to use or avoid bench shirts based on individual values and goals. Raw lifters may argue that using a bench shirt is cheating, while those who use them may argue that it is simply a different game. Whatever your stance may be, it is important to have respectful dialogue and understanding between athletes with differing choices.

The Spirit of Sportsmanship and Inclusivity

At the heart of powerlifting is the spirit of sportsmanship and inclusivity. It is important to promote fair competition within the established rules and regulations of the sport. This means advocating for inclusivity and acceptance within the sport, regardless of equipment choices.

While some may argue that using a bench shirt is not in the spirit of raw lifting, it is important to remember that powerlifting is a sport with different divisions and equipment options. It is up to each individual lifter to decide what division they want to compete in and what equipment they want to use.

Ultimately, the focus should be on individual improvement, sportsmanship, and the collaborative spirit of the lifting community. Whether you choose to use a bench shirt or lift raw on a flat bench, the goal should be to push yourself to be the best lifter you can be while respecting the choices of others.


In conclusion, the debate surrounding whether or not using a bench shirt is cheating is complex and multifaceted. As we have seen, there are diverse perspectives on the issue, with some arguing that bench shirts provide necessary support and aid during bench press exercises, while others believe that they give an unfair advantage to certain athletes.

It is important to note that bench shirts are legal equipment within specific regulations, and their impact on performance can vary depending on various factors such as the individual’s skill level and training methods. Ultimately, the decision to use a bench shirt is a personal choice that should be made based on individual preferences and ethical considerations.

In order to foster a respectful and inclusive environment within the powerlifting community, it is important to engage in informed discussions and appreciate the various training methods used by different athletes. Rather than focusing on labeling certain techniques or equipment as “cheating,” we should celebrate the achievements of all athletes and encourage them to reach their full potential.

At the end of the day, the real enemy is not other athletes or their equipment, but rather the dark cloudy mirror of self-doubt and insecurity that can hold us back from achieving our goals. So, whether you choose to use a bench shirt or not, remember to stay true to yourself and keep pushing yourself to be the best you can be.

Related Posts:

Photo of author

Lauren Price

Lauren Price is the co-owner of Lava Barre, a specialized fitness boutique that focuses on achieving balance for the body, mind, and soul. With a passion for fitness and wellness, Lauren and her business partner Vanessa set out to create a unique barre class that not only challenges the body but also inspires the mind.

Leave a Comment