When you’re ready to get serious about your strength training, you’ll need to incorporate some work inside a power rack.
Racks allow you to safely execute big, compound movements like squats, overhead presses, bench presses, rack pulls, and more.
The problem is, the power rack is one of the most intimidating areas of a gym for beginners.
But don’t worry! They’re not as complicated as they look, and once you become familiar with them, they’re quite easy and safe to use.
In this article, we break down the 9 key parts of a power rack so you can better know what you’re looking at if it’s your first time lifting weights, plus some tips on how to evaluate these components when buying your own rack.
The 9 key parts of a power rack are:
- Main Frame
- Safety Bars
- J Hooks
- Pull Up Bar
- Weight Plate Holder
- J Hook Spacings
- Dip Bar
- Foot Pads
- Safety Straps
Let’s take a close look at each of these and what they do.
What is a Power Rack?
A power rack is a cage like frame that acts as a safety spotter when you are performing barbell exercises.
It basically consists of four upright posts along with a pair of adjustable horizontal bar catches.
Many power racks add to these basic requirements with the addition of such things as a pull up bar, high and low cable pulley and lat pulldown. Many of them also provide you with pins to allow you to store your weight plates.
The main purpose of a power rack is to provide safety to the user.
By setting the safety pins at a certain level, you can stop the bar from falling lower than that level if you fail the lift.
When doing squats, for example, you can set the safety pins and horizontal bars just a little lower than the bottom point of your squat. If you fail the lift, the bar will simply fall onto the safety bars.
You can also use a power rack to do a limited range of motion exercises. This is a proven way to boost your strength on an exercise.
If you are struggling to get your deadlift past a certain point, for example, you can set the pins so that you are only training through that range of motion in order to overcome the sticking point.
The Different Types of Power Rack
When you walk into a commercial gym, you’ll usually find a few different kinds of racks.
- Full Power Rack
- Half Power Rack
- Squat Rack
- Squat Stand
- Sumo Rack
The full power rack features a full cage set-up with four posts and horizontal safety bars. They often also feature a pull up bar on the top frame cross-beam. This is the safest of the five types of power rack.
However, it is also the bulkiest and the most expensive. Many home gymers will struggle to find the available footprint to house a full power rack.
A half power rack only has two, rather than the four uprights that you get with a full power rack. Many of them also feature a safety bar that extends all around 18 to 24 inches.
A squat rack is an even more abridged version of a full power rack, similar to a half rack but specifically designed for squatting.
Sumo racks are rare to find at the gym, but they are essentially wider than normal in terms of its frame design. This provides more in the cage space for the weight lifter, which allows them to perform such exercises as the Sumo squat.
While some people may think of a Smith Machine as another type of power rack, that is not the case.
A Smith Machine is a plate loaded device that runs along a predetermined movement track. As such, it limits your natural exercise motion and is not recommended by most fitness experts.
For more detail and photos of different kinds of racks, read my guide to the types of power racks here.
The 9 Parts of a Power Rack Explained
Now that you’re familiar with power racks and the different varieties, let’s work on identifying the components of a rack and what they do.
The main frame consists of the four uprights and the beams that connect them.
This provides the rigidity and strength of the entire unit. It should be made from thick 2 x 3 inch or stronger square tubing and have angled bracing at the connector points.
The safety bars are positioned at the extreme of your range of motion to catch the bar if you fail on a rep.
These need to be extremely strong as they will be catching the full force of the bar on its descent. Check the weight rating before buying one for your home gym — cheaper racks won’t be able to handle much weight.
The J Hook attaches to the main frame supports of the rack, and the barbell sits on these J Hooks before you unrack it and perform your reps.
It needs to be strong and easy to adjust In and out of the holes on the main frame. They should also be lined with thick rubber to prevent your bar from scratches.
Pull Up Bar
Many power racks at the gym, and even ones you can buy at home, will include a pull up bar near the top of the frame.
The bar should feature angled handle ends and offer a range of hand grips including neutral and hammer grips. It also needs to provide sufficient clearance to allow even tall people to get a full range of motion.
Weight Plate Holders
Weight pins on the frame base will keep the unit solidly anchored while also allowing you to keep your gym space clutter free.
Slide your Olympic weight plates on and off these pins as needed without needing to travel over to a separate weight station.
J Hook Spacings
The J Hooks on the power rack can adjust to different heights depending on your size and what exercise you’re doing. The hooks grab onto different holes in the main supports of the rack.
The distance between these j hook holes on the main frame is important.
The best racks will include what is known as Westside spacing. This gives you one inch spacing around the bench press zone and two inch spacing through the deadlift and squat zones — in other words, you can adjust the height of the barbell more precisely than if there were fewer and farther apart holes.
Some power racks feature extra attachments or accessories that can clip into the J Hook spacings.
Look for a power rack that includes a detachable dip bar attachment if you’re buying for home. This will allow you to safely and effectively do tricep and chest dips as well as hanging leg raises and other ab moves.
You don’t want your power rack to damage your gym flooring, and neither do commercial gyms.
Check to see if the rack comes with rubber foot pads that sit under each edge to protect your floor surface.
Some power racks will come with safety straps either as well as or instead of the safety bars.
They are made of very thick and strong webbing with steel embedded in it. The straps will catch a dropped bar and encourage it to roll away from you.
Don’t be intimidated by the weights section and power racks at the gym.
They can look a little scary and confusing at first, but they’re just big hunks of metal designed to hold a barbell and keep it from falling on you!
Start with light weights when you’re just learning how to use a rack, and take advantage of any gym staff that may be available to explain the equipment in detail to you. You could even book a free personal training session at your gym to get started.
Before you go, check out more helpful guides like:
- The best power racks for a short ceiling
- How big is a power rack?
- Gyms that have power racks
- The best power racks according to Reddit
Hope this helps!