What is the difference between half rack, full power rack and squat racks?

November 12, 2022 3 min read

power rack blog

Firstly, what is a power rack?

The power rack is also known as a “full” power rack or a power cage. A popular piece of weight training equipment, the power rack is used mainly as a shaped rack for freeweight barbell exercises such as bench presses or squats. Basically, the rack is conveniently shaped for you to complete any exercises where you would normally have a friend spotting you in order to prevent you from being injured by the bar. The rack does not constitute to a weight machine because the bar does not touch the rack whilst it is in motion. 

The safety bars, also known as the spotter bars or arms, are the main point of the power rack. These safety bars on the sides are supported by the “uprights”, which are the 4 vertical steel tubes of the rack. The safety bars should be adjusted to the height that is just slightly below the bottom of your range of motion for the particular exercise. This means that the safety bars are able to catch the barbell before the bar crushes you on a failed rep. Should you fall backward or forward, the barbell may not only hit the safety bars, but also the uprights. Thus, they have been designed so as to prevent you from injury no matter what happens. 

It’s standard to use an empty bar or an easy amount of weight to complete a few reps to help figure out the right height if you are unsure of the exact height you should set the safety bars at. This is also made easier by some racks which have numbered holes, if the rack you are using does not have numbers on the holes, all you need to do is try to count the holes. 

A set of J-cups, which you lift the barbell from initially is also inside the rack. You also use these to re-rack the barbell back on when you have finished each set. In order to lift the barbell off to in turn begin the movement at the top of your range of motion, the J-cups are set significantly higher in comparison to the safety bars. However, this does depend on the exercise. 

What is a half rack?

A half-rack is also sometimes referred to as a half power rack or half squat rack. In comparison to power racks, half racks do not surround you with 4 uprights. Instead, there may be only 2 uprights. Should you see anymore, they are only used for weight plate storage and are located toward the back of the half-rack. 

The barbell is only used off the front of the rack. Only some half-rack models include safety arms to assist catching a failed rep. Should you fall backwards far enough, there are no safety arms to catch the barbell.

Half-racks sometimes include pull-up bars. 

What is a squat rack?

A squat rack could mean one of the styles discussed above and more. Original racks that were designed for squats were called squat racks. The old-style squat racks were essentially half racks but included fixed, un-adjustable spotter bars. However, this created a problem for taller users who needed the safety bars to be made higher. Fundamentally, having fixed spotter bars were un-safe. 

Gunrack-style bar hooks allow you to use whatever height you want instead of a set of adjustable-height J cups. However, because the hooks are several inches apart, when you are trying to re-rack the barbell, they can easily lead to you banging the front of the hooks. These are often found in commercial gyms because of the lack of detachable parts that can go missing.

What is the width of a power rack of half rack?

The majority of any half, power or squat rack width is considered to be Olympic width or approximately 48″ on the outside edges. They are made to fit a 7ft Olympic bar and this is why they are made to be this width. A 7ft Olympic bar is about 52″ between the shoulders which allows you to rest the shaft of the bar on the hooks in order to freely load the weight plates on the sleeves.

Using a bench inside a power rack or half rack

To perform a bench press, a flat or adjustable flat, incline, decline bench can be used in both a power or half rack. These benches are also referred to as utility benches or dumbbell benches and can be used to perform numerous other dumbbell or barbell exercises.

It should be noted that these are not the benches which have a built-in rack such as the type that can usually only be used for bench pressing. Any built-in rack on one of these benches would only get in the way were you to sliding a bench into a power or half rack.

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