Squat Rack Exercises

12 Best Squat Rack Exercises You Should Try

Discover a dozen exercises you can do on a squat rack, then follow along with a full-body workout that you can do entirely within the rack.

The squat rack will be one of the most expensive, if not the costliest, pieces of gear in your home gym. It will also take up more real estate than most other pieces. If you think all you can do on it is squat, you might conclude that it’s not worth it.

What you may not realize is that the squat rack is one of the most versatile pieces of gym equipment you can ever own, with the capacity to do more than a dozen exercises. It also allows you to perform those exercises safely, even when training alone.

As an in-home personal trainer, I’ve helped dozens of people set up their home gyms, with a squat rack forming the cornerstone. First, though, I’ve introduced them to the squat rack's exercise potential, helping them appreciate the value of their purchase.

In this article, I’ll share the squat rack’s potential with you by laying out a dozen exercises you can do on the rack. I’ll also share a complete full-body workout that you can do entirely within your squat rack.

Squat Rack or Power Rack?

The words squat rack and power rack are often used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between the two. Technically, a squat rack (also known as a half rack) consists of two uprights with a cross beam connecting them. The safety arms do not have end connector points.

A power rack consists of four uprights that are connected by cross beams. This forms an enclosed cage. The safety bars are connected at both ends, making them considerably stronger than a squat rack.

The main advantage of a squat rack over a power rack is that it takes up less gym floor space. Some squat racks attach to a wall and can be folded back when unused. In contrast, a power rack will occupy a large footprint, which can be problematic when you’ve got limited space for your home gym.

Squat racks are also considerably less expensive than power racks. On the downside, they are not as solid, secure, and stable as a power rack.

A Dozen Squat Rack Exercises

More than a dozen exercises can be done on the squat rack. In fact, any barbell movement that involves the risk of dropping the weight can be done more safely inside the rack. Here, though, are the 12 most common squat rack exercises, complete with set-up and performance tips.

Squats

Squat racks were created to perform squats. Prior to their advent, you had to clean the bar from the floor and position it over your shoulders. Imagine doing that with three plates on each side of the bar!

To get the most benefit from squat rack squats, you need to take the time to personalize your rack settings. Here’s how:

  1. Set the J-pegs that hold the barbell so they are at your shoulder height. This will allow you to unrack the bar without raising your toes or bending down.
  2. Set the safety bars a couple of inches below the level the bar reaches when you are in the bottom squat position.
  3. Ensure the barbell is centered on the rack, with the central knurling at the halfway point. Load the bar evenly and place collars on the ends of the bar.
  4. Stand under the rack and rest your trapezius and shoulders on the bar. Place your hands on the bar with an overhand grip.
  5. Unrack the bar and slide one foot back. Follow through with the other foot to clear the rack, but not so far back that you are beyond the safety bars. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outward.
  6. Perform the squat by hinging at the hips and descending to just below parallel. Maintain an upright upper body.
  7. Push through your heels to return to the start position.

Bench Press

The squat rack allows you to bench press in safety. You will need a flat bench which you position inside the rack. Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Position a flat bench inside the squat rack with the head of the bench in line with the barbell racking position.
  2. Place a barbell on the rack, making sure it is centered.
  3. Set the safety bars to be about an inch above your chest when you lie on the bench.
  4. Lie on the bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  5. Reach up and grab the barbell with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width. Unrack the bar and bring it over your chest.
  6. Perform your set and rerack the bar.

Rack Deadlift

The rack deadlift is a modified version of the deadlift that involves pulling the bar from around the shin level. The Olympic bar sits on the safety bars that are adjusted to your height. This allows you to concentrate on the power-pulling phase of the movement.

Here’s how to perform the rack deadlift:

  1. Set the safety bars on the squat rack to your shin level.
  2. Put an Olympic bar on the safety bars and load the appropriate weights and collars.
  3. Stand behind the bar with feet shoulder-width apart. Hinge your hips and drop your knees as you reach down to the bar.
  4. Grab the bar with a reverse grip at shoulder width.
  5. Push through your heels as you pull the bar up to standing.
  6. Lower and repeat.

