Squat racks are the holy grail of fitness equipment. Every fitness enthusiast or pro worth their salt is probably married to the squat rack. And contrary to what you might think, you can target both the upper and lower muscle groups on a squat rack. But if you’re a beginner without any idea about squat racks, it might be intimidating to get started.
In this article, we’ll spot you with Olympian-grade knowledge about all the squat rack exercises that you, beginner or elite, can incorporate into your workout routine to get your body jacked.
What Is a Squat Rack?
Squat racks are sturdy pieces of fitness equipment usually made out of steel. They have a broad base that connects with two vertical bars with holes for specific height settings, adjustable J-hooks and two horizontal safety bars (spotter arms) that go in the gaps; the former to hold a barbell, and the latter to act as a safety net, allowing you to train safely alone.
There’s also an improved variation of the squat rack, known as a power cage. These are sturdier with four vertical bars instead of two, safety pins or bars in the middle where you perform exercises, and components like a pull-up bar as a bonus.
Benefits of Squat Rack Exercises For Strength and Muscle Building
Let’s check in with some of the benefits of training with a squat rack:
- Squat racks allow resistance training, and consistently exercising with weights will improve your muscle’s size, how long it can work for, and the load mass that it can carry.
- The exercises are safer to perform because of the safety bars. This component provides for a suitable contingency in case of failure.
- It’s highly versatile and saves time because it allows you to perform various movements in the same spot. This will come in handy, especially when you’re strapped for time and still want to progress on your physique and strength.
How Do You Train With A Squat Rack?
Proper Squat Rack Technique and Safety Precautions
There are some precautionary measures and techniques that you need to know before lifting.
- Make sure your squat rack is in good shape: Check for signs of wear and tear, loose bolts, cracks or any damage on your equipment. It should be sturdy, durable and leveled.
Adjust the rack according to necessary height: Different exercises will require you to change the height of the J-hooks and safety pins or bars of the squat rack. For example, squats will need your J-hooks slightly below shoulder height so you can rack the weight back safely and set the safety pins to a few inches (1–2 in) below the bottom of your squat just in case of failure.
Consider the capacity of your squat rack: Don’t let your ego get the best of you and load weights that’ll be more than your squat rack can handle and, most importantly, more than you can handle, especially if you’re a beginner. If you’re more seasoned at lifting and can handle tons of weight, you need to buy a power rack that can easily hold your load.
Don’t overly rely on your safety pins: Like the above mentioned point, don’t let your safety mechanisms make you feel invisible and think you can handle superhero-status lifts. A lot can happen to you before that weight reaches the safety bars. Exercise adequate caution and don’t get overconfident.
- Bail out safely: This is a crucial skill you’ll need to master for numerous lifts as you gain more experience and progressively add weight to increase resistance. For example, during squats, as soon as you feel like you’ll fail a rep, don’t let that weight drag you down and injure you. Quickly roll it off your back slightly outward so it can drop onto your safety bars.
Note: if you're a beginner, try to get an experienced spotter or a professional personal trainer to assist you in your lifts as an extra safety measure until you’re comfortable bailing out on your own.
What Exercises Can You Do With a Squat Rack?
Here are the best 10 squat rack exercises you should add to or start performing in your weekly workout routine. This list consists mainly of compound exercises targeting more than one muscle group, so you get more utility from them.
For most of these routines, you can’t perform them with a squat or power rack only. You’ll need other necessary equipment like a barbell, an adjustable bench, dumbbells, etc.
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Barbell Back Squats
Going in at number one has to be the squat—after all, it’s called a SQUAT rack for a reason. No chicken legs or Johnny Bravo vibes around here!
Here’s how to do it:
- Set the J-hooks at slightly below shoulder height, place your barbell on them, and load it with appropriate weight (for beginners, less weight is better)
- Place your body under the barbell and let them rest on your traps (high bar placement) or your upper back (low bar placement).
- Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart and your arms holding the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width.
- Ensure your knees and toes align in the same direction, and then stand up straight to lift the weight off the hooks.
- Breathe in to engage your core, keep a neutral spine, chest up, face forward, and bend your knees and hips to lower the weight until your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly below.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor throughout the movement (no tip-toe squatting), push through your heels back to the starting position, and then exhale.
How to perform:
- Place the J-hooks at knee height and set the barbell.
- In an upright position, grab the barbell with a pronated grip (palms facing you), unrack the weight and take two steps back.
- Keep your spine straight, chest up and brace by breathing in.
- Slowly lower the weight by pushing your hips back. Bend forward and slightly bend your knees until the barbell is about shin level (don’t let the weight plates touch the floor)
- Pause for about a second at the eccentric portion (the lowered phase where your muscles are stretched) and return to the starting position.
🏋️ This squat rack exercise will test your grip strength. It would help if you considered getting a pair of high-quality lifting gloves.
Single-Leg Calf Raises
Tiny calves…the genetic bane of bodybuilding. They just don’t seem to grow! But with consistent training, they should grow, strengthen, and generate more force. This is where calf raises come in.
Here’s how to do them using a squat rack:
- Set a weight plate or two down to use as a raised platform beside a vertical beam of your power rack.
- Hold the vertical beam in one hand for support and grab a dumbbell in the other hand.
- Stand on the edge of the plates with only the ball of one foot and leave the other foot hanging and raised off the surface.
