Power Racks: The Definitive Guide

When it comes to home gyms, a power rack is the most versatile piece of equipment there is.

It will enable you to perform a vast range of lifts (the number of which can be increased by purchasing add-ons), making it an indispensable piece of equipment.

Because of its many uses, a power rack should be the centerpiece of your home gym.

However, power racks aren’t cheap and quality can vary massively between different models. As a result, you will need to put a lot of thought into which power rack you buy.

Luckily, we have done the leg work for you.

In this guide, we explain what you should be looking for and why it matters.

Top Recommendation

Rogue R-4

rogue power rack r4

Price: $960

The R-4 is the power rack you deserve.

With the R-4, Rogue has made it easy and affordable for anyone to own a (USA made) commercial grade power rack.

It is constructed out of 2 x 3″ 11 gauge steel making it similar in durability to the racks you will find in elite training facilities and commercial gyms.

The R-4 boasts Westside hole spacing, providing 1” spaces through the bench and clean pull zone then 2” spacing above and below. This means you’ll be able to find the optimal positions for your j-hooks and safeties without compromising on range of motion.

The pin pipe safeties are incredibly robust and can take a huge amount of punishment. Accessories include: resistance band pins and fat and skinny pull up bars.

You will never need gym membership ever again when you take home this beautifully constructed and versatile rack.

Learn More

What is a power rack?

A power rack (also known as a power cage or squat cage) is a piece of gym equipment usually constructed out of steel and shaped like a rudimentary, open cage. It will almost invariably be made up of four upright pillars connected, at least partially, at the top and base.

It is designed to facilitate a range of exercises revolving around use of a barbell (and weight plates). This is important to note, as a power rack on its own is virtually useless!

What does a rack do?

Acts as a shelf for your barbell

The rack functions as a shelf for the barbell, allowing it to be positioned at different heights depending on the exercise being performed. The barbell is removed from the rack (unracked) to begin the exercise and returned (re-racked) once it is completed. This is a far more elegant (and safer!) solution than attempting to lift the barbell into position from the floor – especially for exercises like squats!

Provides a spotter function

The rack also has a second function. It provides a “spotter” function. Those of you familiar with weight training will know that a spotter is a person who provides support during a lift by being ready to intervene if the the person undertaking the lift is unable to successfully complete it. In particular, spotting is common for the bench press exercise, as  dropping the barbell whilst in the supine position could cause serious injury.

A power rack has “safety catches” also known as “spotter bars”, which are placed horizontally across the sides of the rack. These can be raised or lowered as needed. They are intended to “catch” a barbell if it cannot be re-racked. This prevents the barbell being dropped to the floor or indeed on top of the lifter!

Spotter bars between the steel uprights

Spotter bars between the steel uprights

Safety catches should be positioned high enough to prevent injury (i.e. to stop the barbell coming into contact with your body) but low enough to prevent restriction of movement (i.e. so that the barbell does not comes into contact with the safety catch before you are able to complete the full range of movement for the lift) .

Why are power racks popular?

Free weight exercises

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Power racks are hugely popular due to fact that they allow users to perform the most popular free weight exercises. These are generally speaking better for building an overall strong and balanced physique than purely using machines, which have a fixed range of movement.

The fixed-movement alternative to a power rack is a Smith machine. This is a less widely used piece of equipment due to the fact that it restricts movement severely, often requiring the user to move in an unnatural motion to perform a lift. It is often proven to be less effective for muscle development than using free weights. However, Smith machines do remain the favourite of the safety conscious. That’s not to say that power racks are unsafe, provided they are used correctly of course.

Train safely

Perhaps most importantly, a power rack allows a trainee to train alone safely. The safety catches eliminate the need for a spotter, so you can lift heavy without risking injury should you be unable to complete the lift.

Eliminate weaknesses

Power racks are also popular because they allow you to begin and finish lifts at your desired heights. This allows you to target various ranges of motion to target weak links. For example, you may find it difficult to drive upwards at the bottom position of a squat. As a result, this will hold you back from increasing the maximum amount you can lift. A power rack will allow you to target your weakness by letting you place the safety bars at the bottom position of the squat meaning you can start the movement from there.