Shoulder Press

Performing the shoulder press within a squat rack provides a safety mechanism if you fail on a rep. It can be done sitting on a bench or while standing, though you will need a relatively high ceiling to extend your arms fully above your head.

Here’s how to set up and perform the seated squat rack shoulder press:

  1. Place a back-supported flat bench lengthwise in the middle of a squat rack.
  2. Position the safety bars at shoulder level when seated on the bench.
  3. Place an Olympic bar on the safety bars and load the appropriate weight. Don’t forget to attach the collars.
  4. Sit on the bench so you are directly behind the bar. Grasp it with a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip.
  5. Brace your core, pulling in your lower back muscles and flaring your lats, and lift the bar for a starting position just above shoulder level.
  6. Press the bar directly overhead, stopping just short of lockout to maximize time under tension.
  7. Lower and repeat.

Reverse Hyper

The reverse hyper is a lower back (erector spinae muscle) strengthener that is usually performed on an expensive reverse hyper machine. With a bit of ingenuity, though, you can do this move in your squat rack. Here’s how:

  1. Position the safety arms of the squat rack slightly higher than the height of your hips. Now, put two 4 x 6-inch boards between the boards to provide a platform on which to lie. You may wish to put a towel or some padding on the boards for comfort.
  2. Lie face down on the makeshift platform with your hips on the end so your legs hang off. The bar height should be high enough that your feet are not touching the ground. Grab onto the rack uprights for support.
  3. Start with your body hinged so your torso is on the platform, and your straightened legs are down. Hint your hips to lift your legs as high as you can. Your knees should not bend, with the only movement coming through the hip joint.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

Bent Over Row

The bent-over row is one of the best ways to add thickness to your mid-back and lats. Doing it in the squat rack means you don’t have to clean the weight from the floor, giving you more energy to put into each rep.

Here’s how to prepare for and perform the squat rack bent over row:

  1. Position the squat rack bars at shin level.
  2. Place an Olympic bar on the safeties and load the appropriate weights, including collars.
  3. Stand behind the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  4. Hinge your hips, bend your knees, and bend your torso to a 30-degree angle.
  5. Reach down to grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip. Flare your lats and contract your core.
  6. Row the bar up to your sternum.
  7. Lower under control and repeat.

Pull Ups

Many squat racks come with a built-in pull-up bar. This allows you to perform both pull-ups (palms away) and chin-ups (palms facing) for your back and biceps. Here’s how to perform pull-ups on the squat rack:

  1. Stand directly under the pull-up bar.
  2. Reach or jump up to grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip.
  3. Allow your body to hang entirely from the bar, with your legs extended and feet together. Pull your shoulder blades down and flare your lats.
  4. Pull through the lats to bring your chin up to the level of the bar.
  5. Lower under control and repeat.

Lunges

Performing lunges on a squat rack overcomes the problem of cleaning the weight up and onto your shoulders. Here’s how to perform this excellent leg developer:

  1. Position the J-pegs on the insides of the squat rack upright at shoulder level.
  2. Set the safety bars to hip level.
  3. Load the appropriate weight on the bar and attach the collars.
  4. Unrack the bar and step forward to clear the rack uprights.
  5. Take a large step forward with your right leg to assume a lunge position. Your left leg should come down to about two inches from the floor.
  6. Puch through the front thigh to return to the start position.
  7. Alternate legs to complete your rep count.

JM Press

The JM press is a variation of the bench press that targets the triceps. It combines two popular triceps moves:The skull crusher and The close-grip bench press.

