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Whether you are a gym owner, looking to set up your own home gym, or just someone who is not sure about squat racks and power racks, you should know the differences between the two.
So what are the differences between squat racks and power racks? The main differences between squat racks and power racks are the size and the number of vertical uprights. Squat racks have two uprights, often with a horizontal beam across the bottom, and smaller footprints. Power racks are more cage-like with four uprights and crossbeams at the top. They also take up more room.
In this article, I will go into more detail about the differences between squat racks and power racks. I’ll also discuss the pros and cons for each type of rack and everything you need to know to help you understand how they work and which one is best for you.
4 Differences Between Squat Racks and Power Racks
The differences between a squat rack and a power rack may seem trivial. However, they have a big impact on what you can and cannot do with them as well as who should use them.
Here are the 4 main differences between a squat rack and a power rack:
- The power rack has more vertical beams and plate storage options
- The power rack can provide more options for lifting
- The power rack has an upper frame, whereas the squat rack does not
- The power rack has safety pins or straps in the middle
1. The Power Rack Has More Vertical Beams and Plate Storage Options
Power racks are shaped more like a cage with 4 vertical beams and are generally more heavy-duty in build. Squat racks are generally lighter in build and have 2 vertical beams.
Sometimes power racks can come with pins on the side to provide a storage solution for your weight plates. While some squat racks have plate storage posts on the back, this is rare.
Typically, the squat racks that do have these rear storage posts come from cheaper brands. Because cheaper squat racks are lighter-duty, companies need to offer a solution for extra stability to prevent them from tipping over when you’re loading a barbell with a lot of weight.
2. The Power Rack Can Provide More Options for Lifting
Due to the build of the power rack, it is common to find J-hooks to hold the barbell on the inside of the cage and on the outside. This gives you the flexibility to perform exercises inside or outside of the rack.
On the other hand, since squat racks only have 2 vertical beams, you don’t have the option to lift inside the rack.
Having the option to use the exercise station outside of the rack may be useful for situations such as Olympic lifts (i.e. split jerks) and overhead presses, especially if you’re a tall lifter or have long arms and can’t lift weight overhead without hitting the top of the cage.
3. The Power Rack Has an Upper Frame and the Squat Rack Does Not
The power rack has an upper frame or crossbeams that connect the two sides to each other. This makes the power rack more sturdy and offers the user the ability to perform exercises such as pull-ups.
Some squat racks do have pull-up bars, but they’re often not sturdy enough to stay stable when doing pull-ups on them. As well, some squat racks have J-hooks at the top of the vertical beams, so they aren’t able to accommodate a pull-up bar.
4. The Power Rack Has Safety Pins or Straps in the Middle
The power rack often has safety bars or straps in the middle of the rack that can be adjusted to different heights, and squat racks do not have this.
The purpose of the safety pins or straps is to be able to catch the barbell if you ever fail a set of repetitions. The safeties can also provide a base to perform other exercises such as deadlifts from pins (or rack pulls) or pin presses.
While you can often buy safety arms to attach to a squat rack, they’re not quite as stable, and sometimes the rack can tip over if you drop a heavy barbell on them.
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What Is A Squat Rack?
A squat rack is a piece of lifting equipment that is used to hold onto barbells so you can perform exercises such as squats and overhead presses.
It consists of two vertical posts that are often connected with a horizontal post for added stability. Squat racks can either have J-hooks at the top to hold the barbell or come with removable J-hooks.
Key Features of a Squat Rack
The key features of a squat rack are:
- It is constructed of two vertical beams, some of which can be adjustable in height.
- It sometimes comes as individual beams, or it may be connected by a horizontal beam to form its foundation.
- You can often buy compatible spotter arms if you choose to use it as a rack for bench pressing.
Squat Rack Pros
Three key benefits of a squat rack are:
- It is lightweight and portable. As a squat rack can easily be moved around, the area that you are exercising in can be altered once you have finished training. You can easily make more room for other activities or if you are just cleaning up in your home gym.
