HOW TO CHOOSE A POWER RACK

March 02, 2022 11 min read

HOW TO CHOOSE A POWER RACK

Before we explore the things you’ll want to consider before investing in a power rack, we’re going to explain the different kinds of racks available to you and how they differ from one another. 

A power rack, sometimes referred to as a squat rack, is offered in different forms.  Some being more suited for commercial gyms with others better for home or garage gyms.  Some of the options listed below would be seen as alternatives to a full power rack.

  1. Power Rack / Power Cage
  2. Half Rack
  3. Squat Stands
  4. Combination or Combo Rack
  5. Wall Mounted Rack

Let’s look at each in more details;

POWER RACK

Power Rack

This is a full size power rack and is sometimes referred to as a power cage.  Full size meaning you can train either inside the rack or outside.  These are commonly seen in commercial gyms as they offer plenty of versatility and include features making them a good and safe option for a gym environment.  The main disadvantage of the power rack is its size, they are sometimes too large to be suitable for smaller gyms, personal training studios and home gyms.  However, a full size rack is the most versatile and safest to use. 

They also generally have more options for upgrading.  For example, adding additional safety bars, monolift attachment, dipping bars, pull up bars and even incorporating a lifting platform. 

If you’re set on a full size power rack but have limited space, it’s always worth approaching equipment manufacturers as they can sometimes customise the size to ensure it will fit into your space whilst retaining its functionality. 

HALF RACK

Half Rack

A half rack is exactly as it sounds, essentially a smaller version of the full power rack.  It would typically be the same in terms of height and width but the length would be around half that of the full rack. 

As well as being smaller, it’s also going to be cheaper than a full size power rack.  It can often accommodate similar attachments to the full rack and is a good option for smaller gyms or home gyms that are limited on space. 

As with a full power rack, some manufacturers can alter the sizing to accommodate specific spaces. 

SQUAT STANDS

Squat stands

Squat stands are considerably more pared down when compared to a full or half rack.  They don’t offer the same versatility and are available as two individual stands whereby the user can set them up as they see fit, or two stands connected by a bar on the floor (this bar would generally provide a little more stability for the user).  Less common in commercial gyms but perfect for home gyms as they are easy to dismantle and store away after training. 

Squat stands are used for just squatting with uprights that are adjustable and which can be set to the correct height for the user.  You can incorporate a bench with the stands with the aim of bench pressing but it’s important to consider if the uprights will drop down low enough.  Some manufacturers, us included, offer the option of purchasing combination rack uprights which would easily allow the user to both squat and bench (when a bench is added to the stands). 

COMBINATION / COMBO RACK

Combination Rack

Essentially, a combination rack is a dual purpose item that allows for both bench pressing and squatting.  Similar to the squat stands it also features a bench which can be removed or attached as necessary. 

These are commonly made to competition specification, which means they can be used in a powerlifting competition environment.  It’s worth noting that some competitions will require combination racks to be approved by the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF).  This usually depends on the federation and whether the competition is regional, national or international. 

IPF approved racks are usually more expensive as the manufacturer has to pay a yearly fee for approval.  

Combination racks are commonly seen in gyms where they have a large number of powerlifters as their members.  They are also suitable for home and garage gyms due to their dual purpose functionality.  Whilst they cannot be dismantled and stored away as easily as a bench and squat stands, they are popular for those who have adequate space and need something more durable which is made to competition specification. 

WALL MOUNTED RACK

A wall mounted rack is self explanatory in that it is a very basic rack that can be fitted to a wall.  Some are fixed with others being foldable. These kind of racks tend to be popular in garage gyms.  These are not as versatile those mentioned above, mainly due to it being fixed to a wall and offering somewhat limited space for the user.    

WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE BUYING A POWER RACK

When searching for a power rack, half rack or combination rack, it’s easy to assume that they are all pretty much the same as they often appear to be at first glance.  However, there are a number of important factors you’ll want to consider before investing, as not all racks are created equal. 

