Last updated on February 28th, 2021 at 06:33 pm
If you’re going to lift weights in your home or garage gym, you’re most likely going to want to have a squat or power rack. If you will be doing barbell training, it’s a must.
But which one to get??? When you start your shopping, you’ll be confronted with a myriad of terms and options. Bench stands, squat stands, squat racks, power racks, half racks, full racks, and power cages are all variations you’ll see.
Telling these apart is a challenge for many. Figuring out which one is the right one for you can be even harder. Considering that this will be one of the most expensive pieces in your gym, it’s important to get it right the first time!
If you just want to skip to the part where someone tells you what’s the best thing to buy, head on over to my recommended racks page here. If you want a complete guide that walks you through all the details of what makes a great rack, check out this article.
But if you want to know the basic differences between all those types of racks I listed above, read on!
There are 3 main differences between a squat rack (aka squat stand or half rack) and a power rack (aka full rack or power cage). A power rack will be bigger, safer, and allow you to perform a significantly higher number of exercises than you can on a basic squat rack.
Why you need a rack at all
Barbells can be one of the most useful and versatile tools to add to your home gym. It makes training with a barbell possible. Getting a loaded barbell into a position to do almost any movement is next to impossible unless you have a rack.
The number of exercises you can do with a barbell when you have a rack of some type is exponentially higher than the number of exercises you can do without one.
It’s such a big difference that I’d say if you aren’t going to have a rack, you probably shouldn’t invest in a barbell and plates either.
There’s also a significant safety issue at hand. More than a few people die each year from lifting without safeties or spotters in place. Trying to bench press or squat with nothing in place to catch a bar you either can’t lift or somehow drop is asking for an injury or worse.
The short version…
If you are going to train with a barbell, you need a rack.
A quick review of squat rack terms and names
You’ll see many different terms thrown around when looking for your rack. A lot of them are simply different ways to say the same thing. It can get confusing, but we’re going to simplify that for you and boil this down to 2 basic types of rack.
The Squat rack
The squat rack is also commonly known by two other names: Squat stand and half-rack. for the purposes of this article, I’m going to use those three terms interchangeably, but mostly I’ll just call this piece of gear a squat rack.
A squat rack is some form of two upright posts that hold an Olympic bar in a position that allows you to perform barbell squats.
Their stability, safety, and versatility will vary by model and manufacturer. Below is a gallery of different squat rack varieties. Notice the unifying feature among all of them is that they have only two uprights.
The Power rack
The power rack is also known by two additional names: The full rack and the power cage. As with the squat rack, I’ll use all three terms, but mostly I’ll just call this piece of gear a power rack.
A power rack doubles the number of uprights that a squat rack does to a total of four. Four, however, is not the upper limit of uprights found on a power rack. It’s not uncommon to find this type of rack with 6 or even 8 uprights.
On the whole, a power rack is superior to a squat rack in almost every way. Squat racks, however, may be the better choice for people with space or budget constraints.
Squat Rack or Power Rack, which is right for you?
While I’ve already tipped my hand that I believe the power rack is the superior piece of equipment, that does not in any way mean that squat racks don’t have their place.
There are quite a few important points of comparison and determining which of those points most apply to you will help you select the right thing for your home gym.
Aside from getting your bar into position so you can lift it, safety is the primary function of a rack. Performing complex barbell movements like the squat or bench press without a spotter is dangerous and never advised. A rack can take the place of a spotter when used correctly.
There are safety devices designed for each type of rack that will catch a loaded bar in case of an emergency. It’s strongly recommended that whichever type of rack you use, always use these safeties!
This can come into play when you simply can’t complete a rep, or if you suffer an injury mid-lift. I’ve done both, and I can tell you from personal experience, I’m glad these safety devices exist!
Squat rack safeties
On a squat rack, there. is really only one type of safety available. These are called spotter arms and they attach to the uprights and stick out, on average, 18-24″.
They work fairly well when used to spot your bench press. They are only okay when used to spot a squat. They are definitely better than nothing, but they simply don’t compare to the level of safety provided by the safety pins or straps that you’ll find on a full power rack.
Power rack safeties
With a full rack, your safeties are supported on both ends. This makes them much more effective, strong, and secure. You also have uprights on both sides of your bar. This means that if you pitch forward or backward with the bar, those uprights will stop the bar and guide it down to the safety below.
Before you say that this wouldn’t ever happen to you, I want you to think about what happens mid-lift if you blow a knee, pull your back, or tear a pec.
Those are just a few of the injuries that may happen while lifting. None of those injuries is going to allow you to rerack your bar safely. If any of those happen, you are going to need to bail on the lift. And you won’t get to choose which direction you fall.
Remember, safeties are just like seatbelts. We hope to never, ever need them. But if we do, we need them to work and to work well!
Another benefit of a full rack when it comes to safeties is the ability to use either pins or straps. You have a choice. I wrote an entire article about the differences here, but the short version is that I love having both!
The last thing I’ll point out is a movement known as the the rack pull. The rack pull is when you deadlift inside your rack using the spotter pins to support your bar. This allows you to deadlift from a height that is higher than the floor.
