This is a guest post from James Cousins of Smart Fitness Results.
Besides dumbells, barbells, and plates, a power rack is one of the essential pieces of equipment any gym can have. Power cage, as it is also known, allows you to exercise safely, while performing heavy compound free-weight exercises, even without a spotter. In this article, we will talk about the best power rack exercises you can do, to fully utilize this great piece of iron. Let’s go!
#1 Barbell Squats
Performing barbell squats, either front or especially back, is almost impossible to do without power or squat rack. (The difference between a power and a squat rack is that the squat (half) rack has only two pillars, with bar catchers only attached from one side. Power rack has four posts, and bar catchers are fixed on both sides, providing better stability. If you can, always opt for a full rack.) The reason why is simple—how would you load a barbell, and then place it behind your neck without something to hold it for you? Without a power rack, it’s impossible to do heavy squats. However, even if you could load yourself, doing squats without a power rack would be extremely unsafe. Always make sure to set up safety pins at the correct height. Do a squat with just a barbell, and see where it stops at the bottom position. Place the pins a little lower than that. The idea is for them to catch the barbell, as soon as you give up on that last rep. This will prevent injuries, but also potential property damage, as heavy barbell won’t fall on the floor. See how to squat without destroying your knees.
#2 Rack Pulls
While the only “big lift” exercise where the power rack is pretty much useless is the deadlift, this piece of equipment can be used for its closest cousin—rack pulls. As you can see from the name, you need a rack to do rack pulls. You set up safety pins just below, above, or at knee height, and you pull the bar off the pins (or off the rack), and there you go, those are rack pulls. Although this looks like a crippled deadlift, rack pull is actually an awesome exercise. It entirely takes away the leg push part from the deadlift, and all you have left is 100% back. Rack pulls also allow you to lift heavy, and you can really build muscle with this exercise. They hit back muscles hard, and are an excellent option for developing upper back and traps too. Because you lift heavy, rack pulls are also excellent for your grip strength.
#3 Bench Press
Even if your gym has a separate bench with bar holders for this exercise, you should perform the bench press inside a power rack. The reason why is simple—safety. Without a spotter, the bench press is a dangerous exercise, at least if you want to do it properly, which is to lift heavy. Having a loaded barbell towering over your head and chest is not the smartest thing you can do while trying for your personal best, alone. A rack corrects this, as it is there to catch the bar if you fail your rep. Roll an adjustable bench under it, and place the safety pins just above your chest level. The idea is for them to catch the bar as you fail, just above your chest so that you can squeeze out without any broken ribs. Besides the regular and incline bench press, you can use the power rack to perform “dead” bench press. This is a rack pull version of bench press. You set up pins just above your chest, and then place the bar on it. With every rep, you lift the bar off the pins and put it back on, essentially lifting “dead weight” without any spring or momentum.
#4 Inverted Row
The inverted row is the best bodyweight exercises you can do for your upper back (and biceps), period. However, although bodyweight, it is hard to perform without a power rack. The idea is to fix a barbell on safety catches or J-hooks. It should be high enough for you to go under it, holding the bar with your hands fully extended, hovering just above the floor. Then, you pull yourself to the bar, trying to touch it with your chest. You will realize that this is much harder than it seems. When you get stronger, you can make the inverted rows harder by placing your legs on a bench. Once that becomes too easy, you can hold a plate over your stomach or chest. However, this exercise should be more about volume than lifting heavy; use it as an accessory for your pullups and barbell rows.
#5 Military Press
Doing military press (or barbell shoulder press), which is the best shoulder muscle builder, outside of the power rack is possible, but it’s not convenient. A power rack lets you place the bar just at the right height, which will allow you to easily lift it off, and put it back once you finish the set. Although the military press has an “escape mechanism” as you can just drop the weight on the floor if you feel like you can’t lift anymore, it’s a good idea to set up bar catchers just below shoulder height. That way you will lessen the injury risk, and the bar won’t slam on the floor. Also, knowing that you have catchers in place gives you peace of mind, and you will be able to lift more.
#6 Pullups and Chinups
People often forget that almost every power rack has at least one pull-up bar built into it. This is an excellent opportunity to superset one of the best exercises while you are using a power rack for something else. Because power racks are useful for so many exercises, the chances are other people at the gym want to use them too. It’s a much better idea to squeeze in one more exercise while you are already there, then to have people wait for you to finish all sets before moving to pull-ups.
#7 Good Mornings
While good mornings are a bit more advanced, as they require greater hamstring flexibility, they are still one of those often neglected old-school movements, incredible for building posterior chain muscles. Do them, but make sure you start light and slow until you perfect the technique. A squat rack allows you to perform good mornings safely. Just see how far you can go down the movement, and place the safety pins at that level. This will remind you not to go below that limit, at least until you build up more flexibility and strength. You can lower the catches after that.
#8 Hanging Leg Raises
Hanging leg raises are one of the best movements you can do for your abs, especially the lower portion. They are tough too, and if you aren’t doing them already, you will find them challenging. A power rack is perfect for them, as it has a pull-up bar. Not only that, but the pullup bar is actually at a correct height, allowing you to fully hang from it (at least if you aren’t too tall), something a pull-up bar mounted on a doorframe won’t allow. There are two options—doing leg raises with your knees bent (easier) or legs fully extended (harder). Once you master these movements, you can start doing “windshield wipers” and trying to touch the bar with your toes. By then, you will already have an awesome 6pack, as it takes an incredible amount of strength to pull off those movements.
What Not To Do In A Squat Rack—Biceps Curls!
No curls at the squat rack! Unless you have one at home of course. Guys, you can do biceps curls anywhere, so there’s no reason why you should do it in a power rack. You are taking up space for other people, who want to do exercises like the barbell squat. A power rack is the only place where you can do barbell squats, at least safely. Where to safely do barbell curls? Try the rest of the gym. Be S.M.A.R.T. in your training.
As you can see, power racks are very versatile. The exercises we mentioned above are just some of the options you can do inside a power rack. What’s more, each of those exercises has several variations, making power racks the go-to piece of equipment you will probably use the most often. Because of this, power racks are one of the first things you should buy for your home gym, after dumbells, plates, and barbells. While it doesn’t seem that way at first, especially considering how much space they take, power racks are essential, and no good gym can go without one. If you go to a commercial gym that has one, use it as often as possible, it will help you build an impressive body. If your commercial gym doesn’t have a power rack, then find a better one. That’s it from us, just keep lifting, and stay strong! For more in-depth guides on power rack exercises visit smart fitness blog.
About The Guest Author
Hi, I’m James and I own and manage Smart Fitness Results. I am a fitness fanatic and enjoy helping people achieve their fitness goals in a faster and more effective way. Together with experts in the fitness world, we provide informative information to help our readers improve their fitness and diet programs. Hope you enjoy the articles!