If a squat rack is a rack you use for barbell squats, what is a power rack? Is a power rack for more powerful squats? If so, what is a squat cage and what is the difference between that and a power cage? Confused? I sure am. Even people who routinely use these terms are confused about what they are talking about. The word power, especially, is a favorite term in strength training even though pure strength training has little to do with power. Well, the answer to this common question, the difference between a squat rack and a power rack, may surprise you, as only one has to do with any true functional purpose of such racks. However, we may find that there is a difference in capacity, but we must be careful!
Still, I understand the need for a name beside squat rack as this just doesn’t do justice to this most versatile piece of strength training equipment. Today’s racks are far much more than just squatting. They are far bench pressing, overhead pressing, rack deadlifts, barbell goodmornings, and, basically, anything that requires you to have support for a barbell at a certain height, and/or have safety spotters available. With a good squat rack, a barbell, and weight plates, you have yourself a home gym. Add dumbbells and a pulley station and you probably won’t miss commercial gyms at all.
Power Rack vs Squat Rack?
If you Google the term power rack, you will find several different types of racks. Some that would also be considered “full cages” and others that are simple racks, with two upright supports attached to extended feet for stability. These types of racks that are not full cages are often called half racks. If you then search the term ‘squat rack’ you’ll find similar results. The truth is that there is no actual difference between squat racks and power racks. The terms are interchangeable! Manufacturers often use both in their marketing. Many different kinds of racks can be called squat racks or power racks even though they can serve much the same functions, including enabling you to use a bench for bench press, while using the safety pins in place of a human spotter. It is possible to find a rack that can only be used for squats but multi-functional racks are more the norm.
Now, I know there are articles out there that say something different. That is because many people are quite precious about such terms and wish facts about them into existence. Heck, you may even see the term utility rack being used. That could be anything! Should you take such a rack to be more useful? What about a lifting cage?
A squat rack, in reality, is any kind of rack used for doing barbell squats. There are several different styles of such racks but all of them are for similar functions. One thing that is different about today’s squat racks versus the squat racks of old is adjustability. Older style squat racks may have had different positions for the bar, but they were fixed in place. The commercial quality squat rack below is a throwback to these styles. This style is sometimes called a half cage as if we weren’t confused enough.
You may also see such racks being listed as sawtooth racks, as the bar supports resemble the teeth of a saw, as in the Valor Fitness BD-19 Sawtooth Squat/Bench Press Combo below, which also features an adjustable safety catch. This rack is also a so-called half cage.
To make this easier, let’s look at more racks!
The first product I’d like to show you is the HulkFit 1000-Pound Capacity Multi-Function Adjustable Power Cage. I think it’s a very good value and it comes with some handy features like pullup bars with different hand positions and also dip bars. There are also extra J hooks to allow a barbell on the outside.
This is clearly a squat rack you could use for squatting, and with a HulkFit Bench or another bench, for bench pressing, or rack deadlifts, or overhead pressing, or whatever you wanted. It’s called a ‘cage’ because it has four uprights you can work inside it fully surrounded.
Now, let’s look at another HulkFit product, HulkFit Multi-Function Adjustable Power Rack Exercise Squat Stand. Here we see two different terms that could be used separately, power rack and squat stand. The term squat stand, as I mentioned in how to squat without a squat rack, is probably the cause of most of this confusion. I’ll get to that. First, take a look at this ‘power rack.’ It comes with pullup bars, plate storage pegs, and adjustable resistance band pegs at the bottom.
Unlike a cage, which has a long safety bar on each side supported by the uprights, a rack like this uses safety spotters or pins, on each upright, as well as J-hooks to support the bar before you put it on your shoulders, or get it into position. However, functionally, it’s much the same. You can use this rack for the same things as the power cage, above. So, now we see the basic difference between a cage and a rack.
Let’s look at another rack. This rack is called a squat rack or exercise stand and would probably never be called a power rack. While functionally it’s similar, the way it works means that it won’t have quite the capacity of racks we call power racks.
This is the Ollieroo Multi-Function Barbell Rack or Adjustable Squat Rack. Here, you can see the difference between a rack that might be called a power rack, and one just called a squat rack. Instead of having solid uprights with holes for adjusting the height of your J-hooks for supporting your bar, the uprights are in two pieces and the upper pieces fit inside the lower. They can be adjusted for height and cinched tight. The company cites the maximum load for this rack at 480lbs. That is quite a specific amount of weight to cite, and to be honest, just looking at it I wouldn’t feel comfortable placing that much weight on it. On the other hand, the HulkFit Power Cage, above, cites a 1000 lbs capacity and I’d feel comfortable putting that much on it and even more. The HulkFit Power Rack cites an 800 lbs capacity. One drawback of both these racks is that they have a minimal number of adjustment positions, 15. More can sometimes be better.