- It does not take up much room. A squat rack generally does not take up much horizontal or vertical room, so you can use one in tighter areas such as smaller training studios or home gyms. Providing more floor space means there are more opportunities for other people to train with you or for you to do other exercises on the floor.
- It is often a cheaper option. As a squat rack is smaller in build, it can be cheaper to purchase for a smaller budget commercial gym, a personal training studio, or a home gym.
Squat Rack Cons
Four cons of a squat rack are:
- It does not provide as much storage for weight plates. This often means that you will need to purchase another piece of equipment to store your weight plates or, worst-case scenario, leave them stacked on the floor, which may be messy.
Some squat racks do provide storage pins on the back for weight plates, but they often can’t fit many plates. This is especially true if you use bumper plates, which are thicker than iron plates.
- It requires more care when racking a barbell. If you’re using a squat rack with J-hooks on top of the beams, you need to be careful when racking the barbell. If you miss, the barbell will go over the J-hooks and cause an accident.
- It does not provide a safe place to descend the barbell during a failed squat. If you are going to fail a barbell, you may need to dump it behind you, which can damage your floor or injure people who may be walking behind you. If you end up falling forward, the barbell may hit the squat rack and bounce back into you.
- It may not be as sturdy. This particularly applies to squat racks that do not have a bottom beam that joins them together. They may be prone to shifting or oscillating when racking or reracking the bar.
Who Should Get A Squat Rack?
The people who I would recommend get a squat rack are:
- Home gym users. Most people who have a home gym will generally be more on a budget, so a squat rack may be the most appropriate choice. Most home gyms are confined to a smaller space, which makes squat racks ideal as you can move them around and they do not take up that much space in the first place.
- Owners of Olympic weightlifting clubs. Olympic weightlifting clubs value having space so they can maximize their training areas, and squat racks can be portable for both athletes and coaches. As well, Olympic weightlifters often drop the barbell behind them after squats, so they may prefer not to use a power rack.
- Owners of Crossfit boxes and functional fitness gyms. Even though Crossfitters do a lot of exercises like pull-ups and toes to bar that can’t be done with most squat racks, it can be beneficial to have squat racks in a Crossfit gym. This way, members can use them for the lifting portion of the class and then move them out of the way for the WOD (workout of the day). The WODs often include different exercises that use a lot of floor space, so having a squat rack that can be moved away is valuable.
- Owners of personal training studios. Personal training studios are generally not big in terms of space so they prefer the space efficiency that squat racks provide..
Squat Rack Recommendations
Here are the best squat racks that I recommend:
The reason why the Rogue Fitness SML-1 70” Monster Lite Squat Stand is on top of the list is that I have trained clients who use this specific model and who train outdoors. It is incredibly sturdy and well built and holds up well when exposed to the elements while being very good value for money.
For an added cost, you can get a pair of safety arms with it, which can help give you peace of mind when you’re training by yourself.
The Fringe Sport Commercial Squat Rack is relatively inexpensive and has a large surface area base frame that provides stability. But even with this large frame, it still takes up less room than a power rack.
It’s made with 11-gauge steel, which is solid, durable, and can hold a lot of weight. While you can drill this squat stand into the floor, it’s quite stable on its own.
For more squat racks that are ideal for home gyms and small training areas, check out 7 Best Squat Racks for Small Spaces (2022).
Frequently Asked Questions
Do You Really Need a Squat Rack?
You need a squat rack in your gym if you lift with a barbell as it is a fundamental piece of equipment. It allows you to put a barbell into an optimal position for you to safely get it on your back when squatting and to hold it in place as you set up for a bench press.
Can a Squat Rack Be Used for Other Exercises?
Yes, the squat rack can be used for other exercises. For example, you can do inverted rows, barbell lunges, and shoulder presses. A squat rack will enable you to put the barbell at an ideal height so you can comfortably put it on your back or hold it on the front of your shoulders for various exercises.