Here’s how to set up and perform the JM press on a squat rack:

  1. Position a flat bench in the center of the rack with the head under the bar position.
  2. Set the J-Cups a few inches short of full arm extension while lying on the bench.
  3. Set the safety bars so they are about an inch higher than your chest when you are lying on the bench.
  4. Load the appropriate weight and place collars on the ends of the bar. If you are new to this exercise, you should focus on form with a relatively lightweight.
  5. Lie on the bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  6. Grab the bar with an overhand grip so your thumbs are about eight inches apart.
  7. Unrack the bar and bring it over your mid-chest.
  8. Bend at the elbows to lower the bar to your throat, and stop about an inch before making contact.
  9. Press back to the start position.

Push Press

The push press is a compound exercise that combines a hip hinge/thrust with an overhead press. Here’s how to set up and do it on the squat rack:

  1. Set the J-Cups slightly lower than the shoulder level. And the safety bars directly below them.
  2. Load the bar with the appropriate weight and put the collars on the bar.
  3. Grab the bar at shoulder level with an overhand grip, unrack it, and take a step back.
  4. Contract your core, push your chest out, and flare your lats.
  5. Hinge at the hips to lower your body some six inches to the floor. Make sure your hips remain directly under your torso.
  6. Immediately reverse the dipping motion with an upward thrust of the legs and upper body. Simultaneously, extend your arms overhead to full extension.
  7. Lower and repeat.

Front Squats

The front squat is a variation of the traditional squat that puts more emphasis on your quads rather than your glutes and hamstrings. The key difference is that the bar is positioned on the front side of your body. That means if you need to bail on the exercise, the bar will have to roll onto the safeties in front of you, not behind.

Here’s how to set up for and perform the front squat:

 

  1. Set the J-Cups just slightly lower than the shoulder level.
  2. Place an Olympic bar on the rack and center it.
  3. Set the safeties a few inches lower than the bar height when you are at the bottom of the squat.
  4. Stand under the rack with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bring your hands up to grab the bar at shoulder level with an underhand grip.
  5. Unrack the bar and rest it across your clavicles and shoulders.
  6. Take two steps back, ensuring that you are still within the range of the safety arms.
  7. Hinge at the hips to descend into the bottom squat position.
  8. Push through the heels to return to the start position.

Close Grip Bench Press

The close-grip bench press is a bench press variation that targets the triceps. The setup to perform this exercise is exactly the same as on the bench press.

Here’s how to perform the close-grip bench press:

  1. Lie on the bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Now, grab the bar with an overhand grip and your thumbs about six inches apart.
  3. Unrack the bar and extend your arms fully. Keeping your elbows in at your sides, lower the bar to your mid-chest.

A Full Body Squat Rack Workout

Within the confines of your squat rack, you have everything you need for a full-body workout. Here’s one of my favorite routines for strength and hypertrophy. I’ve used this program to train both bodybuilders and powerlifters in the off-season when the focus is on size and strength.

This full-body workout should be performed three times per week on alternate days. Pyramid the weights up as the reps decline so that your final set represents your six-rep max. Move through the workout at a moderate pace, allowing you to recover between sets. I recommend a 2-3 minute rest before the final set of six on each movement.

The Workout:

  • Squats: 4 sets of 15, 10, 8, 6
  • Rack Deadlift: 4 sets of 15, 10, 8, 6
  • Bench Press: 4 sets of 15, 10, 8, 6
  • Pull-Ups: 3 sets to failure
  • Bent Over Rows: 4 sets of 15, 10, 8, 6
  • Push-Press: 4 sets of 15, 10, 8, 6
  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 4 sets of 15, 10, 8, 6

What Exercises Should You NOT Do on a Squat Rack?

The squat rack is one of the most popular pieces of gym training equipment. Some gyms will have as many as a dozen racks to cater to the need, while others may only have a couple. Either way, the demand for them will be high, especially during peak hours.

The fastest way to make enemies in the gym is to hog valuable squat rack space by doing exercises that don’t belong there. Here are some movements you’d be wise to perform in the free weights area, away from the heavy racks.

