Squat Rack vs Power Rack | Which One Is Better?


squat-rack-vs-power-rack-comparison

What is the difference between a squat rack and a power rack? Which one should you use? 

Confused? I can understand…

If you’ve been in the gym for a while, you may have some understanding of what both are but if you’re a newbie, you may see them as the same thing. Two big metal things…

Here’s what you need to know:

The squat rack is a stand with 1 or more pins that can be placed on different heights, as well as safety bars/catchers, while the power rack is a full-on power cage.

Let me quickly take you through the details so that you can get a greater understanding of the difference as well as different exercises you may be able to do with the power rack in particular.

What is a Squat Rack Exactly?

picture of a squat rack

Before we make the comparison, let’s completely understand what each of the two is.

A squat rack, also known as a half-rack is pretty much the smaller version of a full-on, power rack.

The squat rack has a stable base at the bottom, from which two metal bars extend up.

To grant extra stability, most half racks connect the two vertical bars at the top.

If you’ve been in the gym for a while, you have probably reached failure at one point.

Muscular failure is the point during an exercise, where you can’t complete another repetition.

This is especially bad when you fail on the bottom of an exercise and can’t push the weight off of you.

If this has happened to you on the bench press, you have probably done the “Roll of shame”.

Well, such things happen when we don’t have a spotter to help us get out from the “Dead point” during the exercise.

If you somehow don’t have a spotter available, then a half rack can be your best friend.

With its safety pins, also called safety arms, the half-rack provides perfect safety during a variety of exercises.

Can’t go any further? No problem, you can just leave the bar safely on the pins and step out with no danger.

This is perhaps one of the best features of both the half and the full, power rack. 

To further improve safety and optimize the workout, you can use safety straps.

Exercise Variety

If you see a visual comparison of a squat rack vs a half rack, you’d see that the half rack is, well, smaller.

This exact difference in size implies that the half rack is not designed to handle as much as a full rack.

A half rack will still give you plenty of options, but simply won’t be as flexible as a power rack – This is one of the reasons why it is inferior in the squat rack vs power rack comparison.

Pros and Cons

The smaller size of the squat rack gives us quite a few advantages:

  1. Cheaper to purchase (compare prices on Amazon)
  2. Best if you have limited space
  3. Easier to move in case of need

However, there are also a couple of disadvantages that can break the deal for you:

  1. More limited in exercises
  2. Less plate storage and capacity for Olympic barbells
  3. Safety pins are not as long

What’s a Power Rack?

power rack in red colour, with a fully loaded barbell

Before we conclude the squat rack vs power rack comparison, let’s see what the latter has to offer.

On the flipside of squat racks (half racks), there are full-on racks that have slightly different features and are mostly purchased by commercial gyms and people who are into weightlifting.

Power racks, often referred to as “Full racks” is essentially a rectangular cage.

The cage is made up of a good, solid base that has four, thick metal bars rising up.

The metal bars connect up top via connecting bars to grant maximum stability.

You will actually hear the term “Cage” or “Squat cage” in the gym, rather than a “power rack”.

That’s simply because the power rack is essentially a cage, especially when you put on the safety bars/catchers on the sides.

Though it may sound like a joke, just the notion of being in a cage might make you feel like an untamed beast and improve performance.

Besides that, though quite similar, the power rack is superior in safety, compared to its half-rack brother.

Power Rack Exercises

Though significantly heavier and bigger, the power rack offers a much bigger variety of exercises.

And so, for example, you can easily place a bench for any type of pressing and make use of the bar pins placed lower on the metal base.

Furthermore, besides the bigger Olympic bar and weight capacity, many power racks also have a pull-up bar and sometimes even dip bars and other add-ons.

Yes, you may not have a lat pulldown machine, but a squat cage can cut it!

Essentially, a power rack, some barbells and some weights might turn out to be a budget home-gym setup, much like the main setup in a commercial gym.

This setup will allow you to do a variety of free weight exercises, ranging from pull-ups on the pull-up bar to power movements like squats, benching and even an overhead press inside of the squat cage.

Nevertheless, though highly functional, a power rack has its disadvantages as well.

Pros and Cons of a Power Rack

The power rack is much more functional and has some advantages, compared to the half-rack:

  • Bigger weight and barbell capacity
  • Offers a variety of exercises
  • Most have a pull-up bar
  • Completely replaces a spotter, making it safe
  • They are made of tough materials which can last centuries

However, due to its bigger size, there are also certain disadvantages to the power rack:

  • Heavier and harder to move 
  • Takes up more floor space
  • A fully-loaded power rack might damage your floor overtime
  • More expensive (compare prices on Amazon)

Squat Rack vs Power Rack

Alright, now that you know what a half rack and a full rack are, you are probably starting to paint a picture of what would better suit you.