- Keep your knees straight, dip your heels slightly below parallel, and then drive up until you stand on your toes, contracting your calf muscles.
- Lower back down and repeat till motion till you achieve your goals reps. Do the same for the other leg.
Pull-ups primarily target the latissimus dorsi (lats) and secondarily target the biceps, lower traps, infraspinatus (the shoulder’s main external rotator) and pectoralis major (your chest’s largest muscle).
Chin-ups work the same muscles as pull-ups but activate the biceps more because of the underhand grip position (palms facing you), while for pull-ups, you use the overhand grip (palms facing outward).
How to perform:
- Grab the pull-up bar with your preferred grip and hang with your arms fully extended.
- Breathe in and pull your body until your chin is above the bar and your chest almost touches the bar.
- Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position and repeat.
🏋️ You might not pull off perfect pull-ups initially, especially if you’re a beginner. It’ll test your grip strength and overall strength too. You can do assisted pull-ups using strong resistance bands at the start.
Flat/Incline Barbell Bench Press
“How much do you bench, bro?” Never gets old. The bench press targets primarily the chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor) and, secondarily, the anterior delts and triceps. You’ll need an adjustable bench to perform this exercise.
How to do it:
- Adjust your J-hook to the appropriate height, the level where your hand is almost fully extended, lying on the flat bench.
- Grab the barbell at a width comfortable for you but wider than shoulder width (some barbells come with recommended rings for grip placement)
- Unrack the weights, breathe in and lower the barbell to your chest, slightly below your nipples.
- Push the weight up perpendicular to your body and repeat.
The incline bench press is the same as the flat bench press; the difference is you need to set your bench at a 45-degree angle and adjust the J-hook respective to the increased height.
Barbell Bent-Over Rows
Barbell rows primarily target the lats, traps, rhomboids and posterior delts and secondarily the biceps, brachialis (the elbow’s flexor) and erector spinae (deep muscles of the back that help movements like rotating and straightening)
How to perform the exercise:
- Set the J-hooks to knee level, load the barbell, grab it (overhand or underhand grip) around shoulder width distance and take two steps back.
- Keep your spine neutral and lower the weight to knee height by slightly bending your knees and pushing your hips back.
- Pull the weight to your abs by driving your elbows backwards till your back contracts.
- Lower the weight back to the starting position and repeat.
This is one of the best compound exercises that stimulate many muscle groups. It works the lats, traps, erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and forearms.
How to perform:
- Set the safety bars just below knee height and load the barbell with weight.
- Stand shoulder-width and let the bar be close to you, over your midfoot.
- Keep your spine neutral, face forward and lower yourself to grip the bar.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip close to your legs and drive from your feet to lift the weight below hip height.
- Push your hips forward, extend your knees, and retract your shoulders at the top of the movement.
- Pause for a second and return to the starting position.
Standing Overhead Press
This is a compound shoulder-building exercise best performed with a squat rack. It targets the anterior delts, traps and triceps.
How to perform:
- Place the J-hooks at shoulder height and set the barbell on them.
- Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Unrack the weight and use your upper chest to support the weight as you take two steps back from the rack.
- Brace your core, keep your head straight and push the bar up and above your head in a straight motion.
- Lower the weight back to the starting position.
Leaning Lateral Raises
No other exercise activates the medial deltoid of the shoulder like the lateral raises. They could be dubbed “the most important isolation exercise” because they’re crucial to achieving a V-taper physique, meaning wider shoulders.
Here’s how to perform them using a squat rack:
- Grab a vertical beam of the squat rack with one hand for support and, the other hand, a dumbbell.
- Keep the hand with the dumbbell close to your side and lean in its direction, away from the rack.
- Slightly bend your elbows and raise the dumbbell hand until your hand is parallel to the floor.
- Slowly lower it back to your side and repeat. Switch to the other hand and do the same.
Hanging Leg Raises
This exercise targets the abdominal muscles.
How to perform:
- Hang from the pull-up bar of the power rack with your toes off the ground
- Keep your legs together and raise them till they’re parallel to the ground
- Lower them back to the starting position and repeat.
Is a Squat Rack Effective?
Squat Rack Full Body Workout
We’ve chosen these exercises so that it can target the main upper and lower muscle groups effectively like the quads, hamstrings, back, chest, shoulders. But it’s only a sample and you can add or remove exercises as you see fit.
For example, we picked the lateral raise as the only isolation exercise. You could decide to choose the single leg calf raises instead or add it in as an extra exercise if you’re up for it.
- Barbell Back Squats: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Romanian deadlift: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Flat Bench Press: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Rack Pulls: 3 sets of 6-12 reps
- Chin-Ups: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Overhead Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Leaning Lateral Raises: 3 sets of 8-15 reps
How Long Should You Be At The Squat Rack?
Your duration at the squat rack depends on how long your workout routine is. The full body workout above should take you around 45-60 min to complete. Otherwise, be a good home gym-goer and use the squat rack to complete only the exercises it’s built for.
Rack Up Progress
Without a doubt, the squat rack is an equipment you should get familiar with if you’re serious about making massive strength and muscle gains. They are easy to use, versatile and allow you to train effectively and safely.
If you have a home gym or are thinking of building one. Montreal Weights have some of the best squat racks in store for you along with a myriad of high-quality gym equipment like barbells, dumbbells, adjustable benches, flooring and necessary accessories.