Barbell Curls

Over the decades, a number of gym stereotypes have emerged. One of them is the guy who does his curls in the squat rack. This guy is an insecure try-hard who wants to train with the big boys but doesn’t have the body or experience to make it happen.

You do not want to be that guy. The barbell curl should be performed in the part of the gym where the fixed barbells and dumbbells reside. There is absolutely no benefit to doing it inside a squat rack. The safety features of the rack are not going to benefit you on this exercise, so all you’re going to achieve is to annoy the heavy rack users, which is not a good idea!

Resistance Band Exercises

I’ve seen people attach a resistance band to the crossbar of a squat rack, then stand inside the rack to perform one-arm tricep extensions. On one occasion, the gym was at peak congestion (it was 6:15 pm), and people were waiting to use the rack. Eventually, a 250-pound dude with a shaved head and forearms that would’ve put Popeye to shame came over and told him to vacate.

There are plenty of places in the gym to attach your resistance or power bands. Do not tie up the squat rack by doing band exercises that don’t require the unique safety features of the squat rack.

Upright Rows

The upright row is an effective movement to work your upper traps and front deltoids. It can be done with a barbell, dumbbell, and cable machine. But it should not be done inside a squat rack.

I prefer to do upright rows with a barbell as it allows for a more even upward motion. I’ll switch to a cable machine and load up the stack when I want to go super heavy on this exercise. Then, I’ll do a final drop set to maximize muscle fiber stimulation.

 

Shrugs

This is another exercise that has no right to be done inside a squat rack. Yet, it’s something that I see every now and again. The shrug is most effective when done with dumbbells or on a dual pulley machine that allows you to work each side of the trapezius individually.

I recommend alternating between dumbbells and a cable machine each workout – and staying well clear of the squat rack!

Non-Barbell Exercises

The squat rack was designed as a safety device for doing exercises involving an Olympic barbell. So, if you are using dumbbells, resistance or power bands, kettlebells, or anything other than an Olympic bar, you know that you shouldn’t be in the squat rack.

The gym is no place to make enemies – and the fastest way to do so is to hog valuable space inside a squat rack doing exercises that don’t belong there!

FAQs About Squat Rack Exercises

Q: What does a squat rack work out?

A: A squat rack will allow you to work out with an Olympic barbell on compound exercises, with the added benefit of a built-in safety mechanism. The most commonly used exercise is the squat, but you can also do rack pulls, overhead presses, bent over, and lunges, to name a few. Many squat racks also feature a pull-up bar, allowing you to pull-ups and chin-ups.

Q: Is a squat rack effective?

Yes, a squat rack is effective at achieving its main purpose, which is to provide a safety mechanism while performing compound exercises with an Olympic barbell. However, that effectiveness relies on the user's ability to properly set up the rack before beginning the exercise. Check out our comprehensive squat rack user guide here [link to squat rack use article].

Q: How do I build strength for my squat rack?

The best way to build strength on any squat rack exercise is to perform the exercise consistently and progressively. Make sure you are using the proper form with a pyramid rep scheme. This involves increasing the weight and decreasing the repetitions on each succeeding set.

Q: What exercises can you do on a half rack?

A half rack is a pared-down version of a power rack that only has two uprights. As such, it does not form a fully enclosed cage. Though not as solid and stable as a power rack, a half rack still allows you to perform most of the same exercises that you would do on a power rack. These include squats, front squats, bench presses (you’ll need to a bench for this), presses, and lunges.

Wrap Up

In this article, you’ve discovered that there’s a lot more to a squat rack than doing squats. I’ve provided you with a dozen squat rack exercises that are best done in the rack along with a complete full-body power and strength workout.

Why not give this sample workout a try? Do the routine for eight weeks with the goal of boosting your power and mass, and then follow it up with a three-way split routine (such as push/pull/legs). Do two or three of these full-body programs every year for maximum gains.

Looking for a high-spec, cost-effective squat rack for your home gym? Check out the Iron Bull squat racks.