Squat Rack

The Complete Guide to Selecting Your Ideal Squat Rack

In Equip Your Gym, Guides by Tim Steward

Last updated on February 27th, 2021 at 06:09 pm

I vividly remember the day my power rack arrived. Fedex freight tracking showed it arriving in the early afternoon on a Wednesday. I called in late to work and waited anxiously for it to arrive I was so excited. At about 2pm, the truck dropped a 400+ lb. pallet right outside my front door. I signed and began the arduous task of getting it through the house and into the garage.

I would have to wait until that night to start putting it together. That day at work dragged by slowly. I couldn’t wait to get home to my new rack. Months of research had gone into this purchase. I must have driven to try out 20 different racks over that time.

Finding the perfect power rack for my gym was no quick process. But I learned a lot along the way. In this article I want to share what I learned so that when it comes time for you to buy your rack, you are as happy as I am with mine. (If you just want to skip straight to my specific recommendations, check out my recommended racks page here)

The perfect squat or power rack for most home gyms will have 2-3″ uprights made of heavy gauge steel and will have a weight capacity of 600 lbs. or more. It should be a full cage design complete with safety pins or straps to allow for safe training at home without a spotter.

Why a squat rack?

When I was first planning my home gym, I made a list of equipment I wanted. I then divided my list into two categories. One was titled “the essentials”, the other was titled “would be nice to have”. The very first item in the essentials column was a power rack.

I not only believe that a quality power or squat rack is essential in my gym, I believe it’s the proper centerpiece for almost every home gym that has the room… And they almost all have the room if the correct rack is chosen.

As time goes by I strongly believe that the fitness community will show that a weight training regimen made up of compound movements should be foundational to almost all training. These movements cannot be done safely or effectively at home without a rack of some type. It’s that simple.

Safety

Arguably one of the primary reasons to use a rack is safety. When performing movements like pressing or squatting at home alone, it’s essential to have a rack there to spot you. I wrote an entire article on safely lifting alone without a spotter that you can see by clicking here, but a central point of it is the importance of using a rack.

A quality rack will have safety pins, arms, or straps in place (click here to see my article on the differences and which I feel is better) to catch a dropped bar. These safety features can not only keep you safe from injury, but they also allow you to use weights you wouldn’t normally use otherwise. This can be a big factor in progressing over time!

Safety straps

Ease of loading

If you look back across the history of weight training, all the way back to the olde timey days of the circus strongman, you’ll find that back then, no one did squats or bench presses. But that’s not because they aren’t great movements, they are!

It’s because they had no way to get the weight safely into position for the lift.They could have had other people help, and sometimes they did. But it was inconvenient enough that they simply chose other exercises.

With the advent of the rack, it allowed those strongmen (and eventually bodybuilders and others interested in weight training) to perform new, more effective lifts. Bench pressing and squatting became the norm as more and more people had access to racks.

A quality weight training program will almost always contain lifts you can only do with a rack. If you are going to be training at home, a rack is essential.

Versatility

One last benefit of a rack that I’ve grown to really love and appreciate is its versatility. If all it did was let me press and squat, I probably wouldn’t love it as much. But a great rack will allow so much more.

On my rack, I have 2 different diameter pull up bars. I use those every day. I can also secure my set of rings (see why I love those here) to one of those bars instead of trying to find a way to safely secure them to my ceiling.

Pull up bar on squat rack

I also have a dip station on my rack (parallel bars, actually). The dip is another one of those core exercises that you’ll find in many training programs. Having a stable and dedicated place to do them makes my rack that much more valuable to me.

Being that my gym is located in my garage, space is at a premium. My rack doubles as storage for both my bar and my weights. I like that I don’t have to find someplace else to do that. In fact, if measured in uses per foot, a great rack comes out way ahead of literally every other piece of gear I can think of!

Rack Terminology

For the purposes of this article, I’ll be using four terms interchangeably. Squat rack, power rack, squat cage, and power cage. To the purists out there, there is actually a difference. For our purposes here, let’s say there isn’t. It’s less important what the technical name is and more important that you get the right thing.

You’ll also hear these referred to as “rigs”. Again there is a technical difference, but not one that makes a difference here.

The one term that will matter is differentiating a rack/cage from a stand. A rack or cage will refer to an enclosure constructed of four posts. You squat inside of a rack/cage. A stand is only two bars and you squat in front of it.

Now that that is clear, let’s move on!

