Content of the material
- Common Issues
- Can’t Break Parallel
- Losing Balance
- Leaning Forward
- Heels Come Up
- Lower Back Rounding
- Knees Cave In
- Fear of Squats
- The Best Squat Rack: How to Make Your Choice
- Safety Features
- Weight Capacity
- DIY Squat Rack
- How To Bail Out of a Squat Safely
- Power Rack Alternatives
- What to Look for in a Squat Rack
- No Matter What You Use, Be Safe!
Before you do anything else, you must make sure that you know the dimensions of the area you have available to you. Where are you going to be placing it?
Do you already have a dedicated home gym or will you find a place just for the rack alone? Whatever your situation is, make sure you measure it.
Trust us, you’re rarely going to get it right if you’re just eyeing it, and you don’t want to waste time and money for something that could be so easily avoided.
If you have lower ceilings, there are plenty of excellent products on our guide that either come made to be shorter, or have adjustable heights to accommodate various ceilings.
Also think about width. Are you a wider person, or do you need extra space to perform certain exercises, such as kettlebell swings?
If you’re just using them for squats, dips, pull-ups, chest presses, etc, then you can easily get away with a narrower model.
Can’t Break Parallel
If you can’t break parallel when you Squat, your stance is too narrow. Put your heels shoulder-width apart and turn your toes 30° out. Then Squat down while pushing your knees out. This creates space for your belly to move through your legs. Most people can instantly break parallel by fixing their Squat stance. If it doesn’t work for you because your hips are tight, do the Toddler Squat described below to increase your flexibility.
The bar is balanced when it moves over your mid-foot. The middle of your foot is your balance point. Test this by standing with the bar on your back. Lean slightly forward with straight legs and feel how the bar pulls you forward. Lean slightly back and feel how it pulls you back. Stand tall with the bar over your mid-foot and feel how it’s now balanced. Bar over mid-foot is your strongest position where you can stand forever.
If the bar is not over your mid-foot at any point when you Squat, you’ll lose balance. You’ll lose balance forward if the bar comes over your toes. You’ll lose balance backwards if it moves to your ankles. The easy fix is to think of moving the bar in a vertical line over your mid-foot. Make sure you stand with your heels shoulder-width apart and toes 30° out so you can keep the bar over your mid-foot when you Squat.
Don’t use machines because you lose balance when you Squat. The only way to learn how to balance the weight when you Squat is to balance the weight when you Squat. You don’t learn it by relying on a machine that balances it for you. As soon as you move to free weights, you’ll have to start from scratch again. Start with free weights immediately and stick with them. Start light and Squat in the Power Rack if you’re scared of injury.
You’ll lean forward on the Squat when your hips raise faster than your chest. Squat up by moving your hips and chest at the same time. Don’t let your hips raise faster than your chest or your torso will end too horizontal with the floor. This can cause the bar to roll up your back, to your neck, and pull you forward. Keep your back angle constant on the way up. Your hips and chest must move up at the same time.
Heels Come Up
Your heels will come off the floor if you Squat with a narrow stance. Put your heels shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes out 30° and Squat down by bending your hips and knees at the same time. Hips back, knees out. Your knees should move the first half of your Squat and then stay there while your hips keep moving. Don’t let your knees come too forward or the bar will end over your toes, pull you forward and raise your heels.
Don’t Squat with a plate or piece of wood under your heels. This is a band-aid solution that creates new issues instead of fixing the bad Squat form. Squatting with elevated heels stresses your knees more by moving them further forward. It’s also unstable and thus dangerous for Squatting heavy weights. And it doesn’t fix flexibility issues or bad Squat form. Keep your heels on the floor instead of putting stuff under them.
If you think your heels come off the floor because your hips or ankles are tight, do the Toddler Squat every day for 10 minutes. This will increase your flexibility for Squats. But remember stretching doesn’t fix bad form. If your heels come off the floor because your stance is too narrow, then widen your stance. Stretching won’t fix that. You have to fix it by Squatting with your heels shoulder-width apart, toes out and knees out.
Check your shoes as well. You need hard soles that don’t compress under the weight. That means no running shoes with air or gel filling. The weight of the bar will compress the soles of running shoes when you Squat. It will compress it unpredictable ways which can cause your heel to come off the floor. Try barefoot and check if that keeps your heel down. Then get shoes with a hard sole like Chuck Taylor’s.