If you are looking for a piece of equipment to upgrade your home gym or garage gym, either of the two, or even a squat stand, will, in fact, be a good choice.

In case you have less space available or are looking for something that is easily movable, then a squat rack (half rack) is your best option.

Besides that, a half rack is much cheaper and can be easily disassembled and moved away if needed.

If however you are a gym owner for example and want something solid, more versatile and longer-lasting, then a power rack is definitely the best choice.

The comparison of Squat rack vs Power rack is quite clear. If budget and space availability don’t bother you, the power rack is the winner!

With its high capacity for both loaded barbells and weights, along with better safety features and even a pull-up bar, the power rack is the best addition to any gym.

Though more expensive, some of the best power racks can be found on Amazon here.

We have tried different racks around different commercial gyms and without a doubt, Rogue’s power racks and squat racks are some of the best and most simplistic in the business.

Now let’s have a look at a full-body workout which you can do in a power rack.

Full Body Power Rack Workout

Trust us on this one, a power rack is REALLY versatile and offers a variety of options.

The half rack stands no chance in the squat rack vs power rack comparison.

Hell, if your goal is building mass and do strength training or general weight training, it might as well be the only piece of gym equipment you will ever need.

For this workout, you’ll need the following:

  1. A power rack
  2. One barbell
  3. Weights
  4. A bench

Let’s get into it right now.

#1st Exercise – Barbell Bench Press

Sets: 5

Reps: 15,12,10,10,8

Rest times: 1 minute between sets

The full body workout begins with the biggest pushing muscle group of the upper body, the chest.

Benching is the most classic chest exercise one can do.

This specific workout follows an “Antagonistic” order of the muscle groups.

Antagonistic pairs are two muscle groups that attach at the same joint but are placed on opposing sides and have opposing functions. ((https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3460176/))

Such are: The chest and the back, the biceps and the triceps, the quadriceps and hamstrings, the abs and the spinal erectors

Execution:

  1. Set up a flat bench in the middle of the rack
  2. Place the barbell on the pins above the bench, so that you can un-rack it with arms almost completely extended
  3. Lie down comfortably and place feet stably on the ground
  4. Grab the barbell a bit wider than shoulder-width, keep head rested and un-rack the barbell
  5. Bend elbows slightly, out of lockout, tensing the chest
  6. Let the barbell go down slowly to the lower portion of the chest
  7. When the bar is 1-2 centimetres above the chest, push up explosively to the initial position (No elbow lockout)

Note: If you lockout the elbows, the triceps will fail before the chest can do so, leaving unrealized work of the chest.

#2nd Exercise – Wide Grip Pull-Ups

Sets: 3

Reps: Until failure

Rest times: 1 minute between sets

This second exercise targets the antagonist of the chest, which is the back.

Before moving into any heavy barbell compound exercises for the back, it would be good to have basic strength and being able to work with your bodyweight.

Execution:

  1. Grab the pull-up bar as wide as comfortable
  2. Keep feet together and hang freely
  3. Look up and engage the scapula
  4. Pull yourself up until chin is at bar level
  5. Squeeze the back and hold peak flexion briefly
  6. Go back down slowly, maintaining tension on the back
  7. Repeat the movement pattern

NOTE: It is normal for the arms to get pumped during this movement. Nevertheless, focus your attention on the back and scapular retraction. If you can’t do that many reps, use a resistance band as a slingshot to help you on the way up. Otherwise, you can even do a chin-up on the chin-up bar.

#3rd Exercise – Weight Plates Lateral Raise

Sets: 3

Reps: Until failure

Rest times: 1 minute between sets

For the third exercise, you will target the side deltoids.

From an aesthetic point of view, this is an important muscle to develop, as it will make you look wider and will more often than not, make the physique look complete.

Execution:

  1. Grab two plates (or dumbbells) in a way that will allow the palms to face the body
  2. Stand up straight and bend the elbows out of lockout. Keep them in that static position
  3. Look forward
  4. Raise the arms laterally, leading the movement with the elbow (elbows higher than wrists)
  5. Contract the delts up top, then go back down slowly

#4th and 5th Exercises – Biceps and Triceps Superset

Sets: 3

Reps: 10 on each exercise

Rest times: 1 minute between supersets

Being the most famous antagonistic pair, the biceps and the triceps work well and their interaction is quite unique.

