In this article, we will explain how to use a power rack, one of the most recognizable pieces of gym equipment. You will also learn why the power rack is an essential part of every commercial gym, and also why home gym owners should consider getting one too. Let’s go!
Why Use A Power Rack In First Place?
Power rack, or power cage as it is also known, lets you perform even the heaviest barbell movements with complete safety. Power racks have safety catches, which are designed to save you from harm if you fail a lift.
Doing movements such as the barbell back squat is impossible without a power rack or a squat rack. Also, movements like the barbell bench press or the barbell overhead press are very hard to perform safely. Even if you have a barbell bench press station, doing it without a spotter while getting near to your maximal lifts is not recommended, as it can lead to severe injury or even death.
So the safety catches are the whole point of power racks, but it also has J-hooks, which allow you to load the barbell comfortably, but also make it easier for you to perform the exercise, unracking and re-racking the bar without issues.
The fact that you can use the power rack for just about any barbell exercise you can think of, makes it one of the most versatile pieces of fitness equipment you can buy. Also, because it lets you exercise alone, risk-free means that power racks are one of the best things you can buy for your home gym. Yes, they do require a dedicated space and are quite big. But, they are one of the only ways to exercise to failure without compromising safety.
How To Use A Power Rack?
This piece of equipment is straightforward to use, and we will give you a few good tips to make sure you do it right.
Tip #1: There Is No One Size Fits All
The most common mistake when it comes to using a power rack is laziness. People just don’t want to bother re-adjusting the safety pins and J-hooks, and just go straight to performing the exercise.
Take your time to prepare this piece of equipment to your specific needs. Everyone is different, and every exercise needs its own approach. Unless your twin worked out before you, don’t expect the setup to fit your needs.
Tip #2: Start From The Exercise You Want To Perform
Every exercise needs a different setup.
- OHP – you want safety bars to be lower than your chest level. When you fail your rep, just slightly bend your knees, and the catches will prevent the barbell from slamming the ground. As for the J-hooks, put them at shoulder height.
- Bench press – you need to place the bench in the correct position and place J-hooks so that you can easily unrack the bar. Safety bars and catches should be just above your chest, to prevent the bar from falling on you. But they shouldn’t be too high, you should have as much range of motion as possible. The same goes for the floor press, just eliminate the bench.
- Squat – so the J hooks should be on a hole just below your shoulder height, to allow you to unrack the bar easily. The safety catches should be just below your lowest point of the squat ( front or back squat ). You want the full range of motion, going as deep as possible, so make sure to allow just that. Remember, you need to re-adjust the position for low-bar and high-bar, as well as for the front, Zercher, or any other kind of the squat you are doing.
Those are three of the most common movements, but you can use the power rack for anything. So as long as you re-adjust the safety/J catches position for every movement, allowing the full range of motion, you are fine.
Tip #4: Clear The J-Hooks
When unracking the bar, make sure to position yourself, or take a step back (depending on the exercise), which will allow the bar to clear J-hooks not only when coming down, but also when coming back up. Hitting the hooks on your way up is not very pleasant, especially when you are attempting your new personal best. Not only it will ruin the lift, but you can end up injured.
Tip #5: No Curls!
Unless you have a power rack at home, don’t do isolation exercises such as the biceps curl inside the power rack. You can do that just about anywhere while performing back squats safely is impossible without a rack. Therefore, respect the rack, and take your biceps pump elsewhere, you don’t want to angry those powerlifter bros around you!
Tip #6: Load Evenly
While it might seem easier to fully load one side of the bar before moving to the other side, don’t do that! Don’t be lazy, and load one the big 45 lb plates on each side first. That will stabilize the bar, making sure it doesn’t tip over, which can leave you injured and cause property damage. You should do this for any amount of weight, but it is absolutely mandatory whenever you try anything above 200 lbs. So take it one plate on each side at a time. The same goes for unloading.
Tip #7: Put Plates On Holders
To fully stabilize the power rack, make sure it has some plates on plate holder bars on the side. This is very useful in cases you reach failure, and the loaded barbell slams the safety pins. You don’t want the rack to shake, or turn over. So if you have a power rack at home, use it as storage for all of the extra plates. The same goes in the commercial gyms, but the chances are there are many plates on it already.
Tip #8: Try Partial Range Of Motion
While you should use the full range of motion on most lifts, sometimes going partial will fix some imbalances you developed over the years. For example, you can do rack pulls instead of deadlifts, or floor press instead of regular bench press. Pin press is another option. You can also try isometric movements, going from a dead stop. All of these movements will hit muscles in a new way, which will emphasize any weak points you might have, balancing out your strength. You can set the pins on the vertical posts to the right height for all types of partial movements.
Pros & Cons
Power Racks were specifically designed to be used with free weights. When you weight train with free weights you can become stronger and build more muscles than by working out on a machine alone.
When you weight train, you are required to use your primary muscles as well as your stabilizing muscles. Using both a Power Rack along with free weights will give you much better results than just using the machine alone.
If you are going to be training for Olympic Lifts you will be a lot safer inside of a power rack.
Power racks are generally far more robust and sturdy than squat stands. When you are going into the heavy zone, you need to have utter confidence in your equipment.
The power rack will give you that assurance more readily than any squat rack. Vertical posts will often be numbered to make it easy to place the bar just where you need it.
Power racks are fitted with a number of key safety features. These include safety bars and pins to ensure that you have a fail feature in case you miss your lift.
To have a good workout you will want to be doing a lot of different exercises. The squat rack will allow you to do squats in all of its manifestations.
Inside a power rack, however, you can perform squats, along with deadlifts, bench presses, inverted rows, dips, chin ups, rack pulls, upright rows, barbell curls along with many other movements.
Good power racks will also have a pullup bar to allow you to do pull ups and chin ups.
Power Rack Cons
Make no mistake a Power Rack is an incredible piece of equipment for getting great results from working out.
It’s a winner when it comes to a home gym. But to be honest, there are some problematic issues that people need to consider.
A Lot of Space is Required
This is a huge piece of equipment to have in your home. You will need a large room to house it and all the other equipment that comes with it.
Your ceiling must be high enough to give you head room when doing pull-ups and chin-ups.
You Are Going to Need Additional Equipment
A Power Rack won’t come with all the weights and other equipment that you are going to want. This means that you will need to buy these things. So figure in the cost of benches, barbells, weight plates and dumbbells.
Because it’s a given that you will have to buy more equipment, the total cost of a Power Rack will be more than you would spend on many other pieces of workout equipment.
Power Racks are more costly than a squat stand would be on its own.
Power racks should be the foundation stone of every workout in achieving your fitness goal. If your goal is to build muscle, or increase strength, you will have to use free weights. And there is no way to do most of the barbell free weight exercises safely without using a power rack.
Given that they are more affordable nowadays you can buy one as part of your home gym equipment, especially for those with garage gyms. Make sure you get one with additional features like a pullup bar and, where possible, weight plates being included.
We hope that our guide helped you and that you now have a better idea of how to use the power rack properly, making your workouts better than ever before.