Power racks are designed with safety in mind. The original purpose of a rack was really to allow you to perform partial movements when exercising, such as a half squat or bent over row. This allows you to lift a heavier weight than you may be able to manage for a full range for a particular exercise.
They are also extremely useful pieces of fitness equipment for a variety of other reasons. They provide excellent safety – when you fail at an exercise there is no risk of dropping a heavy weight on your chest or collapsing under the bar while squatting.
A basic power rack is really just a cage that surrounds a weight training bench with two parallel bars to support a barbell plus two bars to hold the bar in the stored position.
Although most power racks come with an assortment of add ons, such as lateral pull down cables and dip bars, these really are not required. You can easily enhance your power rack with a few common household items or with a trip to the local garden center.
In the photo you can see a typical power rack that is in use in a garage home gym. It is not kept as clean and tidy as the racks found in commercial gyms, but it provides more for less.
Instead of having an expensive dip station added to the bar, this one has 2 thick tree posts resting across the support bars. These tree posts costs just a few dollars each and can easily hold a large adults weight.
You will also notice that there is a ladder above the power rack. This is not storage space, but a part of the home gym. The ladder provides a solid set of parallel bars for parallel grip chin-ups / pull-ups. As the ladder has many rungs you can vary your grip too. There is also a standard pull up bar on the rack.
So, without even having a bench and free weights, the following exercises can be performed with a power rack:
- Pull ups
- Chin ups
- Parallel grip chip ups
- Assisted pull ups
- Assisted dips
- Hanging leg raises
With some weights you can then perform:
- Bent over rows
- Shoulder shrugs
Add a weight training bench and you can also do:
- Flat Bench press
- Inclined Bench press
- Seated Shoulder press
Plus all the other weight training exercises that can be done with free weights, such as curls, tricep extensions, power cleans, lateral raises and chest flyes.
A power rack with a solid bench, a couple of tree posts and a ladder on top provides all the major weight training exercises that you need, and is a fraction of the price of a multi-gym or annual gym membership. Add a couple of old towels and a rope and you can perform a variety of other pull up exercises to target different muscles and provide an even more varied workout.
For serious free weight training a Power Rack (or Power Cage) is essential, especially if you are training without a spotter.
A Power Rack / Cage surrounds your weight lifting bench, and provide solid horizontal supports that can hold a fully loaded barbell. This allows you to squat, bench press or shoulder press with confidence, as failure does not mean injury.
Power racks also allow modification of movement, and aid lifting. For example, if doing bent over rows with a heavy bar, you can use the power rack to support the bar in the start position, to save lifting from the ground. They also come with attachments to allow dips and lateral pull downs.
Be safe when you lift by yourself.
Weight Training at Home on a Budget
If you are planning to set up a weights gym at home, safety is one of the most important considerations. Few people can afford multi-gyms large enough to allow you to perform all the exercises needed to workout your whole body.
Power racks (aka power cages) are the best option if you are lifting free weights, however not everyone has the space or money to buy a good rack.
So, what do you do? The answer is simple – saw horses. Many people use saw horses to support their barbell. They can handle a huge amount of weight, are adjustable, and often lightweight and can be folded up and stored away.
Free Weights Home Gym, on a Budget
If you are planning on weight training at home with free weights, this is really the bare minimum you should obtain:
- A set of free weights:
- A full length barbell (7 foot)
- A Combo Bar (tricep and bicep bar combined)
- Wide selection of discs
- A good quality, solid bench, with incline positions up to vertical
- A pair of saw horses, ideally adjustable.
Saw horses are a builders / woodworkers tool. They are lightweight (used to be made from wood, but now plastic/metals) and can support a huge weight. For example, the Stanley 60622 Folding Adjustable Sawhorse can support up to 1000 pounds (450kg) so is plenty for any weight lifter to train with. You can position them for bench press and squats (the two most popular big compound exercises) so that you do not find yourself pinned to a bench or the floor!
Saw horses are limited as they are not always height adjustable, and when they are the range is small. But for safety when squatting they are very useful. We recommend a 7 foot bar because these provide much greater stability.
You can have the supports (saw horse) set further apart, and there is much less chance of the bar tipping when changing weights over. Also, if you decide to upgrade your home gym and buy a power cage, you will need to the longer bar. But the main reason is safety.