Are there any downsides?

Power racks are typically more suitable for garage gyms rather than small workout areas, as they require a fair amount of space (see section on dimensions below).

In addition, they may not be appropriate for complete novices to weight training. This is because it is important that you learn how to use them safely before diving in. It is likely that you will not always have a spotter or training partner at home and so will need to ensure that you are comfortable using the safety mechanisms (safety catches).

Buying a good quality power rack is expensive. But, since it does effectively provide an alternative to gym membership, this is unsurprising. Thankfully,  a good quality power rack should last you a lifetime. It is recommended that you invest in a good quality rack that will stand the test of time. This will work out cheaper in the long run as you won’t need to buy another rack in the future (for example, if you outgrow a cheap rack).

What exercises can I do?

Power racks can be used to perform  a range of different exercises. Importantly, they are not limited to working just your upper or just your lower body but can be utilised to perform a full-body work out routine.

Power racks are incredibly useful as they allow you to perform the main compound exercises that most strength development routines, such as Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, recommend.

These include:

Bench Press

The bench press involves pressing a barbell upwards from a supine position.

Bench press inside a power rack

Bench press inside a power rack

Shoulder Press

The shoulder press involves lifting a barbell above the head. It can be performed either in front of or behind the head.

Shoulder press in power rack

Shoulder press performed behind the head

Squats

For squats, the barbell is rested on the traps and lowered by bending of the knees into a squat position. Once in the squat position, the barbell is raised by driving upwards.

Pull ups

To do a pull up, “pack” the shoulders down and pull your body upwards using your lats and traps.

pull up being performed on a power rack

In addition to these exercises, there are a whole load more you can do with add-ons to your power rack.

What dimensions?

Before buying, it is important to consider the dimensions of a power rack to ensure that it fits in your workout space.

Footprint (external dimensions)

Sellers will usually only provide the external dimensions of a power rack in the product description. This is known as the rack’s “footprint”.

When reviewing the stated dimensions bear in mind that you will need to account for a considerable margin on top of these. In particular, whilst the width of a typical rack might only be approx. 50 inches, you must account for the width of a barbell, which will be placed across the width of the rack.

An Olympic barbell is 7.2 ft (86.4 inches). However, shorter 6 ft barbells are also available if you are short on space.

Internal dimensions

The internal dimensions of a power rack are also important.

You may find that a rack with small internal dimensions will be too cramped and prevent you from performing certain exercises. In particular, you will need to ensure that a rack has sufficient internal width if you intend to perform sumo style squats.

sumo style squat in power rack

Sumo style squat

If you intend to perform lifts with a wide stance, try to purchase a rack that has slightly raised beams between the widths of the rack at the base. This will allow you to place your feet underneath. Alternatively some racks are designed so as to have more width space at the base.

Height

Another important dimension to consider is the height of a rack.

It is not uncommon for home gym enthusiasts to bring home a rack and find, when partially assembled, that it is too tall for the ceiling.

The usual height of a rack tends to be around 82 inches, which should fit most homes. For reference a standard door frame is approx. 81.6 inches in height. If you plan to use your rack for pull ups be sure to account for some literal headroom also.

Some racks can be significantly taller than 82 inches, such as the Rogue RML-390BT rack, which is 90 inches in height. So don’t make any assumptions before buying.

If you have low ceilings don’t worry, it is possible to buy short power racks that are able to fit under a 6ft ceiling.

short power rack

Alternatively, you can buy a sumo rack, which is perfect for low ceilings (e.g. in your basement).

Sumo racks are much like power racks but the steel uprights are much shorter. The uprights at the front of a sum rack are usually lower than the ones at the back.

The main disadvantage is that you won’t be able to perform as many exercises as with a power rack. For example, you won’t be able to perform the military press or pull ups. However, this isn’t a massive issue, as you can simply buy an inexpensive pull up bar for use with a door frame.

sumo rack

sumo rack

Why might you want a tall rack?

For tall lifters, a tall rack might be more practical. This is perhaps only relevant for the military press or other exercises where the barbell is lifted above your head from a standing position.