For someone with a bad back, like myself, this is my preferred deadlift variation. While you can, technically, perform this on the spotter arms of a squat rack, you’ll quickly find that the stability of the rack is tested even at a medium-heavy weight.
It has even been the case that half racks can flip or fall over if the load placed on the arms is too heavy or too far from the uprights themselves.
Not everyone has an unlimited amount of space to build out their home or garage gym. This means that the first thing you’ll need to decide is what may or may not fit in your gym.
I wrote an entire article about determining how much space you’ll need for just about every type of rack. You can read that here. But let’s look at the average space requirements for a “standard” squat and power rack.
One thing to remember is that you not only need room for the rack itself, but you’ll need room around it so you can actually use it.
Squat Rack Space Requirements
Squat racks, on the whole, visually take up a lot less space than a power rack. Height is the most notable dimension you can save space with, but as you’ll see, there’s not as much of a difference as it might look like.
The width needed for a squat rack is the same as you’ll need for a power rack. Both are typically 48” (12.2m) wide as this is the width needed to safely rack an 84” Olympic barbell.
Once the barbell is loaded onto the rack, 84″ is your new width. I also strongly recommend leaving a minimum of 18” (46cm) on either end of the bar so that you can safely load plates without risking injury.
That means that for any rack that will be holding a barbell, you’ll need a minimum of 10’ (3m) of width to work with.
The height on a squat rack can vary more than the height on power racks, but there are typically two height options, short and tall. Tall racks are, on average, 100” tall. Good ones will have a pull-up bar mounted at this height.
As I noted in my article on proper pull-up bar height, you will also want to leave 18” (46cm) above the bar so your head doesn’t slam into the ceiling. That means that you’ll need roughly 10’ (3m) high ceilings or more if you plan on doing pull-ups.
If you don’t plan on doing pull-ups, you can get away with a 9’ (2.7m) ceiling and still fit one of the taller racks.
For those that have a low ceiling, short squat stands are available. The average height on these is 72” (1.8m) or 6 feet. These short varieties will be the least stable and least versatile type of rack you can get, but if you are dealing with a height constraint, they are definitely better than nothing!
The depth of a squat rack base is usually 48″ (1.2 m). This deep base is designed to keep the rack stable and prevent it from tipping over when loaded.
This will place your uprights two feet away from any wall you place this up against. I recommend having 4 feet in front of the uprights to work, as well. This means that the total depth needed to actually use a squat rack will be about 6 feet (2m).
Power Rack Space Requirements
Power racks, at first glance, seem like they take up a lot more room than squat racks do. With just two uprights, visually squat racks are a lot smaller. But appearances can be deceiving.
The width needed for a power rack is the exact same as a squat rack, 10’ (3m). That’s because you are using the same standard length Olympic barbell on both. Once you load a bar and leave room to safely load the plates, it’s the same either way.
The height needed for a power rack is also roughly the same as a full-size squat rack. A full-size power rack will measure, on average, 90” (2.3m) tall. If doing pull-ups, this means you’ll need the same 10’ ceiling as a full height squat rack.
Short power racks are available just like short squat racks are. Height on a short power rack is around 80” (2m), so you can’t go as short as you can with the shorty squat racks. But that will still work in a room with 9’ (2.7m) ceilings.
When it comes to depth, you have a lot of choices when it comes to power racks. Typically, the shallowest options are 24” (61cm) deep. With these shallow models, I recommend also having a few feet in front of them to work in and about a foot behind them to allow you to load plates on a bar that’s resting on the rear uprights.
This means the total depth needed is roughly 6’ (2m) once you factor in the room to train. This is for the shallowest, 24” deep racks.
Power racks can get much deeper than this. It’s up to you when you order whether you go with a 24”, 30”, 36”, 40”, 48” or even deeper!
Is there really a difference?
So did you notice that the space needed between the two is really not that different? Both need 10’ in width. Both will need a 9-10’ ceiling (with the exception of the shortest squat racks coming in at 6’ high). Both need 6’ of working space in depth.
The real differences come into play in two key areas. The first, which I mentioned, is height. If you have a 7’ ceiling or shorter, you’ll have to go the route of a short squat stand. Anything 8’ or more can accommodate either type of rack.
The second is determining whether or not your gym space is dedicated 100% to your gym or if it’s a multiuse space. If it’s multiuse, a squat rack can sometimes be ideal. By moving your bench out of the way, a squat rack doesn’t protrude out into the room as much as a power rack might. It’s not a huge difference, but it is a difference.
In other words, before you decide to go with a squat rack over a power rack based on size, take a closer look at your space. A 24’ deep power rack is the ideal solution for most people with space constraints. It takes up no more room than a squat rack and is functionally superior in many ways.
One of the keys to building a great home gym in a smaller space is buying equipment that can do more than one thing. Sure, there are some people (and I’m jealous of these folks!) who have unlimited room to build their home gyms. But the rest of us have to make do with what we have!
