If you have ever wondered whether or not what you wear while you work out can impact your performance, then I have an answer for you. And that answer, quite simply, is yes. There are, in fact, many reasons that what powerlifters wear during their workouts has a clear impact on the quality of the workout itself.
Some of those reasons, believe it or not, are psychological. Other reasons, of course, have more to do with how the gear or clothing we wear is designed to support muscles, ligaments, joints, movement, and form during each movement of the workout itself.
Now, before one can disregard the idea that what is worn on the physical body can have a psychological effect on the individual and their actions or workout, then just think of the last time you went to the gym in new gear that you believed would make a difference in your workout. Or perhaps just consider the first time someone puts on a custom suit or designer watch.
It doesn't take any imagination at all to see that what we wear has a direct impact on both our expectation for the outcome of the day and the confidence with which we approach the event or workout. So, without a doubt, what one wears can factor into how well one performs on any given day.
Scientists who took up the call to study this psychological-physical connection coined the term “enclothed cognition” and describe it as; “the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes. Enclothed cognition involves the co-occurrence of two independent factors—the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of wearing them.”/p>
What a powerlifter wears to the gym has a direct influence on his or her behavior and attitude. Therefore, your choice of clothing and gym gear subconsciously changes how you act. In other words, there is a mental reaction to wearing the right gear for a workout.
Armed with the knowledge that what a powerlifter wears into the gym will have an actual physical effect on his or her workout, it's important to discuss what clothing and gear will have the best impact- not just psychologically, but also in an assistive manner.
Bench Press Shirts
The bench press shirt was first invented in the 1980s. But it wasn't until the 1990s that bench press shirt became stronger and began its rise to being what some would consider the essential item in their workout apparel.
Some of the most notable names in powerlifting history were able to move past weight plateaus and even set personal records thanks to the bench press shirt. Weightlifting legends such as Todd Brock, who was stuck at a 480 bench was able to climb all the way up to 540, thanks to his bench press shirt.
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Phil Guarino amazed crowds at The Bash for Cash with a 661 pound bench. He too used a bench press shirt to achieve this record.
For those who are unfamiliar with the bench press shirt and how it works, let's discuss the mechanics of this workout shirt. A bench shirt is, essentially, a spring-loaded piece of attire that helps in the upward movement of the weight during a bench press.
Of course, there is no actual spring in a bench press shirt. What there is, however, is a thick band of stretchy material across the top of the shirt. This band is usually between 2 and 4 in wide and sits very tight across the top.
When the powerlifter engages the bar, and lowers it towards her or his chest, this band across the top of the bench press shirt stores energy and stretches with the declination of the weight. As the powerlifter begins to push the bar back up to complete the bench press, the band is engaged, and the tight, springy character of the band moves the stored energy and helps to push the arms up to complete the press.
A word of caution here for those of you considering using a bench press shirt for the first time; quality bench press shirt can certainly deliver all of the results discussed in this article. However, it is extremely important that even the strongest powerlifter also employ spotters when wearing a bench press shirt.
The bench press shirt carries its weight when it is worn and working properly. However, there have been instances of bench press shirts of cheaper quality or that are older and worn-down, snapping or ripping in the middle of a bench press. In this time, your spotters will save your rib cage if not your life. Always use spotters when wearing a bench press shirt.
Wrist wraps are a great accessory to the bench press shirt. Any lifters going over 160 on their bench should be using a high-quality wrist wrap.
Understanding how the muscles and tendons in the wrist are designed to work and how powerlifting pushes them beyond their designed use helps powerlifters make wise decisions when choosing their workout gear and apparel.
We’ve discussed why wrist wraps are necessary for previous blogs, but it bears repeating. “The muscles in the wrist are made up of Type 1 fibers. These fibers are resistant to fatigue, have a long endurance, and low power output. The wrist muscles are not highly adept at bearing extreme weight. They are far better at a low weight for long periods.”
Therefore, supporting those fibers and tendons by wearing wrist wraps will make a huge and immediate impact on the quality and duration of your workout.
Other items that powerlifters often wear that can have a tremendous impact on the quality and success of their work out are sleeves.
Some of the most commonly worn sleeves are knee sleeves. When properly fitted, a quality knee sleeve will fit tightly around the knee. This tightness is the mechanism that gives a good sleeve its value to the powerlifter.
By compressing the muscle, tendons, and joint of the knee, blood flow is increased and forced through the blood vessels in the knee. This increased flow brings with it many benefits that improve the workout while it’s happening.
Those benefits are; prevention of swelling, reduction of pain, reduced tendon fatigue, and stabilized knee cap positioning. A stabilized knee cap helps reduce the likelihood of irritation or damage.
Dress Like the Pros
When deciding to wear to the gym, consider what world-class athletes are using during their workouts and competitive meets. Powerlifting giants have often spent thousands of dollars trying out every piece of apparel and gear on the market. There’s no better quick-and-dirty list of the best gear out there than taking a peak into the gym bags carried by the pros.
Take, for example, powerlifters like Julius Maddox, who just placed 3rd in the World with a 716.5-pound bench press! Julius uses TuffWraps apparel, elbow sleeves, wrist wraps, and lifting straps.
Detroit Relentless Raw Record Holder and National USPA Record Holder Leroy "The Machine" Walker uses TuffWraps Elbow Sleeves, Wrist Wraps, and Apparel.