Military press in a power rack

Military press in a power rack

If this is a concern, try to find a power cage, which is not enclosed at the top. Although the terms “power rack” and “power cage” are used interchangeably, a power cage differs from a power rack in that it is not enclosed at the top.

Tall lifters may also wish to find a rack where they can do pull ups without their feet touching the ground.

Example heights

Below is a table giving the height, width and length of a range of different racks to give you a feel for the typical dimensions you might encounter.

RackWidth (inches)Height (inches)Depth/Length (inches
PowerLine PPR200X448246
Body-Solid Pro468249
Soozier Ultimate Strength Training39.7682.6849.61
Valor Fitness BD-763.58247
ROGUE RML-390BT499030
York FTS50.881.256
Brickhouse Fitness Max58.483.246.4

What weight?

The weight of a power rack is important.

Heavier racks feel more secure and will be less liable to shake or sway during sets. For example, it is not uncommon for heavier lifters to complain that lighter racks feel unstable when performing pull ups. There is also the possibility that a rack might literally tip over if the weight distribution is wrong.

It is not the end of the world if you have a light rack, as you can stabilize it by adding plates to the plate holders, assuming that the rack has these. If not, you may be able to buy an attachment for this purpose.

plate holder on a power rack

Plate holder on a power rack

The weight of a rack will generally be a good indication of how sturdy it is and thus how much weight it can hold.

Racks constructed out of thicker steel will be heavier.

The downsides of a heavy rack are high shipping / transport fees, and the possibility that it may be more difficult to assemble.

Bolted to the floor or not?

A good way of ensuring that your rack will remain stable is to bolt it to the ground. This is particularly helpful for lighter racks.

However, it is still important to bolt heavy racks to the floor if you plan to lift heavy.  This is because racks that are not designed to be bolted to the floor are usually constructed so as to have “feet” that stick out providing stability to prevent the rack from tipping over. If you do not bolt down a rack that does not have “feet”, it will be far less stable.

Power rack with feet

Power rack with feet

As not all racks are designed to be bolted to the floor, this is something you will have to decide whether you want and are able to implement. For example, you will need to be comfortable using power tools and the idea of drilling holes into your floor.

Rouge have produced a short instructional video showing how to bolt their racks to a concrete floor:

What steel gauge?

11 Gauge is the standard for power racks in commercial gyms and university/college weight rooms. However, entry level power racks for home use tend to have a gauge of 14.

For context, gauge sizes are numbers that indicate the thickness of a piece of sheet metal. Somewhat counter-intuitively, a higher number refers to a thinner sheet.

The equivalent thicknesses differ for each gauge size standard, which were developed based on the weight of the sheet for a given material.

The Manufacturers’ Standard Gage provides the thicknesses for standard steel, galvanized steel, and stainless steel. Below is the chart for standard steel:

steel gauge chart

Unsurprisingly, steel of a lower gauge is heavier per unit area than higher gauge steel. As a result, you can generally assume that heavier cages will be constructed from lower gauge steel.

Some “hardcore” racks are entirely constructed out of steel which is 7 gauge or lower. These racks are designed to be made to so heavy that they can take any kind of punishment.

Hammer Strength is one example of a brand that builds racks out of very heavy 7 gauge steel.

However, 7 gauge steel isn’t necessary, even for professional athletes, and is certainly overkill for a home gym. Even the top power lifters in the world train on racks made from 11 gauge all the time. For example, Westside, Elite, and Sorinex build racks with 11 gauge steel that are used by athletes squatting over 1000 lbs.

In addition to there being no real practical benefit from a 7 gauge power rack, you will have to pay substantially more for shipping such a heavy piece of equipment.

Lower gauge steel should be used for:

  • gussets,
  • bolt plates, and
  • base plates that are bolted to the floor.

Upright dimensions?

Also important for a power rack are the dimensions of the steel upright.

steel upright

Steel upright

Usually the uprights are either 3″ x 3″ or 2″ x 3″. Racks that have uprights measuring 3″ x 3″ will tend to be more stable due to being heavier. The square shape of the 3″ x 3″ upright is also likely to be more robust that the thinner rectangular shape of the 2″ x 3″ upright.

If it is within your budget, I would highly recommend buying a power rack with at least 12 gauge steel. Anything higher than this is likely to be a budget rack.

