Today we’re going to be looking at how to use a squat rack properly, an important piece of gear for getting the most out of your training. Knowing how to use a squat rack best is essential for anyone serious about their training.
One important note to make before we start, though, is always to remember the first rule of the squat rack: Don’t curl in the squat rack!
Remember that, and you’ll get along just fine.
Table of Contents
What Is a Squat Rack?
A squat rack is a piece of weightlifting equipment found in the majority of gyms where free weights are present.
Usually made from steel, they need to be incredibly strong so that they don’t break or tip over when supporting heavy loads. This is especially important as when in use, the weighted barbell is generally stored near the top of the rack, making tipping all the more likely.
Its primary function is to allow users to perform squats by themselves. With squats being such a heavy lift, getting the loaded bar onto the lifter’s shoulders is almost impossible without such an item.
Many squat racks also provide safety features to help prevent injury to both the lifter and those around them. This is done by designing them to catch the weight if the user fails mid-lift, stopping it from crushing them and potentially bouncing toward others.
Out of all the different free weight equipment available, this has to be one of the most important. Enabling users to safely perform one of the best all-round exercises in weightlifting simply and effectively is an invaluable asset.
No matter if you are a beginner or an experienced lifter, being able to safely push your body as hard as you can is vital to success and longevity in the sport.
And remember, if you’re attempting big lift numbers, try strength training with supportive gear for your compound movements so you don’t injure yourself in the process!
How to Use a Squat Rack
- Select the appropriate starting position for the bar, based on your height. If it’s an adjustable rack, set the supports just below shoulder height, so when you stand up under the bar, it doesn’t get caught on them.
- Place the empty bar onto the stands and then load your weight on. Make sure not to have too much of a weight imbalance on one side as you load, or the bar may tip.
- If you have an adjustable rack, set the safety supports to roughly an inch below the bar at the deepest point of your squat. That way, you won’t hit them and lose balance, but they will be close enough to catch the bar without impact should you fail.
- If you are planning on doing one of the other exercises with a lower starting point (such as shrugs), you will adjust the supports on your stand. Choose a height an inch or so below your hands, with your arms fully extended and your back straight. This is, again, so you don’t hit the rack on each rep.
- If you have a rack with good safety support, make sure the bar is over them throughout the lift, or it’ll be of no use.
That’s it. While it may seem straightforward, all you have to do to use whatever type of squat rack you come across is to follow these few simple rules.
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Different Types Of Squat Racks
When looking at squat racks, there are 4 main types that you will come across:
- Squat Stands
- Regular Squat Rack
- Power Rack
- Squat Cage
Here are the differences between each.
Squat stands are easily the worst option of the group. They are simply adjustable supports to help you start and finish the exercise, providing no safety or assistance if you fail.
Regular Squat Rack
A regular squat rack provides the same function as a squat stand. However, it has multiple stands at a variety of heights.
This provides you with the comfort that you can still rack your weight at the end, even if you are unable to complete your final rep. Usually, they will also have a small safety rail at the bottom to catch the weight if you completely fail at the deepest point.
A power rack is a combination of the two previous options, as it has a single, adjustable rack section to load your weights, as well as the supports at the bottom if you fail.
The main advantage that a power rack can provide is that the supports are also adjustable, so you can set different heights depending on your size and what you are doing.
A squat cage is very similar to the power rack, except there are vertical supports both in front and behind you. The main benefit of this is that whether you fall forward or drop the weight backward, it will still be caught.
The downside is that the rack’s weight is spread more evenly to provide strength on all sides, so it is more likely to tip than a rack designed to take the weight in one direction.
What Else Can You Use a Squat Rack For?
Don’t curl in the squat rack!
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I want to explain a few other uses for squat racks.
The name “squat rack” is derived from its primary function, as opposed to its sole purpose.
While squats are one thing that you will absolutely want to use a rack for, any time you are performing an extremely heavy lift from a standing position (with the exception of deadlifts), any of the bottom 3 types of racks can be of great use.
They are also useful for other exercises, as they can provide a good base for a heavy lift. So you aren’t required to get the bar from the ground to the starting position once it has already been loaded.
Some of the exercises you’ll find a rack helpful for include, but aren’t limited to:
I know I keep going on about curls, but there is a reason why curling in the rack carries such a stigma.
As you can see, it’s an incredibly versatile piece of equipment for heavy lifts, which is why you’ll often find lines of people waiting to get on it. That’s why using it for much lighter exercises that you don’t need a rack for will get people riled up.
If you’re in a completely empty gym and want to do your curls in the rack, then there isn’t any harm. If that’s not the case, though, it’s probably better to give it a miss.
Don’t Become Over-Reliant on the Squat Rack
While squat racks are a great piece of gear, both for pushing and protecting yourself, don’t become over-reliant on them.
Firstly, you need to appreciate that when you’re doing such heavy lifts, things can always go wrong. So don’t lull yourself into a false sense of security.
Whether it be the rack breaking, losing your balance, or a joint or muscle getting injured, always keep in mind that something may not go as planned. So you need to be alert to react appropriately.
You also don’t want to overly rely on it for some of the other exercises I mentioned.
While it’s essential for squats, it isn’t necessarily for them. If you find yourself waiting in a line for the rack just to do your rows, ask yourself if you really need to wait for it or if you can adapt and do the exercise without the rack.
Oh yeah, and in case I forgot to mention: Don’t curl in the squat rack!
So now that you know how to use a squat rack, how much weight should you start with? Check out this blog post to find out: How Much Should I Squat for My Weight? (Strength Standards)
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