When one of the muscles receives a contraction signal and shortens, its antagonist receives a relaxation signal and stretches.

Throw the massive blood flushing from the superset and you have yourself a nice pair of blood-raging arms.

Note: A superset implies doing two exercises consecutively with no rest in-between.

The superset starts with barbell curls and goes onto bench triceps dips.

Execution – Barbell Curls:

  1. Load a barbell and grab it at about shoulder-width
  2. Keep torso straight and head looking forward
  3. Bend elbows slightly to tense the biceps
  4. Keep arms close to the torso
  5. Curl up, without moving the elbows forward
  6. Contract the biceps and hold peak flexion briefly
  7. Go back down slowly, maintaining tension on the biceps
  8. Contract the triceps at the bottom and repeat the movement pattern

Execution – Bench Triceps Dips

  1. Sit on the side of a flat bench
  2. Place your hands by your side with palms down
  3. Stand up off the bench, supporting your weight on your arms only
  4. Step forward and keep feet together
  5. Look up, then go down slowly
  6. Push up, extending the arm at the elbow
  7. Contract the triceps up top with a careful elbow lockout and hold peak flexion briefly

#6th Exercise – Barbell Squats

Sets: 5

Reps: 15, 12, 10, 10, 10

Rest times: 1 minute between sets

Now moving on to the lower body with a classic exercise, Barbell squats, which can be done on either a power rack or a squat stand.

Note that the first two sets are warm-up sets at the lower levels of intensity, then you move on to 3 working sets with heavier weights.

barbell front squat muscles worked

Execution:

  1. Place a barbell at about shoulder height
  2. Grab the bar at shoulder width or slightly wider
  3. Get under the bar, placing its center on your trapezius or in front of you as you can see in the image above
  4. Step with both feet placed symmetrically under the bar
  5. Un-rack the bar
  6. Take a couple of steps back
  7. Place feet at shoulder width with toes slightly pointing diagonally
  8. Bend knees slightly, out of lockout
  9. Keep torso straight
  10. Squat down slowly, looking forward
  11. Once your legs are parallel to the ground, squat up explosively to the initial position, without locking out the knees.
  12. Repeat the motion pattern

#7th Exercise – Barbell Calf Raises

Sets: 7

Reps: 15, 12, 12, 12, 10, 10, 10

Rest times: 1 minute between sets

To finish off the workout, you will attack one of the most stubborn muscle groups, the calves.

With the legs straight, biomechanically you are allowing the gastrocnemius (Two-headed calf muscle on the back) to contract.

If the legs are bent in a seated calf raise, main contraction will go to the soleus.

Execution:

  1. Place a disc on the ground
  2. Rack a barbell on the power rack pins behind the disc
  3. Get under the bar and un-rack it like you would for a squat
  4. Step forward and step with your toes on the edge of the disc
  5. Move body forward slightly and feel the tension on the calves
  6. Look up, then push off of your toes
  7. Contract the calves up top an squeeze them powerfully
  8. Go back down slowly and remain in the lower position for 1 second
  9. Repeat

Summary

This workout is suitable for trainees of all levels, be it a beginner, intermediate or an advanced lifter.

It can be done 3 to 4 times a week, depending on individual recovery.

The full-body workout will allow you to lay a fundamental base for further development.

That includes proper development of strength, strength endurance and last but not least, learning the correct technique on the compound exercises.

women with sunglasses showing off her muscles

This lady knows how to use a power-rack

Bottom Line On Racks

There are a wide variety of Squat and Power racks to choose from when it comes to making an upgrade to your gym.

Squat racks and squat stands are without a doubt the best option for people looking to save on money and space.

If on the other hand you are not limited by any of those factors, do consider getting the bigger, more solid power rack, in which you can easily do a viable full-body workout like the one we gave you.

This piece of gym equipment was made for heavy-duty work.

Ultimately, you will develop a good-looking, functional physique, by getting better and stronger on the compound movements like bench press, squats, deadlifts, rack pulls, pull-ups and even a chin up.

Now, though strength training is important, recovery and stretching are just as important for a fully functional and flexible physique!

Check out our best picks for Stretching exercises HERE.

And remember, though physical training is important, it is nothing without mental training.

Check out this great Instagram Video where Alistair (founder of this blog) explains more about the subconscious mind and how it works.

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