Lower Back Rounding
Lower back rounding during Squats is bad for your spine. it compresses your spinal discs and can herniate them. Your lower back will round if you Squat with your knees pointing forward. This puts the front of your hips in the way of the top your thighs. Your hips can’t go below parallel because your thighs are in the way. Squat with your heels shoulder-with apart, toes out and knees out. Your lower back will stay neutral.
Your lower back will also round if you go too deep. Squat down until you hip crease is below the top of your knees. But don’t go deeper and ass-to-grass or your lower back will usually round. If you insist on going deep, make sure you Squat high bar so your torso can stay upright. Squatting ass-to-grass with a low bar position doesn’t work. Your lower back will round at the bottom because your torso is less upright.
The Buttwink is usually just lower back rounding. Don’t go lower than below parallel and push your knees out – solved. Sometimes the buttwink is the result of overarching. You can’t keep your lower back overarched at the bottom. It will move to neutral which can look like lower back rounding. But it’s just a reset. Squat with a natural arch like when you stand. Ribcage down, lower back neutral, abs squeezed. No more buttwink.
Knees Cave In
Squatting with your knees caved in is bad for your knees. It twists your knee joints. Some knee caving in may happen during heavy Squats and max attempts. But excess knee caving in on every rep and set will cause pain inside your knees. Overtime this can cause a knee injury. Your thighs must stay inline with your feet when you Squat. This prevents twisting of your knee joints and ligaments. It keeps them safe.
Keep your knees out when you Squat. Push them to the side. Push them out both when you Squat down and when you Squat back up. External hip rotation is the goal: rotate your right thigh clockwise and your left thigh counter-clockwise. Your toes should be 30° out so your feet and thighs are parallel. Your heels should be shoulder-width apart. Don’t Squat with a wider stance of it will be harder to keep your knees out.
Banded Squats can help keeping your knees out. Loop a resistance band around your thighs and Squat. The band will cue you to keep your knees out. You can use a light kettlebell but the focus is to Squat right, not heavy. Do Banded Squats as a corrective exercise after your Squats and on your off days. Expect to feel this in your glutes and groin muscles which work when you Squat with your knees out.
Fear of Squats
Fear of Squats is normal. The weight can be tough to Squat. You can fail or injure yourself. Your body has therefore good reason to perceive Squats as a threat. That’s why you may feel fear when you approach the bar. You may also feel anxiety leading to the workout, like when driving to the gym. I’ve been Squatting for 16 years and still experience fear sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s part of the game.
The best way to overcome fear of Squats is to Squat. Every Squat set you finish safely is positive feedback. This feedback grows your courage and confidence over time. It doesn’t remove the fear of Squats. It just teaches you to be comfortable Squatting despite feeling fear. Because you know, from Squatting safely over and over, that everything is going to be just fine. This is like cognitive behavior therapy for Squats.
The key is positive feedback. Failing a rep isn’t negative feedback. Failing a rep without Power Rack, getting stuck under the bar and then injuring your back is. That causes more fear. You have to Squat safely. Squat in the Power Rack, set the safety pins and use proper form. When you Squat safely this way without injuring yourself because the pins caught the rack, you know you’re safe. This is positive feedback.
Don’t hesitate failing Squats on purpose a few times to overcome the fear of the unknown. This way you know how it will feel like when you fail to Squat a real and heavier weight. When you approach the bar and you feel fear coming up, don’t pay too much attention to it. Notice it, take a few deep breaths to calm you down, and walk to the bar. Setup as you always do, unrack the weight and do your Squats.
The Best Squat Rack: How to Make Your Choice
When you’re choosing a home squat rack, you want to make sure your needs will be met. You need a rack that will function perfectly for your purposes and continue to work as you build your strength.
So, what should you look for when picking the best squat rack for your home?
Here are five things you should keep in mind and some “Do’s and Don’ts”
One of the most influential factors, your budget will dictate what type of rack you can buy or make. For those with the lowest budgets, a DIY or minimalistic rack may be the best choice. However, that doesn’t mean you have to go without! As you’ll see in the recommended products below, there are some options that can be accommodated in just about any budget. Just be realistic about what you can do with the money you have.
Another concern is space. Many squat racks, particularly power racks are quite large and will require a large footprint to fit comfortably in your home. If you don’t have much space, opt for a folding or wall-mounted rack that won’t take over your whole home gym area. Domeasure your space and check specs before buying.