Rack construction

In order to pick the rack that’s both right for you and one you’ll love, you should be at least somewhat familiar with the different parts of a rack. Knowing those parts, what they do, and how they are built and function will be important in knowing which racks are worthwhile and which are not.

Uprights

Let’s start with what most racks are made from… Steel. While it will be different gauges (thickness) and different qualities from rack to rack, it will pretty much always be steel. There are two aspects you’ll need to be familiar with.

The first is the type/size of uprights. The size of the uprights is measured by their width and depth in inches. Inexpensive racks are typically built with 2” x 2” steel. A step up from that is 2” x 3”. Rounding out the assortment of upright sizes are the nice beefy racks that are made from 3” x 3” steel.

All three sizes can be good depending on the weight you are using and the type of lifting you are doing. The catch is that it’s not just the size of the rack that matters. The gauge steel used can often be a bigger factor in the build quality of a rack.

Steel gauge

The biggest, beefiest, and by far the most expensive racks are built from 7 gauge steel (the smaller the number, the thicker the steel). That’s steel that’s 3/16” thick. While this type of rack is almost indestructible, it’s sometimes overkill for home use. I wouldn’t pass on a rack for this reason, but I might if it came with the usually much higher price point.

A 7 gauge rack is built for a commercial setting. If you are opening your gym to the public, you may want to consider a 7 gauge rack. Otherwise I wouldn’t spend the extra money.

The sweet spot for home use will be 11 gauge steel. Most of your higher quality rack manufacturers use 11 gauge, which is ⅛” thick. This is more than durable enough for 99.9% of home applications. A 3” x 3” 11 gauge rack will last you a lifetime.

One problem you will run into is that many manufacturers will not list the gauge steel they use. This means one of two things. Either they are using 12 gauge steel (not terrible, but also not my first choice) or they are using even thinner.

In the case of racks that use thinner steel than 12 gauge, I would take a pass. It’s not worth the few dollars you are saving. The rack, at some point, will be holding a large amount of weight over you. You need it to be well built and trust worthy. Honestly, that means 11 gauge steel or better.

This means you can eliminate most low priced racks you see on Amazon that don’t list a gauge. 11 gauge is a selling point. If the gauge isn’t listed, it is most likely thinner and not worth your time.

Welds

You will see a lot of people making a big deal out of the quality of the welds on some racks. While you won’t see this until you have the rack in front of you (ie, the marketing pics usually won’t show you the welds), I have a few general guidelines to be aware of.

Pretty weld
A very pretty weld.

“Quality” can mean a couple of things when it comes to welds. Fist is how pretty the weld is. Yep, how it looks is regarded by many as an indicator of quality. And sometimes it is. Sometimes, though, it isn’t.

A nice looking weld looks like a stack of dimes all in a row. It’s the sign of a highly skilled welder and is the desired look of a quality weld. A not so nice looking weld can look like someone smooshed a tube of toothpaste around the weld. It’s messy and not neat and not pretty at all.

Whether you have the stack of dimes or the smooshed toothpaste, what mattes is that the weld is strong and safe. And both types can be very strong and very safe.

Why does this matter? Because you’ll see some people knock a brand of rack because it doesn’t have pretty welds. And honestly, that’s not a reason to knock a rack. Structurally unsound? Yeah, that’s a reason to stay away from a brand. But ugly welds isn’t.

This will come into play when you are looking for a great quality rack at a lower price. More details to come, or you can check out my recommended racks page here to see the rack I use and the racks I recommend based on your budget level.

Hole type and spacing

Along the uprights of your rack there will be holes. There are three things to look for here. How the holes are made, how they are spaced, and their size.

To make a hole in a heavy gauge steel upright, there are two methods. The less expensive of the two is to punch the holes with a press. This bends the uprights and does not create clean and even holes. It’s passable but not ideal.

The better way is to laser cut the holes. This is what better rack manufacturers do. Using a laser to cut the holes leaves the adjacent upright undamaged. This makes the uprights more structurally sound. It also creates a cleaner hole. That means your accessories (the reason for the holes in the first place) secure cleanly and solidly.

Hole spacing is another difference. Most low priced racks space their holes 2” apart. Better racks will space them 1” apart. Some of the best racks have a combination of spacing based on where on the uprights the holes are placed.

