You may hear a lot of home-gymers exclaiming that “no home gym is complete without a power rack”. Or that a “power rack is necessary for making real gains”. If you’ve heard these or similar statements before, you’re not alone. You’re also not alone if you’ve been asking yourself “what is a power rack exactly?”. Well, the answer to that question is pretty straight forward and we will answer that in a second.
Does your home gym need a power rack? This question is a little tougher and really depends on what your fitness goals are. Hopefully by the time you’ve finished this article you will be able to confidently answer both questions.
Lets make sure everyone is on the same page with the terminology first.
What Is A Power Rack?
A power rack is a common piece of fitness equipment most often used for barbell exercises. Power racks, also known as “power cages” or “squat cages” consist of a steel cage that you stand in while exercising. These cages have horizontal safety bars that can be adjusted at varying heights to spot you during your workout.
All commercial gyms have power racks, usually more than one. They are typically located wherever squatting is taking place. Although squatting is often associated with power racks, you can actually do several different exercises safely inside them, including:
|Shoulder Press||Calf raises|
|Bent-over row||Bicep curls|
You will notice that most of these exercises are classic power lifting moves. Power racks are valuable tools because they can mechanically spot the lifter during these moves. This comes in handy if you are exercising by yourself. It also comes in handy for exercises where it’s kind of difficult to spot someone in the first place. I know you can spot someone doing squats, but I feel a lot safer knowing there are safety bars there in case I lose control.
Power racks are common in commercial gyms, but they are also becoming increasingly popular in home and garage gyms. This is largely due to how affordable they are becoming and the improvements in overall quality. Decent power racks for the home can be purchased for well under $1000. Heavier-duty, commercial grade systems start in the $1000-$2000 range.
Power racks nowadays often include pull up bars and the ability to add attachments for additional exercises such as dips, lat pull-downs, and rows. These attachments can add a lot of variety to your workout and increase the total number of exercises possible.
Power Rack vs Squat Rack
There seems to be an ongoing debate on the terminology between “power” and “squat” racks. To some folks, power racks and squat racks refer to the same cage type apparatus described above. That is, there is no difference between the two.
Others like to make a differentiation. A power rack consists of 4 vertical posts and at least 2 horizontal bars, creating a cage you are inside of during use. A squat rack only has 2 vertical posts- there is no “cage”, it’s simply a stand that holds the barbell at the correct height for you during squats.
I agree with the folks that like to differentiate between squat and power racks because there is a big difference between the two.
Squat racks are also known as “half-cages” sometimes, because it’s basically half a power cage. Squat racks can also have safety arms to help spot you during your lift.
Which is better? Well, a power rack is safer- being inside the cage with the full horizontal safety bars on each side offers a more comprehensive spot. You can adjust the height of those safety bars to any height you need depending on the exercise you are performing. Not to mention the additional exercises the power rack can provide.
Power racks can usually hold a lot more weight than a squat rack too. If you are doing serious lifting, a power rack is definitely a safer bet. The last thing you want is for your squat stand to fail.
So, as long as you have the floor space and budget for it, there really is no reason to purchase a squat rack over a full power rack. Do you like how I just breezed over those 2 factors like they were small things to consider? Ok, ok you got me. I regress.
Floor space and budget are huge factors to consider in your home gym. Power racks can take up a lot of real estate. All models are different, but you should expect your power rack to take up a space 8′ long by 5′ wide. You will need at least an 8′ ceiling as well.
Squat racks don’t take up nearly as much space and are a lot cheaper too, because lets face it, it’s a lot less hardware. You can get a decent squat rack for about $200. Cheaper, less decent racks start under $100.
What About Smith Machines?
Ah, Smith machines. Smith machines are in a category all by themselves because the barbell is attached to the frame. The bar can move freely in the vertical position, but most Smith machines don’t let the bar move front to back (some do). The frame controls the bar for you and this does a couple of things:
- it makes the exercise significantly easier because the machine is balancing the bar for you
- it allows you to lift more weight, again because the machine is doing some of the work for you
- it limits your mobility
- it increases the safety of the movement
A lot of true weight lifters hate Smith machines because they do a lot of the work for you. I totally get that and I agree 100%. If you are looking to make the most gains in strength and power, then a Smith machine is not for you.
