Squat Rack Safety: Essential Tips and Guidance

Squat Rack Safety: Essential Tips and Guidance

A squat rack is only as safe as your setup. This article steps you through how to personalize your squat rack settings to ensure it is as safe as possible.

No serious home gym is complete without a lifting rack. Whether it’s a squat rack, a half rack, or a power rack, this device allows you to confidently lift maximum weight safely, even when you’re training solo. But a rack is only as good as your ability to use it properly.

When not correctly set up and utilized, a squat rack can actually make an exercise more dangerous. As a former gym owner and personal trainer, I’ve seen too many occasions of improperly set up racks to remember.

In this article, I’ll lay out a complete guide to the safe use of the squat rack, focusing on home use. It starts with buying the right rack, then how to personalize the rack settings for your height and squat depth, and how to exercise within the safety zone of the rack. I’ll even show you how to safely bail out of an exercise when you can’t complete a rep.

What to Look For in a Squat Rack

Buying a squat rack can be a challenging experience. There’s a lot of choice out there. If your key consideration is price, it’s easy to end up with a rack that looks the part but doesn’t have the strength or durability to perform over the long term.

Here are five things to look out for when shopping for a squat rack:

Rack Type

Your first decision is what sort of rack you are going to purchase. The term squat rack is a generic phrase that encompasses the following:

Power Rack: This is a cage with four uprights that are connected by cross beams. You perform your exercises inside the rack. Many attachments can be added to a power rack to extend the exercise range. This is the most stable and solid type of rack but also the biggest, bulkiest, and most expensive.

Squat Rack: A squat rack (also known as a half rack) is half of a power rack, consisting of just two uprights with a cross beam connecting them. It has adjustable safety arms that extend out from the uprights. Though not as strong and stable as a power rack, a squat rack has a smaller footprint, making it a good fit for people with limited home gym floor space.

Folding Rack: A folding rack consists of a pair of wall-mounted uprights that swing out and lock in place when you’re training. Then, when your workout is done, you can fold it against the wall, where it takes up just a few inches of horizontal space.

Your choice between these options will depend on available space and your budget. The best option is a power rack, followed by a squat rack.

Maximum Weight Capacity

All racks have a maximum weight capacity, indicating the heaviest weight that the uprights, J-cups, and safety spotter arms can handle. A cheap rack may have a weight capacity of 500 pounds, while more heavy-duty models will be double that or more.

Look for a rack with a weight capacity of at least a couple hundred pounds higher than the maximum you envisage ever being able to lift on your strongest exercise (most likely the squat or deadlift).

Steel Gauge

The strength and durability of your squat rack come down to the gauge of steel used on the frame. When it comes to steel gauges, the lower it is, the stronger it becomes. Most gym framing gauges range between 14 and 11. Not surprisingly, higher-grade racks are more expensive as the steel costs more. However, I recommend going for a rack with 11-gauge framing. This will ensure a super heavy-duty rack that will last a lifetime.


J-cups are the hooks that attach to the rack uprights to hold an Olympic barbell. There are three types of J-Cups to look out for:

Standard: This J-Cup has a partial plastic coating to protect the bar from metal-to-metal contact. However, parts of your bar will still come into contact with metal, which may cause some scratching.

Roller: This type of cup has a nylon roller that allows you to center the bar easily. You’ll pay a little more for this feature, but it’s well worth it for the convenience factor.

Sandwich: Not as thick as a standard J-Cup, this one consists of a piece of ultra-high molecular weight (UHMW) plastic liner that is sandwiched between steel plates. As a result, the entirety of your Olympic bar sits on heavy-duty plastic, preventing scratching.

Check out our J-Cups for squat racks.

Hole Spacing

The distance between the hole spacing on the squat rack uprights determines how closely you can match the bar height to your requirements. The standard hole spacing is two inches. This is usually fine when you’re doing squats. However, when you’re setting up for the bench press, a two-inch gap may not allow you to get the right bar height.

The best quality benches feature what is known as Westside hole spacing. This feature has two-inch spacing above and below the bench press zone. Within that zone, though, the hole spacing reduces to one-inch. This allows you to get a more customized bar placement when setting up for the bench press.

Assembling Your Squat Rack

Your brand new squat rack will arrive in parts. It is critical that you take your time to assemble it and carefully follow the written instructions. Having one or two buddies to help with assembly will also pay.