This 1” spacing, also known as “westside” spacing (a tribute to the legendary Westside Barbell Club and Louie Simmons), gives you much finer control over where your j hooks, safeties, and other attachments mount. This finer control is important as even an inch can make a big difference in your training.

Squat rack hole spacing.
Here you can see both 1″ and 2″ spacing being used.

Lastly is the size of the hole. There is no standard here, but the most common sizes are ⅝” and ⅔”. This becomes important when ordering accessories for your rack. A good example of this is that Rogue accessories typically fit a Titan rack (I use Rogue safety straps on my Titan rack). The reverse, however, is not true.

Always check your hole size before ordering accessories. To be 100% safe, you can always stick with the same manufacturer that made your rack. To see my list of must have rack accessories, check out my recommended racks page here.

Weight capacity

While some racks won’t tell you what gauge steel they are made from, most will tell you their weight capacity. This will give you a general idea of how durable the rack is. It can also be misleading.

Some racks will give a weight capacity for their j hooks, but not for the rack as a whole. One notable problem here is when the rack is listed at 1,000 lbs capacity, yet the hooks are only rated to 350 lbs. You can see where this might cause a problem.

My best recommendation is to stick with racks that have a listed capacity of 1,000 lbs or more. This will put most home gym owners in the clear. For my rack, I went with a 1,500 lb capacity. The thing is built like a tank and I have no doubt it will handle anything I can throw at it.

Safety pins, arms, and straps

For a full explanation of what these are, why they are important, and which one is better, see my full article by clicking here. The short version is you need at least one of them. No exceptions.

Not only do you need them, but you need to actually use them. Make sure your rack comes with them (most good racks do). If it doesn’t, that’s a great sign to stay away from that particular rack or at least order them as an accessory.

For those of you that decide to rock a Titan rack, a set of Titan straps will be a lower cost option that will work great for you. I wish they had been available when I bought my straps from Rogue at almost twice the price! Check out the new Titan safety straps on Titan Fitness here!

Feet

One final area to consider when buying your rack is its feet. You’ll find three basic types. The first, for me, is a no go. You want type two or type three. Which you go with will be determined by how you will secure your rack to the ground.

For a complete explanation of why you want to secure your rack as well as instructions on how to do it, check out my full description here.

The cheapest racks will simply have uprights that come to an end at their bottoms. They might have plastic caps or inserts, but there is no structure beyond the shape of the upright. I don’t recommend this type of rack. It will not be stable and it provides no secure way to keep in it place while in use. It’s an accident waiting to happen.

The second type of foot will be one with flanges on it. These flanges will have holes cut into them that accept bolts. Those bolts are to be sunk into the floor or secured to a lifting platform. This ensures your rack does not move or tip while in use.

The last type of rack foot is what I went with. It’s called a “flat foot rack”. This means that there are cross members at the base of each upright that span a little less than a foot. These provide a very stable base for the rack to sit on and keep it from tipping.

To keep it from moving, weight storage is added to the rack and several hundred lbs of plates keep it stationary. While not my first choice (I really wanted to build a platform and secure the rack that way), it’s extremely effective and very safe.

Rack sizes

I wrote a complete resource on determining how much room you’ll need for a new rack that you can see by clicking here. What’s important to know is that racks come is a wide variety of sizes. A lot of people rule out having a power rack because they falsely assume they don’t have room.

A full cage can take up a lot of real estate. But there are also some amazingly good collapsing squat racks on the market now that when folded up against the wall take up virtually no room. You can even get wall mounted benches and plate storage that matches the rack!

In the end, you’ll need to first figure out how much room you can spare and then go backwards from there. If you are dedicating space to a home gym, odds are you can find a rack that fits well for you.

In the end, you’ll need to decide between 4 basic options. A full cage/rack will take up the most room. A compact rack (less deep and sometimes shorter) will be next in line size wise. Third is the squat stand. Not really a rack, but firmly in the “better than nothing” category. Lastly are the above mentioned collapsable racks.

PRX racks
PRX are amazing space savers!!!

If you choose to go the collapsable route, there are a lot of options, but only one real choice. PRX makes hands down the best collapsable racks out there and are the single best choice for this option. See some of their systems here on Amazon.

Click here to see my recommended racks page. This will not only show you what I own and love, but what I recommend for different budget levels and size constraints.

Price ranges

There are some things in your gym that you can go cheap on. Your rack isn’t one of them. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but you do need to avoid the $100-$200 options. Those low priced racks you see on Amazon might be enticing, but don’t be swayed.