However, if you are looking to weight train safely, a Smith machine can work very well. It provides a built in spotter and you can easily lock the bar in place in pretty much any position. They also have safety bars in case you lose control of the bar or can’t get the bar to the next locking position.
Personally, I love Smith machines, but I understand why so many lifters refused to use them. It really just depends on what your fitness goals are.
Now, to the more important question…
Do I Need A Power Rack
Now that we’re all on the same page with the terminology, lets figure out whether a power rack is necessary for your home gym. I think it really boils down to what type of exercises you want to do and what your fitness goals are.
First things first though, you have to measure out your space and see if you have the room for one. This equipment takes up a lot of space, but it could realistically be the only piece of equipment your home gym needs. A proper power rack gives you the ability to perform a full body strengthening workout.
Consider the above table with examples of exercises you can do with a power rack. This is just a taste of the available exercises you could do without attachments. If you got a power rack with a pull up bar and dip station, that list just doubled. If you add a lat pull-down attachment, you just added several more to the list. You can easily come up with 20-30 different exercises you can do with a power rack, a barbell, and a bench.
What type of exercise do you enjoy?
Do you like lifting weights and doing strength training? If not, then you absolutely do not need a power rack! A power rack is used for strength training and strength training only. If you are looking for a piece of cardio equipment, you can cross power rack off the list.
Are you trying to gain strength? If yes, than a power rack might be perfect for you. If you are interested in doing classic strength training moves like squats, deadlifts, and bench press from home then you should definitely invest in a power rack.
Are you trying to gain muscle mass? If yes, then again a power rack would be a great investment for your home gym. The exercises a power rack provides are just the type of exercises you need to do to add lean mass.
Are you trying to lose weight or tone up? If yes, then a power rack might be right for you. Strength training can definitely help you burn calories and lose weight, but you may be better off with a home gym machine or nice piece of cardio equipment. Depending on the extent of weight training you want to do, you could be just as well off with a dumbbell set and a bench.
Are you aiming to improve cardiovascular health and endurance? If this is your primary fitness goal, then a power rack probably isn’t the right piece of equipment for you. You would probably be better off with a nice home treadmill or rowing machine.
A Few More Considerations
You also need to consider the fact that most power racks do not come with a bench. If you are planning on performing bench press and other upper body moves (and you should be), you will need to purchase your own bench separately. Benches aren’t that expensive though, you can get a decent one in the $100-$200 range.
Most power racks don’t come with a barbell either. You will have to purchase your own barbell as well. There are a ton of them on the market, but a decent Olympic style bar is probably going to cost you somewhere between $100-$200.
Don’t forget the plates either. You will need some weight plates to throw on that barbell. There are a bunch of different plate styles and weights. You will probably at least want a couple of 5#’s, a couple 10#’s, a pair of 25#’s, and at least 2 45#’s (maybe more depending on your experience). Luckily, you don’t have to buy all of these plates at the same time. You can start your collection and add on to it gradually over time.
I hope we answered the question “what is a power rack”. I also hope you have a better understanding of whether or not you should consider a power rack for your home gym. Power racks are just one form of exercise equipment and no home gym “needs” one.
If you want the ability to perform power and strength training exercises from your home, then a power rack is a smart choice though. Without a doubt, they provide the safest and easiest way to perform squats and other power lifting moves. Especially if you are planning on doing heavy lifting by yourself.
A power rack is a smart choice if:
- you have the room for it
- you are interested in gaining strength and/or mass
- you want to perform barbell exercises
A power rack may not be for you if:
- you don’t enjoy lifting weights
- you are more interested in toning up and staying lean
- you are more interested in cardio training
If you know a power rack is right for you, then you should check out this review of my favorite home power rack.
I hope you found this article helpful and your questions have been answered. If you still have questions or would like to add something, please leave a comment below and I’ll get right back to you.