Ensure that every bolt is completely wound and there are no missing pieces or leftover parts, including nuts. I also recommend bolting your rack to the floor if you can. If not, you should load up the weight pegs with plates to help weigh it down.

How to Safely Set Up Your Squat Rack

Before you jump into your first set on the squat rack, you need a couple of minutes to personalize the settings. This will ensure that you can safely and conveniently rack and unrack the bar and that the safety bars are set to do their job if you fail on a lift.

Here’s how to set up your squat rack:

Set the J-Cups

Set the level of the J-Cups so that the bottom part, where the bar sits, is just a little lower than the level of your shoulders. This will allow you to rack and unrack the bar without raising your toes or bending down.

If you’re squatting with a training partner or a group of people, you will need to assess the height differences between you all. If you’re all about the same height, you should be able to get away with the same setting. However, if someone is noticeably taller or shorter than the others, you should adjust the J-Cup settings for them and then put them back for the other lifters once he’s done.

Test out the J-Cup height with an unloaded Olympic bar before you begin your workout.

Center the Bar

Place an unloaded Olympic bar on the J-Cups. Center the bar so that there is an even overhand off the ends of the J-Cups. The center knurling should be midway between the J-Cups.

Set the Safety Arms

The safety arms are designed to catch the bar if you cannot complete your rep. You want it low enough to capture the bar quickly but not so high that it interferes with your range of motion.

When doing squats, you want the safety arms to be set an inch or two below where the bar is in the bottom squat position. Set this position, ensuring that both safety bars are set at the same level. Now, perform a few reps with an unloaded bar to ensure you have it right.

Load the Olympic Bar

Load the bar evenly, with the same plates on each side. Ensure that the plates are hard up against each other. Then, attach secure collars to both ends.

How to Safely Squat on the Squat Rack

The most important thing about squatting safely on a squat rack is to stay within the range of the safety arms. If you are working in a power cage, that’s not a problem. But on a squat rack, the safeties extend out from the uprights. If you step back too far, you’ll be beyond the range of the safeties, making the whole point of the rack redundant.

For that reason, you should take just one step back from the rack. I recommend sliding your feet back one at a time to ensure safety.

Here’s an overview of how to squat on the rack:

  1. Stand under the racked bar with feet shoulder-width apart and your trapezius and shoulders pressed against the bar. Grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  2. Unrack the bar and take one step back to clear the J-Cups.
  3. In the starting position, your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointed slightly outward.
  4. Brace your core, lift your chest, and flare your lats. Pull your shoulder blades in and down.
  5. Breathe in as you hinge from the hips to bring your butt down and back. Maintain an upright torso as you come down to slightly lower than parallel to the floor.
  6. Press through the heels to return to the start position.

Squat Rack Safety Aids

Here’s an overview of the most commonly found squat rack safety aids:

  • Safety Spotter Arms: Safety spotter arms are horizontal metal bars that can be inserted at various heights on the squat rack uprights. Their purpose is to catch the bar if you fail to complete a rep. They should be set at a height that quickly catches a falling bar without interfering with your exercise range of motion.

When squatting, you should put the bars just lower than where the bar would be at the lowest point of the exercise. This allows you to simply roll the bar off your shoulders and back onto the spotter arms if you cannot come out of the hole.

  • Safety Spotter Pins: Safety pins serve the same purpose as spotter arms but are not as long. They will catch the bar if you work close to the rack. They are not very practical for exercises such as the bench press, where you lie down and bring the bar out and over your body.
  • Safety straps: These are designed for racks with four uprights. They connect between the uprights on either side of the rack in the same way as safety bars. The advantage of straps is that they provide more give when the bar falls onto them. As a result, the bar will not bounce, making it safer for you and less likely to damage your equipment. Safety straps are made from heavy-duty nylon, leather, or fabric.
  • Weight plate storage pegs: Most squat racks and power cages have solid metal pegs near the base of the frame for storing weight plates. Making use of them provides safety in two ways:

Firstly, it ensures you don’t have weight plates cluttering your workout space. I’ve seen my share of injuries caused around the squat rack by people stumbling over plates, including those tiny 1.25-pounders, so don’t think it won’t happen to you!

