Power Rack options for your home gym
Looking at all the power rack options out there can be quite dizzying. What do you go for? A squat stand, half rack, or full power rack? If any of those, what brand or set up should you go for?
Well to save you time we’ve put together a guide on all things power rack. Here goes:
Type of racks and stands
These are typically just a base with two uprights, sometimes a crossmember connecting the two uprights above head height (so you don’t smash into it when reracking your squats). Shorter squat stands do not come with a crossmember if the uprights are short (great for basement gyms where you have a low ceiling).
Benefits of a squat stand is that they don’t need to be bolted down. They typically have a stand that extends fore and aft of your upright, providing counterbalance for any weight onthe upright or any weight placed on spotter arms. We highly recommmend gettting safety spotter arms (at least 20 inches – many places like XTC, Rogue, EliteFTS now have longer than 20″ safety spotter arms) These will save your ass if you fail on a rep doing squats or bench press.
Another benefit to squat stands is visual mass. The visual mass on a stand is much less than that of a full cage. You can take off the safety spotter arms when not in use and have your squat rack appear to take up less room – although the overall footprint of the base actually takes up the same space as a power rack. This is a solid benefit for those that may want to keep their squat stand inside a room of a house or an apartment.
There are a few downsides to a squat stand. First is the idea that a squat stand isn’t as safe as a power cage. This is true if you do bail backwards, there are no uprights to hit and you may miss the safety spotter arms. This would only happen during a front or back squat. In this case yeah it may happen, but if you have good form and don’t step out too far back you should be okay given how long some of the new safety spotter arms are from companies like Rogue (22 inch plus).
Slight sway due to no bolt down. Depending on the gauge of steel and the construction of your squat stand, there may be some sway. With weights loaded and if you have a heavier stand many have reported no sway, but that is what you may get if you were to do some hard kipping movements on the cross-member of your rack, or re-rack hard which is going to happen at some point. The best way to combat this is to have some weight storage on the rack where possible, and have the rack right up against the wall to stop any forward sliding.
The other downside, albeit a small one is weight storage. Depending on the design of the squat stand, you’ll probably have to move weights around or have a separate weight tree. No big deal. What I mean here is that if you have large iron 45 plates or bumpers, having a set of plate holders off the uprights will probably bash into your loaded bar during a bench press.
Or if you have pin pipe storage on the back that isn’t removable, the weights will stick out the back, so you can’t really have the back of the squat stand up against the wall. This can be remedied with a block of wood in-between the stand and wall, or just re-racking a heavy squat in a way that does not make the stand slide forward. The later is kind of lame, so you may have to take off the back weights or ensure no slide when they are on with a block of wood or bolting the stand down.
The good old half rack. In between a squat stand (which by the way some people call squat rack) and a full power rack you have the good old half rack. Half racks are somewhat hard to come by for home use, but not impossible. Rogue does a pretty awesome half rack the HR-2, as well as Vulcan and EliteFTS, bu we’ll get to the exact racks soon.
A half rack is essentially a squat stand but with rear uprights and some crossmembers along the top to connect. The inside of the uprights is too small to be able to work in, so you still use safety spotter arms. The extra upright is typically used as storage.
Rogue does have a pic of their HR-2 that comes with safety spotter pipes, but with a 17″ clearance, the space is very limited.
The advantages here are that you get less visual mass, but then you’re going to have to set it away from the wall to accommodate plate storage – your weights sticking out the back from the rear upright, which would add an easy 10 inches as you’d need hand space to get them on or off. If you really don’t have the option to bolt down, then a half rack with plate storage would be a great way to go. You loose out on not having a full cage, but you have less visual mass once your safety spotters are off. You could then flip your bench vertical to fit inside the uprights for storage.
Full power rack / power cage
A full power rack is probably the solid go-to for the budding home gym owner. This is where you have a ton of options. A power rack is typically comprised of 4 uprights, sometimes 6 for added weight plate storage. Foot print wise a 4 post/ upright power rack does take up the same amount as a half rack/ squat stand, but there is a caveat here. With a 4 post rack, unless it has a base, you’re going to have to bolt it down.
Bolting down can be a bit of a pain in the ass, but actually isn’t too bad. For the Rogue racks, many people tend to go with 2 sheets of 2/4 inch and lag bolt the rack down. Over at bodybuilding.com others have used lag screws. We recommend lag bolts for extra security.