Safety in the home gym should be a priority. Many people who have a home gym setup plan on working out alone. This means that you should seek out safety features that will help you should you fail while lifting. Don’t ever underestimate the dangers of weightlifting. If you max out and are no longer able to hold up the bar, you’ll want a safety arm or bar that will catch the bar for you. If you do choose a squat bar design that doesn’t offer much in the way of safety, then you’re committing to finding an exercise buddy who will spot you while you’re doing squats or bench presses.
How serious about weight lifting are you? You’ll want to make sure the squat rack can handle the weight you’re currently lifting plus a bit more. This will allow you room to grow. However, if you currently don’t lift anything at all and aren’t into body-building, you probably won’t need a rack with a capacity of more than 400-500 pounds. Do make sure you check the specs to ensure that the rack you choose will meet your needs.
Do you want to get more than squats out of your rack? If you’re hoping to perform bench presses, curls, pull ups, dips and more with your rack, you’ll probably end up with a power rack. However, if you just need a simple squat rack strictly for squats, there’s no need to purchase a space-consuming power rack. Don’t forget that you can get more bang for your buck by buying a multi-functional design.
With this information in mind, browse through our top recommended squat racks to find the one that’s perfect for you.
DIY Squat Rack
Are you handy with tools and making your own equipment or furniture? If so, then the idea of a DIY squat rack may appeal to you. These squat racks are often cheaper than their commercially made equivalents. However, they do require a certain level of expertise. Since your rack will be holding a significant amount of weight, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you build is sturdy enough to handle it. So, don’t attempt a DIY if you’re not completely confident in your building abilities.
There are some great basic designs available for you to use as a base for creating your DIY squat rack. Here are some designs that you can try:
This wooden framed squat rack is basic and definitely one of the cheaper options. However, it’s sturdy, compact and fulfills the basic functions of a squat rack.
Alternatively, this power rack style option offers much greater versatility for other uses. In addition to using the rack for squats, you can also use it for the bench press, chest curls, pull ups and other similar exercises. Of course, this DIY design is also more complex and expensive than the other.
With this in mind, take a look at how these DIYs compare to what’s available for sale on the market.
Make sure that if you’re an inexperienced lifter, that you’re placing special focus on safety bars. That way, you always have a backup in case something goes wrong. Even if you’re a pro, however, safety should be at the forefront of your decisions.
Always make sure that you’re lifting weight that you know you can manage, and that your squat rack can support, too. Take advantage of weight pegs to minimize the chance of tripping over them or stubbing your toe.
How To Bail Out of a Squat Safely
If you are going to squat, you have to know how to “fail” at squatting safely! After all, there’s nothing scarier than being stuck in the bottom of a squat movement and not knowing how to get out of there!
A squat is very different from a barbell deadlift in that aspect: if you fail on a deadlift, you just don’t pick up the weight.
If you fail on a squat, you’re trapped under a bar…with potentially a lot of weight on it.
This can lead to SERIOUS injury. So please, learn how to bail out of a squat safely before you start attempting to do heavy barbell squats.
This will help give you the confidence to push yourself and get stronger!
Power Rack Alternatives
Squat Racks look like a half Power Rack. They have uprights to safely get the bar on and off your upper-back. But they don’t always have horizontal safety pins. The one that do often have non-adjustable safety pins that can be too high or low for your build. I used a Squat Rack the first five years when I trained in a gym. It works fine if you know what you’re doing. But the Power Rack is safer for Squatting heavy alone.
Squat Stands are two vertical poles with uprights. They’re usually not connected so you can easily move them and save space. But Squat Stands rarely have stable safety pins. They’re made for experienced Olympic Lifters who use bumper plates and throw the bar on the floor when they fail. You’ll get the bar on your back with Squat Stands. The Issue is getting away from the bar when you fail to Squat without spotter or safety pins.
Saw horses can serve as safety pins for your Squat Stands. You can get adjustable ones that handle 450kg/1000lb in most hardware stores (they’re cheap). Put the pair next to your Squat Stands to catch the bar if you fail. Just make sure the bar doesn’t roll off the safety pins and crash on your floor. Squatting with Squat Stands and saw horses works if you know what you’re doing. But again, using the Power Rack is always safer.
Cleaning the bar doesn’t work. You can pull light weights from the floor to your shoulders and even behind your head. But the heavier the weight, the harder it will be to clean and the more this will limit your Squat. You’ll be tired before you even Squat, or fail to clean the bar. Whatever you clean, you can Squat more. So you’re never Squatting heavy. And you never have safety pins to catch the bar if you fail to Squat the weight up.