Can You Bench on a Squat Rack?
You can bench in a squat rack if you have a free-weight bench to place inside the squat rack. However, the squat rack needs to be one that has adjustable J-hooks or one whose vertical uprights are height-adjustable with J-hooks at the top to hold the barbell at a proper height for bench pressing.
Do You Need To Bolt Down a Squat Rack?
You can bolt down a squat rack, but you don’t need to. If you are in a situation where you need to move the squat rack around the area or you’re renting your home, it is not ideal to bolt it down. If you’re concerned about stability, you can weigh it down with heavy sandbags.
Wondering if you can put a squat rack in an apartment? The answer is yes. Follow the tips in our guide on putting a squat rack in an apartment to protect your living space from damage.
What Is A Power Rack?
A power rack is like a squat rack but more in the shape of a cage with added safety features. These include safety pins or straps that can be set at different heights to catch the barbell if you fail a lift.
Power racks also often have chin-up bars attached and can even be used with dip bar attachments. They are very versatile and can be used for many different exercises, not just squats.
Key Features of Power Rack
The key features of a power rack are:
- It’s a cage-like structure with 4 vertical beams. This is the defining feature of a power rack, and you’ll typically have around 24-30 inches of depth inside the rack. Some power racks may have more vertical beams although this doesn’t always increase the working space of the rack.
For example, some brands make expandable kits for their power racks that enable you to have a rack with 6 beams, but the extra beams are typically just used for additional storage and stability.
- It often comes with safety pins or straps. A power rack will often come with safety pins to catch a barbell during a failed lift. Some companies will also offer alternatives to safety pins called safety straps. The advantage to these is that the barbell will settle to the middle and not push you forward if you drop it. Straps are also safer on the barbell because it prevents the knurling from wearing down due to metal-on-metal contact.
- You can get attachments for other exercises. The existence of these is variable but is common among most power racks. There may be a chin-up bar between the middle or near the front of the power rack. Many power racks also enable you to add lat pulldown attachments, Y-dip attachments for dips, or leg roller attachments for Bulgarian split squats.
- It offers storage for weight discs and barbells. Most of the commercial-quality power racks will provide several pins at the side or on the back beams. These are for storing weight discs. Most power racks will have between 4 to 5 pins on each side. Some also offer vertical storage mounts for your barbell.
Power Rack Pros
Five benefits of a power rack are:
- It is safer and easier to unload squat failures. If you end up failing a set of squats, you can rest the barbell onto the safety pins or safety straps and escape safely. Once the barbell has rested on the safety pins or straps, you can easily unload the weight plates. If you were to drop the barbell on the floor, you would find it harder to unload the plates without a barbell jack.
- It is safer and sturdier to rack barbells. Once you finish a set, racking the barbell will be safer because the entire structure of the power rack is sturdier. You do not need to worry about missing the barbell over the top of the J-hooks. As well, if you’re able to store plates on your power rack, the extra weight can keep the entire rack more stable.
- It is mentally supportive for training. When performing exercises such as back squats, it may feel more comfortable to do these in a power rack. You do not need to worry about someone walking close into your personal space, and the safety pins can give you a boost of confidence.
- It provides more options for other exercises. You may be able to perform more exercises in a power rack such as pull-ups from the pull-up bar and pin pulls from the safety pins.
- It has more ground stability. An advantage of a power rack is that it can be bolted to the ground more easily. And due to the fact that it is bigger in frame and weight, it ismore stable to use without too much swaying when a heavy barbell is racked.
Power Rack Cons
Some cons of a power rack are:
- It takes up more floor space. The biggest drawback of a power rack is that it generally uses a lot of floor space. This can be a serious issue if space is scarce in your situation.