Loading up the weight storage pegs also adds to the stability of your squat rack. The extra poundage will ensure that your rack doesn’t move laterally when you’re going for a max lift on the squat or deadlift. This is especially important if your squat rack is not bolted to the floor.

What If You Can’t Complete a Rep?

If you cannot complete a rep while squatting on a squat rack, it’s easy to start panicking. After all, you’ve got an unmanageable weight on your shoulders that is threatening to crush you!

Remember, though, that you are working within the confines of a device designed for this very situation. So, try to stay calm.

After deciding that you can’t complete the rep, take a moment to collect yourself. Now, simply lower the barbell onto the safety bars, pins, or straps you set up. If you’ve set them at the right height, this should be a seamless experience.

Do You Need a Human Spotter on the Squat Rack?

The decision to use a human spotter in addition to the built-in safety mechanisms of the squat rack depends on a number of factors:

  • Your Experience Level: I recommend having a spotter on hand if you are a squatting newbie. This person should be more experienced than you to provide guidance on proper form so that he knows how to react if you cannot complete a rep.
  • Weight Being Lifted: If you’re performing reps in the 1-6 range, a human spotter will provide you with an extra layer of safety. He might be able to provide that extra bit of upward thrust to help you complete the rep and/or help you rerack the bar.
  • Your Confidence Level: Some people feel more confident knowing that a spotter is behind them, while others feel exactly the opposite. Whatever works best to help you perform to your maximum potential is what you should go with.

How to Spot on a Squat Rack

A lousy spotter is way worse than no spotter at all. A person who doesn’t know what they’re doing will likely pull you off balance, making you more likely to suffer injury. Here’s a breakdown of how to spot someone who’s squatting in a squat rack:

  • Stand behind the lifter and slightly off to one side, allowing them room to perform the squat without interference.
  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart for stability, with knees slightly bent to maintain balance.
  • Establish clear communication with the lifter before they begin their set. Discuss the number of repetitions they plan to complete and any specific cues they may use if they need assistance.
  • Determine the lifter’s comfort level with spotting. Some lifters prefer minimal assistance, while others want more active spotting.

Pay close attention to the lifter’s form and technique throughout the set. Look for signs of fatigue, instability, or any breakdown in form that may indicate they’re struggling.

  • If the lifter begins to struggle during a repetition, be prepared to offer assistance as needed. This assistance may vary based on the lifter’s preferences and the specific circumstances:
  • For minor struggles: Provide verbal cues or encouragement to help the lifter complete the repetition.
  • For more significant struggles, Use your hands to lightly support the lifter under their arms or elbows to help them maintain balance and control. Avoid lifting the weight for them unless absolutely necessary.
  • If the lifter cannot complete the repetition safely: Assist them in reracking the weight by guiding the barbell back onto the squat rack or onto safety pins or straps if available. Ensure a smooth and controlled movement to avoid injury to the lifter or yourself.
  • Maintain a strong and stable stance throughout the spotting process to ensure your own safety.
  • Don’t lean too far over the lifter, or you will his balance and yours. Be aware of what’s around you so that neither of you bang into anything or anyone.


Q: How do I know if I’ve set the safety spotter arms at the right height?

A: You will know that the safety spotter arms are at the right height if you perform a few reps with an unloaded barbell. The safeties should allow you to perform full-range reps without interference. Stop in the bottom position of the rep and roll the bar back onto the safeties. It should roll directly onto them.

Q: Can I use the safety accessories for other exercises besides squats?

A: Yes, the safety accessories on a squat rack are designed to be used for a wide range of exercises, including the bench press, overhead presses, and deadlifts.

Q: Can I perform squats without safety accessories in the squat rack?

A: You can perform squats without safety accessories in the squat rack; however, doing so would not have any practical value. The safeties serve a valuable purpose, which is to prevent you from suffering an injury or damaging your equipment if you cannot complete a rep.


Before you start squatting on the rack, you need to take the time to learn the basics of squat rack safety. Setting up the rack for optimal personal use will only take a couple of minutes. But if you fail to do so, you may be opening yourself up to injury.

Remember, too, that your squat rack safety is only as good as the quality of the device you purchase. Follow the buying guide tips I’ve outlined in this article to ensure that you’re getting the best squat rack to meet your lifting needs.

Want to save time and go directly to the cream of the crop? Check out the Iron Bull squat rack range here. And check out all our squat rack accessories including safety addons to improve your rig!