Don’t Use Machines. Squatting in the Smith Machine forces you into a fixed bar path because the bar is attached on rails. This can hurt your lower back and knees. It’s also ineffective to gain strength and muscle fast because the machine balances the weight. Same deal with the Leg Press, plus the weight moves, you don’t. Machines are no substitutes for Squatting heavy with free weights. Don’t expect the same results.
What to Look for in a Squat Rack
The first thing to look for in a squat rack, no matter the quality, features, or flexibility, is the size of the rack. If the rack will not fit in the floor space that you have or it is too short or too tall, then it is not the right rack. Many people will get so involved in the options and features of a rack that they waste their time looking at products that they’ll never be able to use. Focus your time and energy on researching those racks that fit perfectly into your space and for the height of the people who will be using the rack. You should measure out the floor space that you have to work with,and then, and only then begin researching racks.
The next thing to look for in a squat rack is the quality of the machine. There is a different quality and standard for commercial racks as opposed to personal racks. You should also consider the amount of weight and frequency of use that the squat rack will see. But do not only plan based on how much you lift now, plan based on how much you plan to live 3, 5, and even 10 years from now. A squat rack, due to the nature of the build quality, is designed to last for many decades. This isn’t a cell phone, it’s a frame of steel. Quality is important and it gets even more so the more often you use the product.
When deciding on the quality of the rack, something to consider is the type and thickness of the steel that was used in manufacturing. Generally, you can expect the more inexpensive racks to have 2”x2” steel and the higher quality and more expensive racks to go all the way up to 3”x3”. While the size of the upright is important, the gauge can often be an even more important indicator of price and quality. A few racks will use 7-gauge steel which is very thick and reserved generally for commercial use, and to be honest, completely overkill for even the strongest in the world. 7-gauge steel is virtually indestructible. The more likely scenario for a home or garage gym purchase would be 11-gauge steel. This is strong enough for almost any home gym scenario and will probably last you a lifetime.
It is important to look for the gauge of the steel and not to purchase anything less than 12-gauge. If it is not listed as a selling point, for instance, if you are purchasing from Walmart or Amazon, then it is probably a lower gauge steel and not worth purchasing. While 7-gauge is overkill for a home gym, less than 12-gauge is potentially dangerous depending on how much weight you lift.
Aside from the thickness and gauge of the steel, there is one more aspect of quality craftsmanship when it comes to a squat rack. Because it is made out of steel, welding plays a large part in the construction of the machine. A good weld can be the difference between a machine that lasts 2 years and a machine that lasts a lifetime. The difficulty in knowing if the welds are good has nothing to do with the aesthetics of the welds (a good weld should look like a stack of dimes in a row) and everything to do with the structural soundness that the welds provide. Many reviewers will tear down the quality of a machine based on how the welding looks, but the key to the quality of the machine rests in whether or not the welds do their job. Titan Fitness, for instance, has been known to have some very ugly welds that have lead to equipment failures. Be aware that you often get what you pay for.
You should also consider the brands that offer squat racks and decide if one gives you more confidence than others. There are high-level brands like Rogue that produce high quality at a high price, mid-level brands like Rep Fitness and FringeSport that are considerably cheaper and maintain high quality, and then lower-level products like Weider that are considerably cheaper but are not viable for heavy lifters. When considering the brand, make sure you look at warranties, reviews, history, and price to see which one fits you. A review of different racks will come later in this article.
Another consideration for a squat rack is the ease of use associated with the machine. While there are a few things that can make a squat rack easier or more difficult to use, the key is how easy the safety bars are to adjust. When moving from one exercise to another, you do not want to have to wait and break up your momentum to fidget with a machine that is too difficult to adjust and operate. When researching, and before buying, make sure that one of the pros associated with the squat rack is that it is easy to use and more specifically easy to adjust. Otherwise, no matter how great the rest of the features are, you will spend your time frustrated with the rack.