That means that the gear we buy has to be versatile. It has to support a multitude of uses. The more, the better. This is one of the reasons I love things like dumbbells, kettlebells, and rings. The number of things you can do with those implements is almost unlimited!
The same is true for a power rack. When combined with a barbell, there is an almost unlimited number of movements that you can perform. The same cannot be said for a squat rack.
Once you have a squat rack with a pull-up bar, safety arms, and weight storage, you are pretty much maxed out. Some models may allow you to add band pegs but that’s about it as far as increasing the functionality through accessories.
With a power rack, the options don’t end until your wallet is empty. A full cage can serve as the centerpiece to any home or garage gym. It will allow you to grow down the road and expand your capabilities in a myriad of ways.
Here’s a list of power rack accessories to give you just a small idea of what can be done with a quality power rack as your base.
- Vertical bar storage
- Chalk bowl
- Rotating pull-up handles
- Dip bar
- Jammer arms
- Iso arms
- Belt squat
- Lat pulldown
- Low Row
- Multi-grip pull-up bar
- Leg rollers
- Accessory hangers
- Speed bag
- Chain hanger
- Wod Roller
- Ball target
- Hip thrust bench
- Stall bars
- Flying pull up bar
- Barbel gunrack
While this will vary by model, on the whole, a power rack is a good deal more stable than a squat rack. Stability is important when moving a lot of weight.
On more than one occasion, I’ve seen squat racks move across the floor as someone tries to rack a bar. This is not the situation you want to end up in!
Weight is also another huge difference. A high quality, heavy gauge squat rack weighs in at a little over 150 lbs. A shorter, lighter gauge squat rack can come in at 125 lbs. And many of the budget options you find on Amazon or at Walmart can weigh in at a mere 100 lbs.
Now, take a bar with 300 lbs loaded on it (not an unusual amount of weight for an average lifter) and put it in the rack with just a little momentum. A 150 lb squat rack is going to tip and move every time. That means the j-hooks you are aiming to rack your bar in are also moving. This is not ideal.
Compare this to a full cage. Even a lightweight, budget rack from a reputable company is going to come in at 250 lbs. Even a minor step up to 3”x3” uprights (what I recommend for most home or garage gyms) is going to bump that rack up to 330 or more lbs.
Price is going to vary wildly across both types of racks. You can get squat racks as low as $75 on Amazon and full cages for as low as $250. Please don’t shop for this item by price alone. You are entrusting your safety to this piece of equipment and it’s definitely important to pay attention to quality.
That said, you definitely don’t have to buy a $3000 rack by Rogue to get something well made. In general, a well made squat rack complete with pull up bar and weight plate storage (important to help weigh it down) will run $250 or more. A well-made power rack will start in the high $300’s and go up from there.
To see which racks I personally recommend (and I’ve tested almost all of them), visit my recommended racks page here. If you want to see what I personally use, it’s the Titan X-3 flat foot rack that you can see on the Titan Fitness site here.
For the purposes of this article, it’s important to point out that, on the whole, you’ll spend less on a squat rack than a power rack. It’s not a huge difference, but to some folks and extra $100 – $300 may be a deal-breaker.
Tips for racks of all sizes
No matter which rack you end up getting, there are some tips that are common to both types. These will help you get the most out of your rack as well as keep you safer while using them.
Secure your rack
The first is securing your rack. The bigger the footprint of the rack, combined with its overall weight, the more secure it will be. The most common way to do this is by storing weight plates on the rack itself.
A common accessory is weight storage and it serves two purposes. One is to store your weights (duh!). The other is to add weight to the rack so that it doesn’t move, slide, or tip while in use.
The other way to secure your rack is to bolt it to the floor. Not all racks are equipped to do this, but it’s something to consider if you aren’t going to be using another option to keep your rack stationary.
I wrote a nice resource on whether or not you should bolt your rack to the floor that you can check out here. It should give you all you need to know about the subject.
Add a platform
A less common, but very effective way to keep the rack stable is to add a lifting platform underneath. The rack bolts to the platform and the whole thing ends up being nice and secure.
“Tim, have you written anything about lifting platforms?”, I hear you asking. Why yes, I have! Check out the article I put together here for a ton more information on this topic!
The last thing I want to touch on is to reiterate the importance of safeties. There is a myriad of ways to ensure your safety while lifting alone, but using the safeties that either come with or that can be added to your rack is number one on that list.
The least “safe” of these is safety arms. They are better than nothing and the only thing that can be used on a squat stand or half rack. Use them if you have them, but the options available for a full rack are much better.
Safety pins and safety straps (see a complete comparison of these here) are your best overall option. Pins are typically standard on any good power rack. Straps are usually sold separately.
Buy them, use them, end of story. That one time you decide you aren’t really going that heavy and don’t set up your safeties is going to the one time you needed them. Make this a habit you never break!
Which way will you go?
If you are putting together a home gym in which you will be lifting weights, you’ll probably end up with a rack of some kind. Which way you go will depend on your needs.
Each type of rack definitely has its place. Some people even own both! So which way will you go? Squat rack? Power rack? Whatever you do, I hope you build an amazing gym that you love and use!