POWER RACK / HALF RACK CONSIDERATIONS

  1. Do you have any space constraints for your rack? Before buying anything, measure up the space you have and pass this information on to the seller and they will be able to tell you if your rack will fit.  You’ll also want to inform them of your ceiling height as some racks can be significantly taller than others.  If you can’t find anything off the shelf that will fit, consider investing in a custom size rack.  If space really is a squeeze, squat stands and a bench could be your best option. 
  1. How versatile do you need your rack to be? You may only be looking to do a bit of squatting and barbell work and don’t require anything too fancy.  However, some of you may be looking to add attachments to further increase the functionality of your rack. Further on down in this article we run through attachments that can be incorporated with your rack.
  1. What weight capacity does your rack need to have? Some lower cost racks could be made with relatively thin box section.  This in turn makes for a lighter rack that potentially has a much lower weight capacity than something made with thicker materials.  If you know that you train hard and heavy, definitely consider this as you don’t want something that could feel unstable during use with a limited lifespan due to poorer quality materials.  Something to ask the seller is the thickness of the box section along with the weight of the rack.
  1. Do you want the rack holes to be numbered? Numbered holes are extremely useful for setting up making it quicker and easier for the user.  To save on costs, some suppliers don’t offer this but it’s something to think about before purchasing your rack.  Some racks will simply have stickers with the numbering with some better quality racks offering laser cut or etched numbering.
  1. What hole spacing do you need? This is something that is often overlooked but close hole spacing is ideal for more precise set up.  Some holes can be too widely spaced for a user meaning they can’t quite achieve a perfect set up.  
  1. Do you want additional plate storage? Plate storage pins on a power rack are commonly placed at the rear.  If you are purchasing a rack with plate storage, think about the space.  A rack is often positioned against or very close to a wall.  With storage pins being located towards the back, make sure you factor in enough clearance space to be able to easily put the plates on the pins.  You’ll need at least 250mm of clearance between the wall and the rack.    
  1. Are you looking for a rack with an integrated lifting platform? Some people purchase a rack with the intention of adding a platform later on down the line.  Before doing this, find out if a lifting platform can be incorporated into the rack.  Other points to consider would be if the platform is made with solid rubber or MDF with a rubber layer on top.  Solid rubber platforms are much more durable and can withstand much more heavy duty use.  Some suppliers offer the option to include a wooden insert into the platform.  This would be suitable for users wanting to undertake Olympic style lifts such as the clean and jerk or snatch.  

COMBINATION RACK CONSIDERATIONS

  1. Do you want the rack to be IPF approved? To most, this doesn’t make a huge difference as it’s unlikely that their rack will be used in a competition environment.  Even then, it is only international competitions that require a combo rack to be approved with most competitions simply having a need for IPF specification racks.  An IPF spec rack will be manufactured to meet specific dimension requirements and most combination racks factor this in.
  1. Do you need weight levers? Whilst available on most, some combo racks don’t include weight levers.  These are useful for those who train in groups and they work by allowing a user to alter the height of the barbell without having to unload all of the plates.  They simply ratchet up the loaded bar making this a useful feature, especially when being used in competitions.  An IPF approved rack must have weight levers. 
  1. Does the rack include safety bars? For any failed lifts, safety bars are an important and very useful feature.  Typically, most racks offer safety bars which are used when bench pressing.
  1. Does the rack include a tilt system? This is something not always noticeable at first glace but if you or your gym members want to squat with a wide grip, having uprights that can be tilted inwards will help to achieve that. Tilting the uprights inwards allow you to place your hands on the outside of the uprights and gripping to the maximum allowable distance (just inside the barbell collars). 
  1. Do you need barbell adjustment rollers? Another useful feature that’s not available on all combination racks.  Barbell rollers feature on the uprights (top and bottom for benching and squatting) and allow the user to adjust the bar from side to side even when it’s loaded with plates.  Barbell rollers can be made from nylon or stainless steel.  Stainless steel will not wear and will last considerably longer than nylon but, nylon is ideal if you have expensive barbells that you wish to prevent any superficial damage too. 
  1. Does the rack include pin guides? Again, this is something that is not immediately noticeable at first glance.  Pin guides are made from nylon and are hidden away inside the uprights.  They allow a user to quickly remove and replace pins into their holes.  This is likely to be more useful in a competition environment where speed is of the essence. 
  1. Is the rack portable? Some racks can be broken down (dismantled) quite considerably making them easy to transport.   Something you may want to consider if you plan on using your rack in powerlifting competitions. 
  1. Do the uprights feature numbers? As with a power rack, numbered holes can be very useful for set up making it quick and easy. 
  1. What finish do you require? Some combination racks are powder coated completely.  A combination rack often has its bench removed and replaced, and uprights and safety bars being height adjusted on a regular basis.  If all moving parts are powder coated, whilst this is a great surface finish, it won’t hold up so well with constant moving and can easily chip leaving bare metal underneath.  Some manufacturers plate their moving parts with nickel, this is a much more resilient finish and will give extra life to your combo rack. 

