Last updated on February 28th, 2021 at 07:47 pm
The largest piece of equipment in most home gyms is the power rack. This is what allows you to work effectively with a barbell and weights and what keeps you safe when lifting alone. It’s also one of the biggest challenges to those with a low ceiling in their home gym.
Finding a power or squat rack that works well in a tight space can be hard. So I put together this guide that will help you get the most for your money. Follow along, and you’ll end up with a rack you love and one that actually fits in your room!
You can fit a great power rack in a small home gym with a low ceiling. While not common, well-built power racks with 2″x2″ uprights, 1″ hole spacing, plate storage, safety pins, and integrated pull up bars are available in heights down to 72″ tall! This allows installation under ceilings as low as 7′.
*By the way, if you have a gym with a low ceiling, make sure not to miss our article with some really awesome tips straight from gym owners dealing with this exact problem. You can check it out here: 11 Ways to Train in a Gym with a Low Ceiling – Real Tips From Real People.
Squat rack or power rack?
If you plan on using a barbell and weights in your training, you’re going to want a rack of some kind. The two primary types you will pick from are the squat rack and the power rack. They are not only a must for safety reasons, but you simply can’t do some movements without them.
Bench pressing, squatting, and overhead pressing a reasonable amount of weight will necessitate that you have something in place to hold the bar in the correct position.
Imagine trying to bench press a loaded barbell without a rack to press the bar from! It would be near impossible with all but the lightest of weights.
Which you use (squat or power rack) will be determined by your overall needs as well as how much space you have. I made a full comparison of them that you can see here. What I didn’t address in that article is which of these might work best in a low ceiling home gym.
In that comparison article, I reviewed a complete list of differences along with the pros and cons of the squat rack versus the power rack. In the end, though, the power rack wins in almost every category regardless.
In a low ceiling gym, I strongly feel that a power rack should be your only option. In order to understand why, let’s take a quick look at how they are built along with how much room they take up.
A squat rack has two upright posts, each attached to a foot designed to keep the posts stable and support weight. A short squat rack will measure 72” high, and those feet will each be 48” long. The feet will extend 24” on either side of the upright.
A power rack has four uprights. The rack I recommend is also 72” high and 48” deep. The difference is that it is considerably more stable with its four upright posts and cage style construction.
In other words, the physical footprint of these two options is identical! Even though the squat rack looks smaller due to having two fewer uprights, the overall space they take up is the same.
A power rack allows you to lift heavier. The pin style safeties and the ability to lift within the cage itself will protect you and will enable you to lift much heavier without a spotter. The spotter arm safeties on a squat rack will help with bench pressing but are mostly useless when squatting.
To me, this choice is a no-brainer. Unless you have an angeled ceiling that prohibits the overall height front to back on a power rack, a short power rack is the only thing I recommend for a low ceiling home gym.
What about squat stands?
A lot of people ask me about squat stands in this application. Personally, I’m not a fan.
Squat stands are two independent uprights typically with feet shaped like the letter H. You can get squat stands as low as 41”, so many folks with a low ceiling look to this solution. They are also less expensive than a power rack.
The problem is that, in my opinion, they aren’t safe for most things. If you are looking for something to hold your bar for bench presses, they work great. For squatting, not so much.
The reason for this is the design of the j-cups. On low height squat stands, these cups are perched atop each post. Not only does this make them less stable with a much lower weight capacity, but it makes it really hard to rerack your weight should you encounter a problem.
Let’s say you are pushing yourself, and you barely eke out that last rep. You struggle back to the stands, and now you have to set the bar down in a tiny target. The odds of you missing that target at least once are pretty good. And it only takes once to get injured.
Speaking of injury, what if you hurt something mid-lift? You wouldn’t be the first person to throw out your back or blow a knee while squatting. I’ve done both. In those cases, the only place the bar is going is down.
There’s no way you are making it back to the cups. And I’m sorry, but the puny little spotter arms sticking out from the stands are not going to keep you safe. You are going down along with the bar, and nothing good is going to result from it.
I understand that a lot of people use squat stands, and they do it for a variety of reasons. But for me, the short versions that would work in a low ceiling application simply aren’t worth the money.
It’s better to go without anything than to use this option. I’ll even explain how to do that at the end of this article!
*My one exception to this is the Rogue SML-1 squat stand. It’s really more of a squat rack, but the name isn’t what’s important. I don’t generally like Rogue stuff as it’s almost always overpriced compared to similar gear made by other companies.
In this case, you can’t get something similar elsewhere. It’s a really well built and functional squat rack/stand. I still don’t like the safeties for squatting, but if you’re gonna go this route, this is the one to go with.
With that under our belts, let’s look at your options when it comes to a short power rack.
Choosing a short power rack
A short power rack won’t work in every situation, so we need to start by looking at just how much room you’ll need to use a short power rack in the first place.
The average height of a short power rack built for a low ceiling application is 72”. You’ll want at least 6” above the rack for fit, and if you plan to use the pull-up bar at the top of the rack, you’ll want 12”-18” to allow for headroom. This means that anyone with a 7’ ceiling or higher has space for this type of power rack.