As we can see, one criterion for products being called power cages or power racks is the amount of weight they can handle, and this necessitates a proper design. Note, however, that this had nothing, necessarily, to do with the kind of exercises they are meant for, as some sources mention, but simply with how heavy the barbell can be. Do not just assume, when shopping for squat racks, that you have to worry about static capacity. These racks will take a lot of punishment and you will sometimes be placing very heavy barbells on them with minimal control. You will, essentially, be dropping barbells on the supports, at least from a few inches away. So they must be able to handle more than just a static load. If you are very serious about your strength training, then you can see that a product like the Ollieroo, above, will not work for you, but either of the HulkFit racks may fit the bill.
The thing you have to realize, though, is that there is nothing stopping any company from calling their exercise rack a power rack, a squat rack, or any other kind of rack they want to call it. There are no industry standards or rules attached to the names of such strength training equipment, and most of these decisions have everything to do with marketing choices. You’ll notice that more than one term will be used in the marketing for most products.
Instead of choosing a rack based on whether it is called a power rack, squat rack, power cage, full cage, etc. you must consider certain criteria and needs. Here are a few things to consider when purchasing a squat rack. I’ll go into each in detail.
Purchasing a Squat Rack: Things to Consider
1. You’re building a home gym, so the first thing you have to consider is how much space you have available. Look at the footprint of the squat rack you are considering. How much floor space does it occupy? Also, consider your overhead clearance. How high is the rack? While having pull-up bars may be nice, if you are building your gym in a low-ceiling basement, this may not be possible to accommodate.
The HulkFit power rack, above, has a width of 44 inches, a depth of 45 inches and is 82 inches high. This is a typical footprint for such a rack and is close to the exact same footprint as the rack I use at home, made by Weider, although mine is shorter for low ceilings. The power cage, on the other hand, does not really have much of a larger footprint. It is the same width and height, with one additional inch in depth. All in all, for you need around 14 square feet of space just for the rack, but also clearance for the barbell and reasonable clearance in front. The biggest difference will be in stability. The cage not only has a higher capacity, but it will also be much more stable. The rack only weights 110 lbs while the cage weighs 165 lbs. Measure the space you have available and consider how much room you have for a rack. You don’t want to place a rack in a corner, you need some clearance on both sides and plenty of clearance in the front.
The Oilerroo has an adjustable base so that the width can be anything from 31 to 48 inches. While this may be handy, it also introduces a weak point in the design.
2. What’s the capacity? How much weight and abuse can the unit handle? While you do not need a commercial quality rack, designed to be used by multiple people on a daily basis, if you want it to be the last rack you ever purchase, you don’t want to buy something that can handle the minimum of what you can throw at it. You will get stronger, and as stated above, there will be times when, despite your best intentions, you’ll put it through a beating, letting a heavy loaded barbell down onto the supports without, shall we say, a lot of finesse. Therefore, you want your rack to have a tolerance and built-in safety factor that is above that which you think strictly necessary.
3. Does it come with accessories? Pullup bars and dip bars are very useful, but also think about pegs for holding weight plates and for attaching resistance bands. All sorts of other options are possible, even built-in pulley stations for lat pulldowns, pulley rows, and more. Take a look at the Power Rack by Vanswe, below. It has multi-position pull up bars, dip handles, a pulley station, weight storage pegs, and even a pre-drilled hole for mounting a T-bar row or landmine attachment.
4. How far down to the adjustments (holes) go? And, how many adjustments are there (hole spacing)? Notice that most of the racks shown here have holes for placing the bar supports (J hooks, etc.) and safety pins* at various levels. Depending on the type of exercises you like to do, you may have a need for more adjustments, and especially adjustments that go as low as possible. Being able to mount a barbell very low on the rack, but clear of the ground can be useful for rack deadlifts. Some racks have holes or adjustments that go all the way to the bottom, which is sometimes called Westside style holes. This may be a feature to look for. Also, take note of how many adjustments. The closer together the adjustments are the more levels you’ll have access to. This can be useful for bench press in particular, as you’ll need to be able to precisely place your safety pins for regular, incline, and decline bench. Look for racks with the smallest amount of spacing between the holes. Obviously, a rack with 2 or 3 inches between positions can have more holes than one with 6 inches between. But, also try to confirm the number of positions. Look for over 20 positions with holes not more than 3 inches apart, if you feel you need the most precision possible. The TDS Mega Open Rack, discussed below, has 30 positions. The TDS Squat Cage has 31 positions, 2 inches apart.
* Note that the term safety pin doesn’t adequately describe the function of these pins. They can be used for much more than just safety catches. By placing these pins as the appropriate height, you can do barbell shrugs without having to lift the bar off the floor, or do presses from pins from a bench or standing, or Anderson squats (pin squats), or rack deads to name but a few examples.
