How to Use the Power Rack for Budding Badasses

You’re getting after it in the gym and seeing those muscles starting to pop up. You’re getting stronger, too. Good stuff! At this point you might be starting to eye that long-azz barbell in your gym, the one found in the power rack cage and bench press station. You want to be doin’ it, but you’re still a little shy.

Something inside you knows you can handle that mofo if you just knew how… or could overcome your intimidation.

How to use the power rack for budding badasses

If this is you, I’m here to support you in stepping outside your comfort zone to use this equipment. Why? Because using a power racks (squat racks) and bench press stations allow you to add more weight in a safe manner. You can only lift so much hauling preweighted bars over your head or across the room to a bench. Barbell training is king when it comes to the big lifts: squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and bent-over rows. These lifts offer much more bang for your buck when you can go heavy.

All badass chicks and dudes use the power rack and you can too!

Who Can Use a Power Rack?

Since we’re talking about a seven-foot metal bar that can weigh on average 45 pounds, let’s make sure you’re well-prepared before using it. Handling this bar (called a power bar) requires more stabilization, balance, and core strength than a shorter barbell (and thus another benefit of using it!). Plus it’s just plain heavier.

For our purposes, we’ll include the bench press station in the category of power rack – equipment that lets you safely use a heavy barbell.

Here’s What You Need First:

  • Ask how much the bar weighs. Ask one of the gym staff before you use it – I’ve heard stories of people getting into risky situations by not knowing how much weight they were lifting. be sure to add the weight to you total weight when you’re logging your workouts.
  • Know proper form. When using a barbell, your shoulders will want to protract (roll forward). Counteract this motion by consciously drawing your shoulders down and back every time. I also encourage you to ask a personal trainer or someone who’s informed to check your form. If you don’t have access to someone in the know, watch videos, practice and record yourself I require all my virtual clients to send me videos of themselves performing squats, deadlifts, and other exercises – I almost always have at least one improvement they can make.
  • Have a base level of strength. Do you feel comfortable squatting, deadlifting, or benching at least 45 pounds? That’s how much these bars weigh without weight added (typically).
  • Have no major shoulder issues. Since barbells can potentially aggravate an existing shoulder problem, individuals with shoulder impingement, tendinitis, or other issues may want to stick to dumbbells. Ask your doctor.

power rackApproaching the Power Rack for the First Time

You’re ready – or at least you think you are. Hey, it’s healthy to be a little intimidated by using that big ole’ bar. You can do this! Go to the gym when it’s nearly empty so you can have some elbow room for error. You don’t want people breathing down your neck waiting for their turn.

When I approach any of my lifts – particularly squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and bent-over rows – I always do it the same way. This is a good practice for you, too – it gets your head in the lift and helps you tick off the checkpoints of proper form. For example, when you get under the bar in a squat rack, you’ll want to brace your core, pack your shoulders, hold your breath and then stand up. Always the same.

Safety first! Always maintain control of the bar and put safety pins in place. These will catch the bar if you drop the bar for some reason – it can happen.

Squat Rack

This gal has a sensible video describing how to use a power rack (also called a squat rack). The video stops short of her actually getting under the bar, but simply duck under, let the bar rest across your shoulders, and stand up. Then slowly back out of the squat rack. When you re-rack the bar, walk forward and set the bar down in the pins.

Incidentally, Molly Gailbraith put together a great squat tutorial that can be found here.

Bench Press

You gotta love Scooby!

I also like this BuiltLean article about bench press technique.

Power Rack Etiquette

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the squat rack and bench press stations are popular in your local gym. There may be people waiting on it because they’re pumped to make it their bitch! So here are a few tips for fitting in with your gym’s etiquette:

  1. Don’t hog the squat rack or bench press station. There’s people waiting for the power bar, yo? Do your big lifts there without texting or chatting.
  2. Don’t walk away for long periods of time. Close kin to hogging the bar but deserves special mention. When you leave the rack for several minutes, it’s just plain inconsiderate. If you need to do supersets, stay in the vicinity and make it quick so others know what’s up. (And if you walk away, be prepared for someone to unrack your weights while you’re gone.)
  3. Don’t train smaller muscle groups in the squat rack. Not only is it dangerous to use too much weight for triceps, biceps, and traps, but you could be using dumbbells or preweighted bars instead.
  4. Unrack your weights. Visualize a shorter person who can’t lift as much as you trying to get the weights off!

Now that you know how to handle the big guy, I fully expect you to get after it. Let me know how you do!

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