Raw Bench vs Geared Bench: What are the Differences?
There are the obvious ones, such as the bar touching lower when wearing a bench shirt (way lower!) and the slower rate of descent with a shirt (unless you believe in the myth of tempo training).
There are a few other things that I think people tend to overlook:
- Raw bench = Upper back; Shirt bench = Lats. Please understand that both the lats and upper back are used in both benches, but because of where the bar starts and is lowered, the lats and upper back are emphasized differently in each lift.
With a shirt bench, the bar begins far out over the chest/stomach area. The lats need to be held very tight to keep the bar path strong and correct. With a raw bench, the bar is lowered much higher, thus the upper back is taking much of the weight. That's why raw benching is cooler – it gives you a good excuse to do a ton of upper back and trap work.
- Grip width. In general, benching with a shirt allows a wider grip (legal maximum width) to be used without any danger of injury. When benching sans shirt, the grip should come in to ensure shoulder and pectoral health.
- Strength curve. When benching with a shirt, you need a VERY strong lockout as the bench shirt changes the strength curve of the lift. With a raw bench, you need to be very strong off the chest and in the middle portion of the lift. Now don't get me wrong – both lifters need both portions to be strong, but there's a big difference when the strength curve is changed.
When in doubt, just get really, really strong. It tends to cure most problems in training – and life.