To fit your different criteria, there are several different kinds of racks. We’ve already gotten into these a bit, above, but I thought it worth going into more detail.
The first kind of rack, which I think causes confusion as to ‘squat racks’ versus ‘power racks’ is actually not a rack at all, but a product more aptly called a squat stand.
Rather than having upright supports all connected to a solid base in one unit, a squat stand actually consists of two different upright stands with adjustable supports and safety-catches (sometimes called safety-pins or spotters) for the barbell. Some of these racks may be height adjustable similar to the Ollieroo rack, above, while others will function similarly to a typical rack, only with two separate stands. It is even possible to find units that can function as a rack or as two independent stands.
A squat stand is the most versatile and useful for very small spaces and can often handle plenty of weight. Here are some examples:
The Valor Fitness BD-9 Power Squat Stand, shown below, is rated for a max load of 350 lbs. Take note that the company dictates this max load be direct downward. Here is where we uncover a problem with squat stands. You have to be careful and be in control of the barbell because you can easily knock one of the stands out of alignment when you need it to be in place. The base is expandable, however, so that more stability can be added by expanding the feet to their full depth. With a maximum of 28 inches, this is a far cry from the squat racks, above.
The uprights are adjustable like the Ollieroo rack, with the top supports being meant for handling squats or overhead press. The extra supports below are meant for accommodating a barbell bench press. The maximum height is 70 inches, high enough for most lifters’ needs. But the higher you adjust the uprights, the less stable the stands will become. A possible workaround for added stability would be to simply place heavy plates on the wider back feet. A towel could be placed underneath the plate to help protect the finish.
So-called half squat racks are thus named because they only have two uprights rather than four so that you are not fully surrounded by a ‘cage.’ This is somewhat a misnomer as it makes it seems as if these racks are an offshoot of the full cage and thus deserve a name subsidiary to them. While early racks often had additional uprights in the front or back, similar to the one shown above, these types today are often also called half racks. Don’t be confused. I’ve already shown the differences above. A half rack is still a squat rack and it may also be called a power rack. Don’t assume these names to mean much on their own. The squat rack below is what TDS calls an open rack, but others might call it a half rack. Although the danger is not as great as with squat stands, the light weight of these types or racks and the lack of any counterweight mean they can be tipped asunder or even possibly tipped over. An advantage of the TDS rack, below, is that it comes with plate storage pegs in the back. If you load these up with plates, you won’t be able to easily tip the rack over. The company advises to load the pegs up if you plan on lifting more than 500, so, admittedly, many may never see it as an issue! Just keep in mind that the addition of storage pegs on a half rack does more than just store plates, it adds stability without having to stack plates on the actual cross-feet of the rack.
Many tend to assume that a full cage is always better than a half rack. The power cage seems to have been lent more legitimacy in lifting circles. It is how a rack will funciton for you and your needs that is important, however. One advantage of half-racks over cages, especially for taller folks, is the range of motion above. A cage with cross bars up top and pull-up bars will impede full range of motion with overhead lifting.
The term half cage is variously applied to any cage that resembles a half rack but has additional uprights that do not go all the way to the top. The first two racks I showed you above have other uprights besides the two main supports and so may be called half racks. Again, these terms don’t mean much. In some cases, the additional uprights are there to store a barbell, as on my personal rack, or so facilitate storage pegs for weight plates, as in the Ironmaster IM1500 Half Cage, below. There is no reason the term power rack may not also be applied to these racks, variously.
The additional bulk and counterweights on these types or racks makes them more stable than a typical half-rack, discussed above.
Squat Rack for Low Ceilings
Many people, when building a home gym, have to place it in their basement, which often have very low ceilings. Some basements may be too low to accommodate any type of squat rack, in which case it still may be possible to use squat stands. You just may not be able to do any overhead lifting. There are, however, short rack options in both half rack and full cage designs. These tend to be 71 or 72 inches high, making them around 10 or 11 inches shorter than typical racks, at least. They can be hard to find so I’m including some high-quality examples here.
These racks will be like any other rack but the uprights will be lower. The uprights of the rack below, the Titan X-3 Adjustable Short Squat Stand, are 72 inches high. It lists a 1000-pound capacity. Do not purchase a short squat stand unless you absolutely need one! Having the extra height and the higher barbell positions can be very useful. For example, they will allow you to do overhead press from pins, something you may not be able to do with a squat rack that is too short. If you do need one, however, this is a high-quality and durable choice.
If you need really want a full cage for a low ceiling, Titan comes through, again. The Titan T-2 Series Short Power Rack Squat Cage is 71.5 inches high. Its actual footprint is 48” x 58” so it’s still not the perfect choice for tight spaces. Keep that in mind. Just because a rack is shorter doesn’t mean it takes up less floor space!