There are also safety features that should be considered and researched. For instance, can the rack be anchored to the floor? Is it compatible with j-cups? Is there a stabilizer and if so is it in the way and potentially dangerous to the lifter? The truth is, the safety provided by a squat rack is probably its most important quality and should be considered over almost any other feature when purchasing a rack. The most important thing to look for in terms of safety is that the safety bars can be adjusted to the levels that you need them to be. A squat rack can be used as a “spotter” of sorts and can allow you to lift heavy weight safely even in the absence of a spotter. While less important, you should also know if the rack can be anchored to the floor or if it is sturdy enough on its own and if you need a stabilizer and if so where it is located.
A key advantage to today’s racks is that most of them provide versatility in terms of how many exercises they are built to. For instance, many of today’s power racks have the capacity to be a squat rack, bench press, lat pull, pull up, dip machine, and many others all rolled into one. When purchasing your rack, it is important that you decide which exercises are important to you and which ones you can either do without or accomplish with a different piece of equipment. Of course, the more exercises that a squat rack can accommodate, the more expensive it will probably be (see our review of the Prime Fitness Prodigy Rack for instance.) So be realistic and be ready to spend more money if you want your rack to be more of an all-in-one machine. Also, pay attention to the accessories that are available for each squat rack. There are many machines that do not come equipped with everything that you need to do every exercise but inexpensive and effective accessory pieces may be available for purchase.
While this consideration is similar to some of the others mentioned above, it is important enough to have its own paragraph. Holes are inserted into each squat rack so that the safety pins that hold an Olympic barbell can be placed at different levels. When it comes to holes, the first consideration is the type of hole. Many of the less expensive racks have holes that are punched directly into the steel, and while this will suffice, it can also bend the steel and cause issues down the road. The better and more precise way to create holes in your rack is through laser cuts that do not negatively affect the structural soundness of the rack. While this can cause an increase in the price of the rack, it is an important addition. See my best budget home gym equipment guide here.
After the type of holes, the other main issue is to research the spacing between the holes in each rack. Many racks will give you 2-inch spacing between holes throughout the machine and with no exceptions. This has always been the standard, and for the majority of lifters, that is fine. Newer power racks have moved to what is known as Westside Hole Spacing which was developed in a partnership between Rogue Fitness and Westside Barbell; it is now copied by nearly everyone in the industry. This gives the user either 1-inch spacing throughout the machine or a combination of 1 and 2-inch spacing depending on the hole’s location. This new spacing gives you the ability to be more exact in your j hooks, safeties, and any other accessories and can make a big difference depending on the exercise.
Many new racks have weight platestorage built directly into them as well. While storage trees are relatively inexpensive, having plate storage on a machine that is already in the gym can be a big space saver and increase the stability of the rack. This especially applies to home and garage gyms where space can become an issue quickly.
One of the most important things you will want to consider, especially if purchasing a power rack, is the accessories that are offered and/or compatible with the machine. Accessories like pull up bars, lat pulls, j hooks, dip station, weight storage, and band pegs for adding resistance bands. Most of these accessories are self-explanatory, and if you are looking to purchase a rack you know that accessories are important. With that said, you should definitely consider purchasing additional j hooks so that you can have more than one exercise ready to go at any time.
In addition to the actual functionality of the squat rack, you should also look at which racks have the longest warranty, the cheapest and quickest shipping options, and how easy it is to assemble. Warranty information is always listed on the companies site, but in general, the more expensive the equipment, the longer the warranty. What is really key is the ease of assembly. If the machine is very difficult to put together or has a lot of different steps in assembly, then it also has a greater chance of not being put together correctly. The best thing you could do is either pay for assembly, purchase an already assembled product, or be prepared to be very attentive during the assembly process.
The frame style is the last consideration we see as important in selecting a rack and will be discussed in greater detail in the next section. The important thing to know is that there are thousands of options to research and become familiar with when purchasing a squat rack, and the type of rack is the first thing you should figure out. There are power racks (what we suggest), squat stands, fold away racks, and others and figuring out which suits your desire is the first thing you should do.
No Matter What You Use, Be Safe!
Whether pre-global pandemic you were a strength athlete or not, Smith has a word of advice: “Be careful and use less weight than you think you can use to start.” It’s common for people to lift too much quickly and to side-line themselves with injury, he says. He recommends using less weight and higher rep schemes (think: 4 sets of 8) for at least two weeks to give your body time to adjust to lifting again.
“You can’t go back to that original weight, you have to progress your way up,” he says. “But if you’re consistent you’ll get back there in no time.” (Related: What to Know About Training Volume If You’re New to Lifting Weights)
On that motivating note, please excuse me—I’ve got a few things to pick up at Lowe’s…