Squat Racks, 'the cage', bench press, weight racks, power rack or squat cage, - and the list goes on! There's a very distinct moment when gym goers move from pre-power rack exerciser, to frequent-power rack exerciser, and it FEELS SO GOOD!
Using a squat rack is essential knowledge for lifting weights at the gym. It's a versatile piece of equipment that's primarily used for compound movements like squats, but it can also support a range of other exercises. Whether you're striving for strength gains, muscle building, or overall fitness, the squat rack is your trusty companion, and a fundamental element in your training.
I know that my clients like to ask lots of questions, and I do too! Which is great, because that's how we can learn. I know you are reading this article because you have thought, what is a squat rack? What is a power rack? What is a J-Hook? or how do I set up my safety rails?
Your questions will be answered through text and a little video below. Here's a beginner's guide to using a squat rack.
[An image of a row of black and red squat racks in a gym. There are coloured bumper plates on the side closest to the white wall. The floor is black.]
Getting Oriented: A squat rack consists of 2+ vertical metal posts with horizontal safety bars. There are often adjustable pins or J-hooks that hold the barbell at different heights. When you enter the squat rack, make sure the safety bars are set at an appropriate height for your exercise.
Setting Up: Start by adjusting the safety bars or J-hooks to the desired height. For squats, they should be set just below shoulder level. When using a barbell, load it with the appropriate weight plates. Ensure that the bar is balanced, and there's equal weight on both sides.
The Lift-Off: Lift the barbell off the safety bars or J-hooks by straightening your hips and knees. Step back carefully, ensuring your feet are secure and aligned with your shoulders. To execute a proper squat, lower your body by bending your hips and knees until your thighs reach parallel or below, depending on your flexibility and strength. Maintain proper form with your chest up and knees aligned with your toes.
Proper Form: Stand facing the bar, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at your hips and knees to lower yourself under the barbell. The bar should rest on your upper back, across your traps. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your chest up, back straight, and core engaged.
Safety First: Always use safety bars or J-hooks to catch the barbell in case you can't complete a rep. When you're done, walk the barbell back into the rack and set it down on the safety bars or J-hooks.
In addition to squats, squat racks can be used for exercises like bench presses, overhead presses, and more. Familiarize yourself with the various parts and attachments of the rack, such as pull-up bars or dip attachments, to expand your exercise repertoire.
Here is a video showing how to use the J-hooks and safety bars:
Sometimes you will see nylon straps used instead of safety bars, like this athlete is working with.
[A weight lifter in a black and red lifting suit, knee wraps, and a weight belt is in the lowest position of their squat. They are in a squat rack with four vertical bars and nylon straps hang just under the barbell.]
Always start with lighter weights to practice proper form and gradually increase the load as you gain confidence and strength. Lastly, don't hesitate to ask a gym staff member or a fellow gym-goer for assistance if you're unsure about anything - safety is a priority when using gym equipment.