Whether it’s a home gym, a studio or a commercial gym, a squat rack is an absolute must for any athlete or novice gym enthusiast looking to build strength and body mass. If you’re a beginner, a squat rack can be an intimidating piece due to its huge size and multiple weighing plates. But, while it may sound intimidating, a squat rack is a piece of important gym equipment in your daily workout routine. So, to enjoy its full potential, you first need to understand how to use a squat rack, and most importantly, you need to know what exactly it is.
Now, most gym equipment is potentially dangerous and will require you to have a spotter around to assist you. However, with a squat rack or power rack, this is quite the opposite as they’re loaded with safety features that let you perform your fitness exercises without the assistance of a spotter. So, in this guide, we will discuss ways you can use a squat rack.
How to Use a Squat Rack – Step By Step Guide
But First, Why Buy a Squat Rack?
- Versatility: What makes the squat rack a little more different from other weight lifting equipment is its vast versatility. This alone gives them a broader array of movements that allows you to perform deadlifts, pull-ups, squats, and presses quite easily.
- Safety: Another reason you’ll need to buy a squat rack is its ability to hold the bar whenever you need to adjust yourself or set up your body properly. Since they’re easy to set up at home, you won’t need to have a spotter around when performing most of these exercises.
- Space-Saving: If you need a piece of home equipment for your home gym, a squat rack is the best option. Not only is it functional, but this bodybuilding equipment is also an excellent space-saver as it doesn’t take up much of your indoor space.
How Much Space do you Need to Set up a Squat Rack?
One of the most important details when choosing a squat rack for your home gym is the amount of space you’ll need to free up in a room. Ideally, most squat racks have a width of 4ft and a length of 7ft. This, therefore, means that you’ll have to calculate the space in your room to ensure that it fits the squat rack and at the same time, it leaves some space all around for easy maneuverability.
Since the bench you’re using will ideally be adjustable, you’ll hence require a space of about 10ft (L) by 7ft (W). This will help to create ample space for adjusting your bench when performing various functional exercises and still leave enough space on either side to load the weights.
Finally, you need to create some space to set up a plate storage peg. This should ideally be at the corner of the room where you’re certain you won’t be interrupted when performing your weightlifting exercises.
So, How do you Set up the Squat Rack?
Now that you have a solid understanding of what a squat rack really is, we will now go straight to our main topic on how you can use this lovely gym equipment.
And because a squat rack has immense adjustable options, there are many exercises you can perform such as bench presses, reverse flyers, back squats, shoulder presses, and barbell lunges among others.
But, before you can get to any of these exercises, it’s important that you first have a basic understanding of how to use a squat rack to protect yourself against any potential accidents.
Step 1: Adjust the Safety Bar
This is the first step you need to take before you can lay down to perform any workout. Apart from offering you a high level of comfort, adjusting the safety bar will guarantee your safety as the rack is neither too high nor too low for you to reach the barbell.
Still on comfort and safety, by adjusting the safety bar correctly, you’ll have enough room to perform a variety of exercises. You’ll also be confident knowing that the weight you’re lifting can easily be held by the racks in case you fail to complete a rep.
Step 2: Loading the Bar
The next equally important step is to calculate how much weight you intend to lift. Although it may sound obvious, you need to double-check the weights on both sides to ensure that you’ve loaded equal plates. Finally, ensure that you secure the plates with clips to prevent any movement when lifting.
Step 3: Adjust the J-Hooks
Another critical part of your squat rack that needs to be examined carefully is the J-hooks. To make your weight lifting project more comfortable, you need to adjust the J-hooks in the right position. Remember, when you’re lifting weights, you won’t need to bend too low to pick the bar nor will you need to struggle to re-rack the bar when it’s too high.
Step 4: Center Everything
Finally, you need to put everything at the center of the cage for your weight lifting project to be successful. Once the bar and the bench are put in the middle, you’ll have enough space to complete your rep and still enjoy an equal weight distribution.
With That Said, Let’s Now Start Squatting
Barbell Back Squat
According to most novice gym enthusiasts, the barbell back squat is one of the most common and among the most effective exercises in the gym. So, if you’re looking to try it out, here’s a way you can perform it.
- Step One: The first step is to set the barbell into the right position. Since you’re performing a back squat, the barbell should be positioned at a shoulder height level where your thighs will be parallel to the floor once you’re ready to lift. Make sure it’s at the same level on both sides.
- Step Two: Once the bar is at the right level on the J-hooks, add the appropriate weights you feel are comfortable to lift. When you’re done, use collars or clips to lock the plates to prevent movement when you’re lifting.
- Step Three: Once you’ve loaded the right plates on, you can now get ready to perform your exercise. Start by standing under the barbell with your feet apart. Lift the bar with your hands some distance apart from the center of the bar.
- Step Four: Just before you lift the bar, position your shoulders well. Here, you need to squeeze your shoulders together to create a shelf-like surface where the bar will rest on. Also, ensure that your palms are facing forward to guarantee a perfect grip.
- Step Five: Now take a deep breath and tighten your abdominals as if you’re expecting a punch. At the same time, lift the barbell off the J-hooks and lift it high on the ceiling. Once you’ve lifted the bar, strengthen your legs and stay fable. When lifting the weights, make sure that you lift it against your upper back.