If you’re bolting down to plywood, then that is going to take up extra space too. This then makes the footprint larger than a squat rack or half rack when not in use due to the plywood sticking out. Of course you can just build a base the size of the rack, but then a flat bench or fi bench/ fid bench will not be level as the front legs would sit off the plywood.
The power rack is however a great option if you can just bolt into concrete. Racks like Rogue come wtih concrete anchors to bolt the rack down at a small additional cost. If you’re really not keen on bolting down, you could get a 6 upright rack.
Options such as the Sorinex Dark Horse, the Rogue R6 and Northern Light’s Crossbox come to mind (the later being the cheapest best option in Canada). Of course these racks take a up more floor space, but include plate storage, and you could if you want, perform all your exercises within the rack (if you don’t do any olympic lifting).
Type of Steel
This is where it gets interesting. All the crappy made in China type racks are normally of pretty poor build quality. See below what I mean between the low budget rack that is the Titan HD vs a Rogue R# power rack:
What type of gauge steel and dimensions?
For a full power rack, and any of the other racks mentioned above we highly recommend going with a rack that is made outside of China. e.g. made in USA or Canada. Definitely go for 11 gauge steel or stronger. 11 gauge in 2×2, 2×3, or 3×3 inch square pipe seems to be the sweet spot offering you a rack that will last a lifetime. You could go even stronger to 7 gauge steel – its totally overkill, but hey if you have the money then why not.
With 3×3 you are going to add an inch wider on the outside. With the Rogue racks you have an inner width of 48″. 2×3″ uprights will give you extra room on the outside for re-racking your bar easier, but 3×3 is totally fine. For a 6 upright power rack a 2×3″ upright rack is more than plenty. The call is yours.
Finish of the steel
Typically power racks are powder coated. You’re not really going to get racks that aren’t nowadays. Powder coating is the process of applying the paint while it is in a powder. Long story short – you get a finish that is much more durable than say a spray paint coat. In saying that the powder coat will eventually come off where there is contact with the bar.
More and more manufacturers are now allowing custom colors aside from the classic white or black. Many manufacturers tend to go with a matte black finish such as Sorinex and Rogue. Others like the Crossbox series from Northern Lights is more of a glossy black.
It’s going to be difficult to change any color rack yourself as the process of powder coating requires specialty tools e.g. powder coating gun. You may be able to do a spray paint on crossmembers or smaller parts, but it won’t be as durable – but will do the trick if you apply carefully in an oven or a non-dusty location (tip: wet the floor of your room to get rid of any dust coming from the ground if in your garage or workshop).
Our recommendations for racks
(pics below each)
XTC X series squat stands (based in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada)
Rogue SML-2 (be aware that this rack is 3×3″ 11 gauge steel)
Rogue S2 (cheaper 2×3″ 11 gauge steel version, with slightly shorter spotter arms than SML series)
Elitefts Scholastic 3X3 basic half rack (more than half the price of their collegiate half rack, and will do the job just fine)
Vulcan Elite Half rack – great value and build
Rogue HR-2 Half rack (be aware that this rack is 3×3″ 11 gauge steel)
Full power racks:
Rogue R3 (available with fully welded sides or as a bolt together)
Rogue R6 (2×3 ” 11 gauge steel)
Elitefts Scholastic 3X3 basic full power rack with weight storage (main frame has welded sides)
Sorinex Dark Horse – (main frame has welded sides) although pricing has really gone up as of lately (used to be closer to $1000 including the weight storage with free shipping)
Northern Lights Crossbox custom build (but the individual parts and put together yourself) Cheapest option if in Canada, and by far the cheapest if you can pick up the parts. You can build a full R3 for just over $700 CAD at time of publishing
All the above come with UHMW j-cups (UHMW is plastic lining that prevents your bar from hitting the steel of the cage/ accessories). Accessories for the above are plentiful including safety weight straps (not really the biggest fan of here), swing in safeties – much better than pin and pipe safeties, landmine additions, bands, plate storage horns etc.
The most popular upgrade seem to be swing in safeties for full power racks over pin and pipe. Pin and pipe isn’t too bad for a 24″ inside length rack, but having these on any rack would save time and hassle.
There are a ton of different options out there, some more suited for your situation and some less. Starting from a squat stand and going all the way up to a 6 post power rack, it really comes down to what kind of space you have and looks to a certain extend too. Remember now is the time to splash out a little and get a quality rack that will last a last time.
Let us know in the comments: What kind of rack do you own? Or which one would you buy in future?