How to Use a Squat Rack

How to Use a Squat Rack

How to use a squat rack

If you’re not sure how to use a squat rack correctly and most importantly; safely. This guide is for you. 

To a new lifter, a squat rack (also more aptly known as a power rack) can be an intimidating piece of gym kit.

It’s big, sturdy, hidden in the dark corners of the gym and is usually loaded with an Olympic standard bar weighing 20kg. Sometimes you’ll find it with a lot of weight plates already loaded.

While it may seem intimidating, this wonderful piece of equipment has the potential to change your life.

The truth is, when you know what a power rack is and how to use it to it’s full potential, it quickly becomes one of the most important pieces of equipment in your workout.

Many people refer to a power rack as a squat rack, this is because squats are one of the most common exercises performed on this piece of equipment.

In this guide we’re going to discuss a few important points, showing you how to use a power rack correctly for squats.

At the end of the article we’ll list some other exercises a power rack can be used for.

Why use a squat rack

A key exercise in all weight lifting programs is the squat.  This is because the squat is a very powerful compound exercise that recruits the largest muscles in one fluid movement.

Squats are one of the most efficient exercises you can do, so if you’re not squatting – you should be.

The purpose of a squat rack is to assist the lifter in progressing their squats by way of adding weight.  There will only be so much weight a person can lift over their head to get the bar into position, this is why the squat rack is such a crucial piece of equipment.

Despite this, many lifters aren’t taught how to use a squat rack correctly when they start lifting.

Many trainers (not all) skip over this piece of equipment with their female clients.  If you have a personal trainer who hasn’t worked the squat rack into your workout plans, ask them to show you how.

If you haven’t got a trainer or anybody to show you how; keep reading, because this guide is for you.

How to use a squat rack to it's full potential...

The first thing to do is get the set up right. To do that, the squat rack should be stripped of all weight. 

Once you have an empty rack you can start to set up for your workout.

Bar position is crucial, so ensure you get the bar height right.

Look for the adjustable parts on your squat rack and set them to around shoulder height. 

Safety bars should always be used, so ensure you adjust those to an appropriate height based on how low you squat. 

Hint!  You should be squatting as low as possible, if you’re not squatting low you have no business squatting heavy. 

Go back to basics and come back to the rack when you’re squatting to at least parallel (quads/hamstrings parallel with the floor).

For most people, a high bar squat will be most comfortable and useful in their training program. This is where the barbell sits high on the back.  Rather than the low bar squat which is mostly used by power lifters.

Getting into position…

To get in position, set the empty bar into position and test that it is in fact set to the correct height.

You’ll know the height is correct by grabbing the bar at arm’s length, your arms should be roughly parallel with the floor.

From that position, grip the bar tightly, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Use the knurling and ‘notches’ on the bar to help ensure you are in a central position, (place your index finger in the same position either side of the bar).

Keep the grip tight and duck under the bar, taking care to make sure your head is in the middle of the bar. This is important! – if you’re not in the centre of it, the balance of the bar will be off.

Lifting the bar off the squat rack…

Before you lift the bar off the rack, take a deep breath and contract your core muscles.

Brace yourself for the weight that you are about to lift. This helps to protect your back.

The bar should sit on your upper back and shoulders – never on your neck.

You should keep the shoulder blades squeezed tightly together and pulled down towards your bum. We do this to provide a strong and stable platform for the bar to sit on.

With the core braced, the barbell positioned on your back and your grip tight. Stand up and take the weight off the rack.

Establishing a solid foot position…

When you are in a stable position with the weight on your back, slide one foot (either one, it doesn’t matter) back in a straight line, followed by the other.

We slide feet back so that we don’t rock the bar side-to-side in the set up.

The weight is now a safe distance away from the rack, so there’s no chance of it colliding with the rack when you squat.

Adjust your foot position on both sides into a squat stance (feet shoulder width, toes slightly turned out).

Keep your weight through the middle of your feet and your back nice and straight.

You are now ready to sit back into your squat.

Safety points to consider

It’s a good idea to run through this sequence a few times with an empty bar, so that you can get a feel for the movement and the weight. The bar alone is 20kg (depending on the bar you use – 20kg is standard).

When you are happy with your set up, can get into position smoothly, and are comfortable with the exercise, you can start to gradually build up the weight you are lifting.

Always make sure to secure the plates in place at either end of the bar with clips. You don’t want to find out the hard way that you didn’t!

For safety reasons, squat racks come with adjustable safety bars on the side. These are to act as ‘spotters’ for you and prevent you from collapsing to the floor if you can’t lift the weight back to the start position.

To use the safety bars, perform a few empty-bar squats and make a mental note of how deep you go and where the safety bars should be placed.

Put the safety bars at the depth you think you need. Then perform another set of empty bar squats to test it, adjusting the safety bars up and down until you find the perfect height.

Mistakes to avoid

Not trying

The first and most important mistake you should avoid is not trying at all.

Squat rack use can take some getting used to, but once you are comfortable with the rack you will be able to reap its many rewards.

Form and foot position

Even the most experienced lifters have to check themselves regularly, so just because you know how to squat, doesn’t mean you can afford to let your standards slip.

Always ensure that you are positioned well, squatting with good form and are not rushing!

Too much weight

Avoid loading too much weight too soon.  This is called ‘ego lifting’, don’t do it, it’s not worth it. 

As soon as you start adding weight to your squat you should be mindful of your posture and form at all times.  Don’t play games with a loaded bar on your back!

Not enough weight

Remember that the point of a squat rack is to help you progress with weight, so don’t let yourself get stuck. 

You should continue to add weight progressively, even if it’s only an extra 2 kg’s, it all adds up in the end!

What else can a power rack be used For?

While this guide has been named; ‘how to use a squat rack’, what you are actually using is a power rack.

The power rack essentially supports a weight at different heights.  As a result you can position a loaded bar to use at a variety of heights, depending on the exercise you want to perform.

Here are a few exercises you might like to try at the different bar height positions.  

High bar position 

If the barbell is stored in a high position, it’s ideal for any exercises where you need the bar at chest or shoulder height…

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Good mornings
  • Shoulder presses
  • Push presses
  • Jerks

Waist high position

If you position a barbell waist/thigh high, it can be used for…

  • Inverted rows
  • Upright rows
  • Elevating feet for push ups
  • Elevating a back foot for split squats 

Low position

When the barbell is stored low down on the power rack, it is the ideal height for…

  • Rack pulls
  • Partial deadlifts
  • Hang cleans
  • Bent over row variations

And now you know why it’s called a power rack!

Hopefully by now you understand the sheer amount of use you can get from this one very simple, yet vital piece of kit.

Unlike many other pieces of gym equipment, the power rack is multi-use tool that allows you a huge amount of workout variety and is fundamental to many lifts.

Without a power rack, heavy squats, lunges and overhead work would be impossible, simply because the user won’t be able to get the loaded bar into position to start with!

Don’t forget to share this how to use a squat rack guide with your friends.

Related articles

Want weightlifting plans designed for women?

Find out about Members Zone; our free online portal suitable for beginners and advanced lifters!

Find out more >>>