- Step Six: Once you lift the weight, take a step back with either leg then match it with the other leg. Adjust yourself by taking a final step just to be sure you achieve the right level of stability. Now tighten your core, straighten your back then perform your back squat while the bar is positioned at the back of your shoulders.
According to most experts, the bench press is one of those exercises that focus on the upper body. They’re key in upper body development and mostly focus on your pecs and triceps to give you exceptional strength and biceps. So, if this is the kind of exercise you’re planning to perform in your squat rack, here’s how you can accomplish it.
- Step One: Since this exercise will require you to use the bench, you can kick-start this procedure by pulling the bench and positioning it at the center of the rack.
- Step Two: Since you’ll be lying flat on the bench, you’ll have to position the barbell in a J-hook just above the bench. Make sure the bar is in a position where you can easily un-rack it without any assistance.
- Step Three: Although your feet are not so important here, as it’s the case with squat and deadlift, it does play a key role here as it provides a strong base where you can draw your lifting power from. To guarantee this, you need to pull your legs back as close as possible to your butts while keeping the feet flat.
- Step Four: Once you set your legs correctly, it’s now time to set your body right under the barbell. Here, you need to set the bar at the lowest safety mechanism where it will be easier for you to un-rack once you get started. Make sure the bar isn’t too close or else you’ll struggle to try pushing your upper body between the bar and the bench.
Note: One advantage of having the bar close enough to you is that it allows you to safely place it on the racks in case you’re unable to lift the weight.
- Step Five: This is where you need to arch your back. Although most professional bodybuilders take it as a powerlifting move, in reality, it’s a way of maintaining a neutral spine and keep your back tight and safe from presses.
- Step Six: Now grab the bar tightly with both arms and start bench pressing. You need to hold the bar with straight wrists and a lot of stability to stay safe. When you un-rack the bar, make sure that you take a deep breath before lifting the weight up.
- Step Seven: To move the bar down, you need to take a deep breath then lower the weight. Now, the bar will have to touch your body during this process. According to most experts, the bar should touch anywhere between your nipple line and the top abdomen.
- Step Eight: Finally, to initiate the upward move, you need to pull your legs back towards your butts then use them to draw your lifting power.
Overhead (Shoulder) Presses
Another way you can use the squat rack is by performing the overhead (shoulder) press. Quite similar to the bench press, this exercise requires you to work out your upper body.
- Step One: Start off by positioning the bar on the J-hooks closest to your chest level depending on your height. This will allow you to load the weights easily.
- Step Two: Once you’ve loaded the weights, get ready to lift the bar. Start by positioning your hands and your legs in a position wider than your shoulder width. Once you grab the bar on your palms, squeeze your shoulder blades together then take a deep breath to stabilize your core.
- Step Three: Grab the bar, lift it just over your head, and lock your elbows. Hold it for a moment then lower the bar slowly towards your shoulders. That’s actually one rep. You can repeat the process as many times as you wish so long as you follow the procedure carefully and observe safety.
Using the squat rack to perform the barbell lunges provides you with a way to exercise parts of your lower body such as the hamstrings, quads, and glutes. By using the bar, you’re able to overweight your lower body with excess weight to giving it a challenging workout enough to build strength. To perform the barbell lunge, you need to;
- Step One: Start off by positioning the barbell on a rack just below your shoulders. Load the barbell with the right weights and get ready to lift.
- Step Two: When the bar is loaded, step under it then grab it with both hands with your palms facing forward. Lift the bar and place it at the back of your shoulders.
- Step Three: With your back straight, step away from the rack and step one leg forward. Squat down while keeping your back straight and maintaining the right balance. Go down until your other leg’s knee gets close enough to the ground.
- Step Four: Get back to the initial standing position by slowly pushing through your heel. When you’re up and standing, repeat the same process using the other leg.
Deadlift on a Squat Rack
The deadlift is primarily intended to develop strength in your lower and upper back, hamstrings, and glutes. This exercise also relies on core strengths by letting you work more on your abs above anything else. So, here’s how you can perform the deadlift.
- Step One: As usual, position the barbell on the lowest position then start loading the weights.
- Step Two: Next, with your legs apart at shoulders width, bend down with your hips and grab the bar. When lifting, your shoulder should be slightly in front of your hands. However, the moment the bar gets past your thighs, you’ll need to retract your shoulder blades to create a rigid torso.
- Step Three: While holding the bar on your mid-thigh level, take a deep brace to stabilize your abs (as if you’re expecting a hard punch) then lift the weight explosively above your head.
- Step Four: Once the weight is over your head, wait for a moment then lower it gently to the ground. You can do this by bending the hips them lowering the bar slowly.
Hopefully, at this point, you’ve understood the sheer amount of work a squat rack can do. Comparing it to most gym equipment, a squat rack allows you to perform a vast range of strength exercises without exposing yourself to any serious risks.
The combination of the racks, the lunges, and the weights further add up to the easy usability of this equipment as you only need to position the barbell at a level that will suit the specific exercise you’re planning to perform.
In conclusion, squatting is a great way of improving your fitness, posture, your muscles, and your core. It also enhances your mobility, improves athletic performance, improves circulation and digestion, and finally, speeds up the movement of oxygen and nutrients to various organs within the body.