Cheap racks use very thin gauge steel. Their attachments are not well made and will break over time. Their safety arms bend under weight. It’s just not a good idea to go this route.

If you absolutely have to be in the $100-$200 range, shop used. I’ve written a really good guide on how best to do that that you can see by clicking here.

If you are buying new, your budget should start in the $300-$400 range. That will get you a solid 2” x 2” 11 guage rack that will serve you well. If you can bump your budget up to the $450-$600 range, you can go to a nice 3” x 3” rack that will last you a lifetime.

The good news is that for a home rack, you don’t need to spend $1000’s of dollars. There are a lot of them out there. If you were buying for a commercial gym, that’s the route you should go. But not for your garage or basement workout area.

I’m not here to talk you out of that. I’m just saying that it’s overkill. If you need your rack to be a custom color and have a certain brand name on the side, go for it! If I had an unlimited budget, that’s probably what I would have done. But I don’t, so I didn’t. And I’m guessing most of you are in the same boat.

USA vs. China

One of the things that drives up the price of fitness equipment is the country of manufacture. It simply costs more to manufacture in the US. More than it does to manufacture in China anyway.

US vs China

Does that mean everything made in China is crap? Nope. Does that mean that everything made in the US is better than it’s Chinese counterpart? Nope.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to dissuade you if you have a preference in this area. What I am trying to do is point out that there are some very good product made overseas that will cost you a whole lot less than a similar product made in the US.

Personally, I wouldn’t rule out a product just because of its country of origin. What you do with your dollars is up to you. Just be aware that you are paying more for it to be made in the US, not necessarily for it to be a better product.

Accessories

Hopefully by now you’ve decided on the rack that’s right for you and your space. If you haven’t, make sure to check out my recommended racks page here.

Now it’s time to ensure that you can do everything you want on your rack. Adding the appropriate accessories to your rack will ensure that you make the most of your rack purchase. It will also enable you to get the maximum possible enjoyment out of it.

When looking at rack accessories, I divide the attachments into three groups. The first is rack must haves. The second is rack nice to haves. The third is what I lovingly refer to as the silly waste of money category.

What you need

The list of rack accessories that you “need” is pretty short:

  • Saftey arms, pins, and or straps
  • J-hooks
  • Pull up bar

The first is self explanatory. Not sure which you need? Check out my full explanation of the differences by clicking here. Or, just buy straps. Those are the best all around solution in my opinion. If you don’t want to spend any extra money, most good racks will come with safety pins. Those will work great for those on a tight budget.

Safety pins
Safety pins

J-hooks should also come with your rack. That said, I highly recommend getting a second set (I even find myself wishing I had a third). I like to have one set up for squats and one set up for bench pressing. Even though they typically adjust very easily, it’s really nice to have those two positions set up to go at all times.

The last must have rack attachment is a pull up bar. At minimum, a straight pull up bar. That, like the pins and j-hooks, should come with your rack. It will usually be built in as the front cross beam. If you do a lot of pull ups, there are a variety of multi angle pull up attachments that will benefit your pull up game immensely!

What you may want

My list of rack accessories that are “nice to have” but not necessary:

  • Band pegs
  • Dip station
  • Plate storage

Adding resistance bands to your weight training is a common part of most well designed programs. The problem is finding a place to attach the bands. With band pegs, adding bands to your press, squat, or deadlift is easy. This is an inexpensive accessory that more than pays for itself over time!

There are 3-4 different ways to do dips on a power rack. Almost all of them require an accessory. Pick the one you like the best and go from there. I like the Titan parallel bar attachment because it matches my training goals. Your mileage may vary.

Plate storage is an oft overlooked element of a great home gym. Getting your plates up off the ground, well organized, and easy to load and unload will make your training a lot more enjoyable. One way to do that is rack mounted plate storage. For those of you like myself who have limited space, this will be the best overall option.

Now go train!

Now you have all the information and ammunition you need to buy the perfect rack for your home gym. Your rack will be one of the largest purchases you make for your home gym and it’s important to get it right the first time.

Done right, you will buy a rack that lasts you as long as you’d like to continue working out at home. You’ll use it and love it for years.

If you’d like a little more specific guidance, I put together an entire page of specific model recommendations for different budget levels and space requirements that you can see by clicking here.

Now it’s time to clear some room, order your rack, and load up your bar!

Happy training!!!

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