Weight Capacity

The advertised weight capacity of a power rack should be used as a general indication of how sturdy it is.

The weight capacity on power racks can be as low as 500lb, such as for the Bodymax CF375 power rack. However, generally speaking, you should try to find a rack that has a weight capacity of 1000lbs. It is worth mentioning that most manufacturers will underestimate the capacity of their racks so as to avoid lawsuits. Therefore, it is likely that racks will be able to handle more than the capacity advertised.

Having said that, there is no point buying a rack that can only handle 500lbs if you intend to progress to a point where you will be lifting near to or more than this.

Types of safety catch

Pop-pin safeties

Image result for pop pin safety bar

To use, pull the pins out of the holes in the uprights. Once this is done, the safety bars can be moved up or down to the required height. The pins must be accurately lined up with the appropriate holes in the steel uprights. When the pins are released they retract and insert into the holes, causing the bars to fix in place. You need to tighten the pins to secure the bars.

Typically, the catches will be rectangular.

The benefit of pop-pin safety catches is that they allow the bars to be moved quickly. However, they are generally not suitable if you plan on lifting very heavy.

Sabre safeties

sabre-safety

Sabre safeties are long rods, often bent at one end.

They are inserted into holes in the steel uprights and run through the entire width of the power rack.   Due to this design, it is important to make sure that there is ample room in front of the power rack to allow the sabres to be removed and inserted.

Sabre safeties are the most suitable kind of spotter bar for power lifting. However, quality will vary between racks. Poor quality sabre safeties will be thin and/or hollow. Instead, sturdier commercial grade racks tend to use thick sabres that are two inches in diameter.

Due to the simple design it is easy and cheap to find replacements (in the unlikely event that they get damaged).

Swing-in safeties

swing in safety

Swing-in safeties are inserted from the side. They are straightforward to adjust. However, they require somewhat careful positioning to insert the pins into the uprights.

Swing-in catches are often used on commercial power racks, meaning that they are a good choice for

The bars latch in from the side. A good balance between speed and strength, often found on premium products. My preference.

Strap / chain safeties

chain-safeties

Strap catches are comprised of a nylon strap connected to chain links.

Strap safeties are often used alongside another safety catch. However, it is also possible to use them on their own. The main advantage to using them is that they do not mark the knurling on the barbell. In addition, they cushion the impact of a barbell better than metal bars. It is possible to mitigate the damage to the knurling on the barbell when using metal safeties by using an UHMW plastic covering.

The main problem with using straps is that they will be slack causing the lowest position of the strap to be in the middle of where the two points connect to the top of the rack. Therefore, if you do not position yourself so that the bottom position of the lift is aligned with the bottom position of the straps, then the bar will end up touching the strap on the descent.

This is an interesting guide about how to build your own straps and the benefits of a strap safety system. (Disclaimer: I would always recommend using metal safeties alongside straps.)

Hole Spacing

The spacing between the holes on the steel uprights of a power rack is an important feature to consider.  Hole spacing will dictate the heights at which you can set the safety catches and j-hooks.

Why is this important?

If the safety catches are set too high, they may restrict your range of movement during a lift. If the safety catches are set too low, they will not be able to catch a barbell before it comes into contact with your body, meaning that you risk seriously injury.

Similarly, j hooks that are positioned too high could cause injury by making you over extend and/or making it more difficult to re rack the bar.  If the j hooks are too low, this could make it harder to control the bar when racking, as it will be manoeuvred when your body is in a less natural position.

Spacing can vary from between 1 to 4 inches. Whilst 1 inch between holes offers the greatest flexibility, it is relatively uncommon to find a rack with such small spacing increments. Spacing over 2 inches is less desirable. You should avoid buying a rack with 4 inch spacing, as it is highly unlikely that the safety catches and j-hooks will be set at the right heights.

Hole spacing is more important for certain exercises rather than others. For example, it is not critically important for squats when considering your j-hook placement, as you can simply lower your body to get under the bar.

Westside spacing

west side spacing power rack

Some racks have what is known as a “Westside Barbell” hole pattern.