HOW TO USE A POWER RACK

At their most basic a power rack is commonly used for squatting.  To do this; position the barbell holders / J Hooks either inside or outside of the power rack. 

If you don’t have a spotter to hand and the rack offers the use of safety bars, you’ll want to squat inside the rack. 

The J Hooks should be positioned so that when you are getting under the barbell, your knees will be slightly bent.  This is to prevent you having to elevate your heels in order to unrack the bar.

When the J Hooks are in place, rack your bar and load with the required amount of weight.  Position yourself so that the barbell is resting on your upper back / shoulders.  To unrack, simply stand up straight and take a small step away from the rack to give you the clearance to squat. 

If you want to bench press with your rack, you’ll of course need access to either a flat bench or an adjustable bench.  An adjustable bench will offer more variety so you can flat bench press or incline bench press.

The bench should be positioned inside of the rack with the safety bars located sufficiently to catch any failed lifts.  J Hooks should also be placed on the inside of the rack at a height suited to the lifter allowing them to unrack and rerack easily. 

Before undertaking a bench press, lie back on the bench and ensure your head is positioned just underneath the barbell. 

If you have access to a variety of accessories, this gives even more potential for your rack allowing you to undertake a full body workout. 

WHAT EXERCISES CAN YOU DO WITH A POWER RACK

Below is a list of exercises you can undertake with a standard power rack.

  • Barbell squats
  • Bench press (if you have a bench to incorporate)
  • Standing shoulder press / military press
  • Bicep Curls
  • Rack pulls – great alternative to deadlifts
  • Pull Up (if your rack includes a pull up attachment)
  • Tricep dips (if your rack includes a dipping attachment)
  • Handing leg raises (again if your rack includes a pull up attachment)
  • Bent over rows (when using a landmine attachment)

WHAT ATTACHMENTS CAN I BUY FOR A POWER RACK?

The below list of attachments is by no means exhaustive but the important thing to remember before buying any attachments for your rack is to ensure they fit.  Often times you will need to purchase matching branded items due to potential size and fit constraints. 

Landmine Attachment

This would be located to the bottom of the rack and allow you to hold in place a barbell.  You can load up the other end with plates and undertake back rows. 

Pull Up Bars

Sometimes these are included as standard.  If not, you would need to purchase the same brand as the rack to ensure they fit correctly.  Pull up bars would be bolted to the top of the rack and allow the user to undertake pull ups.

Dipping Attachment

These tend to be sold as optional extras and as with the pull up bars, the same brand would need to purchased to match that of your rack, this is to ensure proper fit.  The dipping attachment would allow you perform dips / weighted dips with plenty of stability.

Additional J Hooks / safety bars

Whilst power racks tend to also include J Hooks and safety bars as standard, it’s common to be able to purchase additional pairs for your rack.   Ensure you purchase the same brand so they fit correctly. 

Safety Straps

These work in pretty much the same way as safety bars in that they would catch your barbell in the event of a failed lift.  Some people have a preference for straps as they absorb shock when compared to bars, offer better versatility and protect more expensive barbells. 

Monolift Attachment

For gyms who don’t want to invest in a monolift, this attachment could be a good alternative.  They are a pair of hooks which are set up either side of your power rack.  They are designed in a way so that once a barbell is unracked, they pivot up and out of the way of the user allowing them to undertake a squat without having to walk out. 

Jammer Arms

Jammers arms add a lot of versatility to your racks. Sold in pairs, they are attached to the front of your rack and allow for a wide variety of pulling and pressing exercises.  They essentially turn your power rack in to more a multi gym.

CONCLUSION

Power Racks are a hugely versatile piece of equipment and with a range of attachments available you can truly obtain a full body workout with a fully decked out power rack.  As we’ve touched on above, consider what you want to be able to do with your rack and any space constraints before investing in one. 


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