Learning how to use squat racks and power racks is one of the first few key steps you need to take on your journey of gaining muscle and being fit.
While I am all for having fun lifting, you are going to be moving some serious weight and need to know exactly what you are doing to make the best gains and stay safe.
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What Are A Squat Rack And A Power Rack?
Gym racks are basically just supported pieces of metal that hold the barbell or catch the barbell for you in the case of failure. If you are serious about lifting, a rack will allow you to do many core lifts like the squat shoulder press, bench press, and pull safely.
What Is The Difference Between A Squat Rack And A Power Rack?
The easiest way to explain this is that power racks are more cagey and a lot bigger. Generally, squat racks only have two pillars that are connected. Meanwhile, a power rack has four pillars forming a sort of cage. While different, they both are generally used for the same purpose.
Regardless, they are some of the most essential and versatile pieces of equipment you will find in any home or commercial gym but it is important that you know how to use them safely.
What Are All The Parts In A Squat Rack?
Squat racks are designed to be configurable so you can adjust them to your body size and desired exercise. The setup is fairly easy but can be initially daunting if you have never used a squat rack before. There are a few main parts of the squat rack and bar you need to know:
A barbell is a metal bar used for the purpose of holding weight plates. Barbells are essential to nearly every core exercise and will allow you to move tremendous amounts of weight to build muscle.
If you have ever seen a squat rack, you will notice that it has holes running up and down the rack. These holes are what make the rack adjustable. Different power racks follow different spacing protocols like westside hole spacing or standard but it does not really matter all that much.
If you are new to using a squat rack, the first things you will run into are these j-cups or pins used to hold the barbell in place. These are very important as they are what hold the barbell in place in between your sets.
Sometimes also called spotter arms, these are the large bars of metal that are attached to the rack. Most of the time, these bars are only in place to catch the bar in cases where the lifter cannot lift the weight and has found themselves in a scary situation. However, there are some exercises, where the bar is expected to interact with the safety bar that we will discuss later.
Now for both the j-cups and safety bars, it should be easy to adjust them on the rack but do not be afraid to ask for help if you are unsure how to get the safety bar or j-cup out. Some racks, especially older, rustier ones that have been bent, can be a bit harder to adjust
What Exercises Can I Do With A Power Rack Or Squat Rack?
The list of exercises you can do with a squat or power rack is nearly endless, but let’s quickly go over the setup and execution for some of the best exercises
Squats are the best exercise you can do for your lower body period. Heavy squats will not only blow up your legs buts improve your posture, and stability, and result in an incredibly strong core.
j cups: Move to at or just below your shoulder
Safety bars: Move these around the middle between your knees and hips. Squats are great because you can move lots of weight but you do not want to be crushed by a loaded bar or be in a position where you have to dump the weight backward with no safety bars. Large amounts of weight moving through the air like that are always dangerous.
You are going to want to grip the bar firmly and then unrack it by standing tall while the bar is resting on your back. Slowly take a few steps to get some room.
Next, make sure your feet are about shoulder width apart before taking a deep breath to engage your core strength.
Then drive your hips back and imagine that you are sitting in an invisible chair to slowly lower yourself and the bar.
Once you reach the point where your thighs are parallel to the ground, drive your feet into the ground to spring yourself upward.
Shoulder presses are perhaps the manly exercise known to man. The feeling of lifting weight overhead is amazing and has amazing benefits for your shoulder strength and push strength in general. Any serious strength training program should be including these as a shoulders and upper body staple.
j cups: Move to at or just below your shoulder
Safety bars: Failure for a shoulder press is not that dangerous since you can dump the weight forward. However, if you want that extra layer of safety, put the safety bars halfway between your shoulder and elbow.
You are going to want to grip the bar firmly about shoulder width apart and then unrack it by pushing it slightly up. The bar should now be resting on your chest.
Next, take a step back to make some room. Make sure to have your feet shoulder-width apart. Tighten your core and glutes before pushing the bar up to lockout before slowly lowering it back towards your chest.
While doing your reps, it is essential that you maintain good posture during the exercise as it is very easy to lose balance or to have your lower back improperly loaded.
Bench presses are the squat for the upper body if you will. There is no other movement that allows your chest to move this much weight. With the addition of a power rack, you can also incorporate a number of others into your bench strength training. Pin presses and floor presses are great variations as well.
For this exercise, you will also need a bench to place in the power rack.
j cups: Move to a point where your arms are only slightly bent while gripping the bar
Safety bars: Move these so that if the bar falls, it will be level with your chest. Most people do not bench with safety bars but this is a big mistake, especially for those of you out there with a garage gym. Having a heavy barbell fall on your chest is not fun and can be incredibly dangerous.
To make sure you are targeting your chest and not your shoulders, you are going to want to retract your scapula and really tighten your upper back. Now grip the bar about shoulder-width apart and lower it slowly towards your chest while maintaining control of the weight.
Next, explode with the bar by pushing it up as hard as you can. While pushing the weight up, make sure to not round your shoulders or lift your butt off the bench. You will quickly lose stability and engagement of the chest.
Are Squats Racks Worth It?
If you are perhaps considering getting your very own squat rack for a home or garage gym setup, you may be asking if they are worth the investment considering that they usually retail anywhere from $300 – $3000. IF even the lower-end options are too expensive, you also have the option of building a DIY squat rack.
Without being too technical, a squat rack or power rack is essential for any home gym owner who is serious about strength training. It should be the center and base by which you design your entire gym around really.
Even if you are cramped in terms of space, I still think a squat rack should be the first thing you get for a home gym. In fact, there are even some people in apartments that have managed to get a squat rack set up.
If you are new to the gym or perhaps new to strength training, make sure to avoid these common mistakes so that you can progress as quickly as possible.
Not Doing Squat Rack Squats
I understand that squats are hard and be pretty scary if you are new to the gym. But trust me, no other exercises will progress you towards your fitness and health goals like a solid squat.
Other gym equipment may be easier to use but by putting in the work while squatting, it will certainly be worth it.
Not Using The Correct Amount Of Weight
Here there are two extremes of using too much and too little weight. If you can barely complete a few SOLID reps of the exercise you are doing, lose the ego and lower the weight. Not only are you endangering yourself but you are limiting your progress. On the flip side, if you are barely breaking a sweat go ahead and use more weight. It is fine to get a few reps in to get comfortable, but past a certain stage, you should be really pushing yourself. Quality over quantity as they say.
Copying Other People
It can be tempting to look around in the gym and see how other people are squatting and try to emulate them but you have to remember that everyone has a different body that works differently. It is important that you find your own style that suits you.
Can a squat stand be used for bench presses?
Yes, of course. Just make sure you have some safety arms or a spotter with you.
Do you face in our out-in squat rack?
You should be facing in. The purpose of this is that so when you are reracking the weight, you can clearly see where the barbell is relative to the arms or j cups.
What muscle groups can I target with a squat rack?
Literally, any muscle you can think of can be targeted with a rack and a barbell. We have listed some big ones here rows, barbell curls, extensions, and deadlifts will all target different muscles as well.
Does the quality of the squat rack matter?
Yes and no. More premium, expensive racks will have more attachments and features but at the end of the day, you are really just looking for something to hold your barbell.
Can I install a squat rack in my home gym?
Yes, of course. The only considerations you are going to want to look at are the size of the rack and if you will have to bolt it into the ground or not.