This pattern provides for 1 inch spacing between the holes at the mid to bottom part of the steel uprights.   This is the section where the j hooks and safety catches will be placed when you are bench pressing. It is particularly important that the j hooks and safeties are set at the right height when you bench press.

The Westside spacing pattern has 2 inch spacing between the holes at the mid to top part of the steel uprights. This is where you place the j hooks for squats and the overhead press.

Overall, Westside spacing is very useful to have on a power rack, as its offers flexibility without compromising the structural integrity of the rack by having too many holes close together. However, you should be prepared to pay a little more for racks with Westside spacing as this pattern is rarely found on entry level bargain power racks. An example of a rack with the Westside spacing pattern is the Rouge R-4.

J-Hooks (aka J Cups)

J-hooks or j-cups are affixed to the steel uprights of a rack and act as a shelf for your barbell. They can be moved up or down depending on the exercise that you are performing.

When considering which power rack to buy, you should look at the lip design of the j-hooks, whether they have a sandwich design and their weight capacity.

Lip design

Ideally, you want the lip on your j-hooks to be wide enough so that it is not difficult to rack your barbell. However, you don’t want them to be so wide that it is difficult to unrack your barbell.

high lip j cup

Some j-hooks have a slanted or curved lip making it easier to unrack them. Whereas, others have a perpendicular lip (i.e. at a 90 degree angle), which makes unracking more difficult but means that they are less likely to slip out when racking/unracking.

thin lip j cups

 Sandwich Style

The sandwich style J-hook is excellent for bar protection.  It has a plastic centre, usually made of UHMW, which protects bars from knurling damage.

This kind of j-hook will usually also have an UHMZ insert on the back of the hooks to protect the steel uprights on your power rack.
sandwich j hooks

Weight Capacity

Check the weight capacity of j-hooks before buying. There is no point having a rack with a low steel gauge if the j-hooks aren’t able to cope with much weight. Thankfully, the sturdier, heavier racks will generally have j-hooks that are rated for a high weight capacity. For example,  Rogue’s infinity J-cups have been tested at 1000lbs.

Does the rack have a stabilizer?

Some racks have a stabilizer bar that runs between the back steel uprights at the bottom of the rack (see image below).  The idea is that the stabilizer bar is meant to keep the rack stable, especially when it has not been bolted to the floor. However, often these bars can get in the way when you are using the rack. For example, they may prevent you from getting your bench in the right position, meaning that you are too far forward when benching, which can be dangerous. When buying a power rack, think about whether you want a stabilizer bar, and, if so, try to find a rack that has a removable one.

stabilizer bar

Some brands like Rogue give you the option of adding a stabilizer to your rack for around $50 more.

 What else will I need?

In addition to a power rack, you will need:

  • a bench,
  • a barbell,
  • barbell collars, and
  • weight plates.

Accessories for your rack

Many power racks come with “extras” that are incorporated into the design or can be added. This guide will focus on accessories that are usually incorporated into the design of your rack.

Storage

Some power racks have additional uprights at the rear which have horizontal bars that can be used for storing plates. This makes racking and unracking plates a lot more convenient, as you are just inches from your barbell.

power rack with plate storage

Power rack with plate storage

However, don’t despair if the rack of your dreams lacks plate storage. You can buy an attachment for this purpose:

power rack storage attachment

The attachments are a little less convenient as you need to ensure that they are placed at holes in the uprights that are not being used for the j hooks or safety catches.

Pull up bars

Pull up bars are a great addition to power racks as they enable you to perform one of the best pulling compound movements.

However, there is a lot of variation between power rack models. Often racks with simply have a horizontal bar across the width of the rack connecting the steel uprights. However, you can also find racks with more elaborate crossmembers.

Cross members have a number of different handles, so that you can choose whether to perform narrow grip, wide grip or even hammer pull ups.

Multi grip pull up bars for a power rack

Resistance band pins

Some power racks come with pins sticking out of the sides. These are for attaching bands, so that you can provide additional resistance to your lifts.

resistance bands power rack

Some of the band pins are welded to the rack, whereas others can be placed in different positions across the beams between the front and rear uprights.

 

Resistance band pins

Still Need to Know More?

If you still have burning questions about power racks, we have gathered a helpful resource of online guides:

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