If you Google “short power rack” or “power rack for a low ceiling,” you’ll be overwhelmed with articles titled “5 best short power racks” or “10 best power racks for low ceilings”. But “short” is only one of many qualities you are going to want in a rack.
I wrote an extensive guide to power racks that you can read here. In it, I go over every detail that you’d want in a rack and why. With short racks, though, you face a unique challenge. There aren’t very many to choose from.
Even when choosing from a smaller assortment, though, there are a few “must-have” features that I wouldn’t go without.
You’ll want something that’s 2”x2” steel at minimum. You’ll want that steel to be of a reasonable gauge so that the rack itself has some weight to it. 2” hole spacing on the uprights is a must.
Get something that’s 72” in height. Some “short” models are 84” tall, and in my book, that’s not short at all!
You want your rack to be a “flat foot” design. This will allow you not to have to bolt the rack to your floor. Instead, the rack’s weight combined with another must-have feature, plate storage, will keep it in place.
Definitely get something that has a pull-up bar, plastic-lined j-cups, and safeties. You don’t want to have a rack without those accessories, and it’s never fun to have to buy them separately.
The beautiful thing is that you can get all of that and not have to spend an arm and a leg either!
Recommended short power rack
Yep, rack, singular. I’m only going to recommend one. When you look at the things I count above as important, there is a clear winner. No one else comes close, even if you spent more money.
My choice for the best low ceiling power rack is the Rep Fitness PR-1050.
Here’s why I love this choice for a low ceiling home gym:
- 72″ tall
- 2”x2” uprights
- 2” hole spacing along the entire upright
- Weighs 144 lbs.
- Integrated weight storage
- Flat foot design (does not need to be bolted down)
- 2” and 2.5” diameter pull up bars
- Comes with plastic-lined j-cups
- Comes with pin safeties
- Very reasonably priced at well under $300!
How to squat without a Rack
So what if you can’t fit a power rack in your gym, even a short one? Does that mean no barbell? Does that mean no squats? Absolutely not!!! Here is a quick rundown of just a few ways you can still train the squat pattern even if you don’t have a power rack.
Use a landmine
A landmine is a hinged tube that you insert one end of your barbell into while you load the other. The number of things you can do with a landmine is almost unlimited. I use mine 2-3 times a week, every week, even with a power rack in my garage!
Landmine goblet squats are a great squat variation that can be loaded relatively heavy and are safe to do without a spotter or cage.
It’s also a unique squat variation that really helps you to learn proper technique when squatting. The bar path of the landmine forces you to break at your hips and sit back. Two critical things to do well when squatting. I love them!
I think everyone should have a landmine, but it’s a must for those with a barbell and no rack!
I recommend this post style landmine from Fringe Sport. It allows you to set it up anywhere you can stack a couple of plates. I use this several times a week, every week and it’s awesome!
Use a sandbag for Zercher squats
Zercher squats are a front-loaded squat variation that are another movement that can be done safely without a spotter. Front-loaded squats will focus a little more on your quads and are an excellent variation for those with lower back issues.
A sandbag is a fantastic implement to own if you don’t have a rack and a bar. It can be used for an endless variety of movements and is a very inexpensive thing to add to your gym.
The sandbags from Rep Fitness are top-notch and won’t break the bank. Check out all the color and weight options here!
Use kettlebells for racked or goblet squats
If I couldn’t have a bar and plates for some reason, I’d have kettlebells for sure. I own quite a few of them and could definitely make them work as my only source of resistance. That includes doing squats.
My favorite squat variation with kettlebells is the goblet squat. But racking a pair of bells and squatting is also something I regularly do. Both will give you one heck of a training effect and are an amazing substitute for squatting with a bar.
Use dumbbells or kettlebells for single-leg squats
I hear some of you out there yelling that you can’t do heavy squats without a barbell. And you’re half right! There’s no real good way to load 300 lbs up for a squat without a bar.
But what you can do is give yourself the same training effect by doing single-leg variations. Lunges, split stance squats, and my all-time favorite, Bulgarian split squats, will all crush you with far less weight than you’d think.
Are you used to squatting 300 lbs with a bar? See if you can grab two 60 lb dumbbells and knock out three sets of 10 crisply executed Bulgarian split squats. In many ways, that bar with 300 lbs on it is easier!
Do something, not nothing!!!
The most important thing to do if you can’t fit a rack, barbell, and plates in your gym is not to give up on having a gym. I believe with everything in me that everyone should have a great home gym!!!
But like I mentioned at the beginning of the first article in this series, people get too hung up on what they think a gym “should” be. Instead, they need to focus on the basics.
A great gym should have space to train, some form of resistance, and a way to train cardio indoors. That’s it!
Nowhere on that list is a power rack. You can complete that list and never even think about a barbell or bumper plate!
So if you have a room you want to build a gym in and want a power rack, great! If one fits, that’s awesome! Get the Rep model I listed above, and you’ll be on your way.
But if one doesn’t fit, don’t stop there. Get some dumbbells. Get some kettlebells. Do something! Don’t worry about what you can’t do! Build the gym you can build and get to training.