The Center of Your Gym: Our Ultimate Guide to Squat Racks and Power Racks!
The basic squat is one of the most effective, fundamental full-body exercises you can do in your strength training.
Squats primarily work your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes (in short, all the muscles in your thighs and backside), but they also engage other muscle groups, including your abs, hips, and lower back. It’s important to strengthen these muscles, according to the American Council on Exercise, because it can help reduce your risk of injury, increase your performance, and promote mobility and balance.
Plus, this simple exercise uses so much muscle at one time that it stimulates the body to release more Growth Hormone, which contributes to even more muscle growth all around the body.
And if you can hold weights while you squat, the fitness benefits get even greater.
Although you don’t need a squat rack to squat, racks make the exercise much easier, safer, and more effective — allowing you to add significant weight to your squats, even if a spotter isn’t available. They do this by holding the weighted barbell for you as you get in proper position to safely lift heavier weight than you could unassisted.
Many squat racks also come with a variety of other features that can transform it into a very versatile tool in your workout.
If you’re considering adding a squat rack to your home gym, we hope that this article teaches you everything you need to know to make a good decision.
What is a Squat Rack?
If you've ever been to the gym, you've without a doubt seen a squat rack. They rack can have many shapes, sizes and name, which we'll detail below, but they all serve the same purpose. They make performing barbell exercises easier.
A typical squat rack has 2 or 4 steel post uprights held together with crossmembers. The uprights have j-cups or bar holders that are used to raise a barbell off the ground to different starting positions. This makes doing movements like back squats and overhead press infinitely easier to perform. Can imagine how hard doing barbell squats would be if you have to move the loaded bar from the ground to your back every time? We'd rather not.
For our purposes, we’ll use the term “squat rack” as a catch-all term to cover all half racks, power racks, cages describe any piece of equipment designed to make barbell work easier and more efficient.
The most common barbell movements you'll perform with a squat rack are:
Different Types of Squat Racks
A squat stand is the most basic form of squat rack. It is basically two individual posts that can be positioned close together to hold a barbell. This
Squat Racks and Half Racks
The traditional "squat rack" visual can also be referred to as a half rack. This will be an upgraded version of your squat stand. It will be a 2-post rack some type of crossmember attaching the posts at the top. In today's day and age, this is almost always a pullup bar. It will always be connected at the bottom in some way and also have a pull-up bar connection at the top.
Half racks are usually a fixed width, and have the capability to add spotter arms for safety during your lifts.
Power Racks and Cages
A power rack is the most comprehensive option when it comes to squat racks. Power racks are are usually 4-post squat racks, but can even come as large as 6-post or 8-post! The extra posts add even more stability and the potential to integrate even more workout options. This piece of equipment is sometimes called a "squat cage", "power cage", or a “full cage” because of how it surrounds the person working out.
Wall Mount Squat Racks
Wall mount racks are the newest innovation in the squat rack product category. When fully set up, these can look like full power racks. However, instead of 2 rear uprights, they are mounted to the wall. Wall mount racks are almost always foldable as well. The top crossmember can be removed relatively easily and the uprights will fold into provide a simple out of the way storage solution.
These are a great option when you have a small space to work with, such as a spare room or 1-car garage that will have a car parked in it!
Multi Press Racks
These are a little bit different - they're almost like a power rack bottom with a half rack top. They'll generally have 4-6 posts on the bottom for a ton of stability and support. Multi press racks will then have 2 posts that come up for your barbell placement. They can have built-in or adjustable safeties and are excellent for bench press and squatting.
How to Use a Squat Rack in Your Fitness Routine
As long as your squat rack can hold your barbell at various heights (and most can), you can use the rack for many other forms of strength training.
A few options for exercises you can do on your squat rack beyond front and back squats include:
Additionally, you can use a weight bench along with your squat rack to increase its versatility even more. Most squat racks can be purchased with a compatible weight bench out of the box.
Once you add a weight bench to your squat rack, you can also do exercises such as these:
Barbell bent over row
Finally, if you invest in a power cage (sometimes called a “full cage”), you can add these exercises to the routine:
Some power cages come with a variety of add-ons or attachments, as well, such as a lat pulldown cables, dip bars, and even storage shelves.