- It cannot be easily moved. If you are short on space in your training area, the power rack cannot easily be moved to make more room. This is especially true if it has storage pins that are already loaded with weight.
- It is a more expensive investment. The barrier for a lot of home gym owners may be the cost, as a power rack generally does not come cheaply. It can cost from $500 up to $3,000 depending on whether you are purchasing home gym quality or commercial quality.
Who Should Get A Power Rack?
The people I would recommend get a power rack are:
- Commercial gym owners. Commercial gyms need to be able to cater to as many individuals as possible while having equipment that brings a lower risk of injury. Power racks can cater to both beginner and advanced users who lift heavy loads. They can also be a safer option to fail on a squat or bench press set.
- Powerlifting gym owners. Powerlifting gyms will definitely benefit from the heavy-duty build of power racks and the specific models have storage pins on them too. Because powerlifters can squat heavy weights, power racks will be more stable and likely won’t wobble as much when holding a heavy barbell.
- Larger home gym owners. If you want to build a setup at home and you happen to have the floor and ceiling space, power racks are preferable. This is because training at home without a spotter can be dangerous, and power racks are safer to fail your lifts in. Also, if you do drop your barbell, you will not be dropping it onto the ground, which may damage it if you do not have the appropriate flooring solution (such as a lifting platform).
- Owners of Crossfit boxes. Power racks may be a preferred option as they often contain pull-up bars that can be used for many different calisthenics movements that are involved in Crossfit.
Power Rack Recommendations
Here are the best power racks that I recommend:
The reason why I recommend the Fringe Sport Floor Mounted Power Cage is that it can be floor-mounted for sturdiness. It’s made with 11-gauge steel and has a 1,000lb weight capacity, making it a good option for almost everyone.
I also like that it has short spacing between holes to really be precise in offering the best positions for your hooks and safety pins. This ensures that you can rack and unrack the bar for squats without having to come up onto your toes and that you can still get a full range of motion in the bench press without the safety pins getting in the way.
The Rogue RM-6 Monster Rack 2.0 by Rogue Fitness provides plenty of storage pins, as well as the strap variant of safety pins, which is advantageous over the metal poles. The straps are safer on the barbell and absorb more of the weight when a barbell is dropped on them.
This rack is quite expensive and large, so it may be a better option for commercial gyms. But if money and space aren’t an issue for you, you can add it to your home gym and expect it to last for years.
If you’re more of a casual lifter and looking for an affordable squat rack, check out the IFAST Fitness Squat Rack with Lat Pulldown Attachment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Squat In A Power Rack?
You can squat in a power rack. In fact, the power rack is one of the safest places to perform squats if you have safety pins set up accordingly to catch the bar if you fail. As well, most power racks have a depth of at least 24” to give you ample room to unrack the bar and walk it out without feeling claustrophobic.
Are Power Racks Safe?
Power racks are safe due to the safety pins or safety straps you can use with them to catch the weight if you fail a lift. They are even safer if they have storage pins that are already loaded with plates and if they are bolted down to the ground. This keeps the power racks sturdier when you are racking heavy weights.
Is a Power Rack Better Than a Squat Rack?
If training space and budget are no issues for you, a power rack is better because it is sturdier and has more safety features. However, a squat rack is sufficient you are in a position where you need to relocate equipment often, have a small training space, or can’t afford a power rack.
Can You Bench on a Power Rack?
Yes, you can easily bench in a power rack as long as you have a free-weight bench to bring inside the rack. Plus, you have the advantage of having safety pins to be able to either fail a set or perform exercises such as pin presses.
Final Thoughts: Is A Power Rack or Squat Rack Better?
So, what’s the final verdict? If I had to choose, I would recommend a power rack over a squat rack if you have the money to spend and space to fit it due to the extra stability and safety features it offers.
A squat rack will do just fine if you’re on a budget or need to be able to move your equipment around often, but you can’t do as many exercises with it, and it isn’t quite as safe to lift in as a power rack.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com