Features to look for in a squat rack
As you compare various squat rack models, there are plenty of things to consider. This is what we think is most important to evaluate when making your decision:
What your squat rack is made of is very important! Now obviously, they're all made from steel, but the size and gauge should be something you're paying attention to. Typically squat racks will be somewhere between 11 gauge and 14-gauge steel. The lower the steel gauge, the thicker the steel, the stronger, heavier and more sturdy your squat rack will be.
Most power racks have a weight capacity of at least 300-500lbs, with the majority of racks out there accommodating 500lbs or more. This is probably more than enough for casual lifters and beginners.
More experienced lifters or people who train in a powerlifting style will need something more heavy duty. A high quality rack will have a 1,000lb capacity or more!
Weight capacity it largely determined by the construction and steel gauge!
Dimensions and Overall Square Footage
Squat stands can take up a relatively small amount of space, and some racks even come as wall-mounts that fold up to minimize the amount of space needed. Power racks, while they are the most versatile and can handle the most weight, also require a decent amount of floor space and space around the equipment itself. You’ll need to carefully measure the space you have and compare it to the size of the rack you intend to buy.
Safety and Support
As we mentioned, some squat racks feature “catch bars” or spotter arms. These are in place to help prevent injuries from a dropped barbell or failed lift, but these are not included with all racks. These are super important to every lifter that works out alone. Unfortunately, some of the simpler or cheaper squat racks or stands don’t have these available.
The more positioning options you have for your barbell, the more precise you can be with your starting point and barbell height for your exercises. There are some very common hole spacing options featured on most racks - such as every 3" apart or every 2" apart.
What is Westside Spacing?
Newer or higher end racks may feature something called "westside spacing". Westside spacing was popularized by Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell. This style of spacing features holes 2" apart on the top part of the rack and just 1" apart on the bottom half of the rack.
This spacing style is great for powerlifters, allowing them to be more specific with their bench press starting point and safety placement for squats or rack pulls. Starting with your barbell at the correct height will ensure maximum efficiency in your lift and reduce wasted motion and energy.
Sometimes weight holders are considered add-ons to a squat rack, and other times they’re included in the cost of the rack. Either way, you’ll need to have a plan for where you’ll keep your weight plates so that they're easy to load up and remove — and you’ll need to make sure that the holders are compatible with the style of weights you want to use.
Sometimes a power rack may come with safeties, j-cups and an integrated pull up bar. If your rack is on the budget end of the spectrum, this may be all that your rack has the potential for with no compatible add ons or expansion capabilities.
Other racks may come with the same features as a baseline with a ton of attachments available as add-ons. It's common nowadays to see power racks with the ability to add on any of the following types of attachments to really power up your space:
- Dip handle attachments
- Different pull up bar attachments (fat grip, monkey bars, etc)
- Lat pulldown and low row stations
- Different types of spotter arms (safety straps, in-rack safeties, out of rack safeties)
- Rack extensions (taking a 4-post power rack to a 6-post rack or a half rack to a 4-post rack)
- Storage options like weight plate horns, dumbbell or kettlebell shelves, and barbell holders
- Band pegs
- U-link adapters and much more
As you can see from the list above, starting with a rack that has the available gives you a lot of freedom to add to your space in the future and really center your gym around your squat rack! The capability to add-on to your rack is something that cannot be overlooked.
Do I need a Weight Bench?
We already mentioned that you can really increase the versatility of your squat rack by adding a weight bench, which may or may not be included in the price of a squat track. Look for a weight bench that allows you to adjust both the height and the angles for more workout options. A high quality cushion will make your workouts safer and more comfortable, and allow you to get more use out of the bench over time.
How to install, use, and maintain your squat rack
Another benefit of squat racks is that they’re relatively low maintenance compared to most pieces of home gym equipment. They don’t have a lot of electronics or an internal motor, so maintenance is limited to checking the stability of the rack and the tightness of the bolts.
Before you make a final selection on any piece of fitness equipment, squat racks included, make sure that your purchase is protected by checking for warranty information. Check what you’ll have to do to return the squat rack, if necessary, and how the retailer or manufacturer will handle things if the squat rack arrives damaged or defective. You may also want to invest in professional delivery and installation, especially if you end up choosing a larger or heavier model.
At Strength Warehouse USA, we’re committed to supporting our customers throughout each purchase they make. We guarantee our products and offer delivery and installation services, even for the largest pieces of equipment.
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