Power Rack vs Squat Rack: Differences Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
May 15, 2022

The power rack and the squat rack are two types of free weight exercise equipment used to rest a barbell upon so as to position it in the ideal angle and elevation for whatever barbell exercise the exerciser wishes to subsequently perform.

Some confusion may be found when concerning the differences between the two, especially due to the similarity in appearance and use between the two, with the power rack and the squat rack both serving the same purposes, though in different capacities and with a slightly more modular nature for the power rack itself.

The power rack and the squat rack, while similar, do in fact have a few key differences that make using one over the other a more appropriate choice for certain exercises - especially for individuals of certain body proportions or exercises of rather high complexity.

What is a Power Rack?

A power rack is a piece of free weight resistance exercise equipment that acts as a positioning apparatus for the barbell, usually in the form of a square “cage” with adjustable pins and bars that can act as resting points for the barbell itself, and as safety mechanisms if adjusted properly.

power rack

These adjustable bars are usually four in number, and can be placed around the exerciser in practically every direction - hence the term cage - of which will allow for practically any barbell exercise to be performed, unlike in the case of the squat rack.

However, this versatility comes with its own set of drawbacks, such as in the case of the power rack requiring extra time to set up, or the fact that it can take up significantly more space than the squat rack due to its omnidirectional nature.

Despite these drawbacks, the power rack is still considered an essential piece of equipment in many weightlifting gyms because of the versatility in the exercises that it may be performed with, as well as the improved safety that it can provide to exercisers.

What is a Power Rack Used For?

The power rack is primarily used for performing compound barbell exercises in a manner that requires its usage, such as in the case of rack pulls or barbell squats wherein the barbell itself must be placed in a secure and elevated position prior to the exercise being performed.

The power rack may also be used for certain types of exercises that require aid in reducing the range of motion involved, such as in the case of the rack pull or block bench press wherein the safety bars of the power rack may be adjusted so as to greatly reduce the angle and distance that the barbell is capable of traveling.

What is a Squat Rack?

The squat rack is also a form of exercise equipment used as a stand for barbells, though with only a single shelf and thus only capable of being used from a forward angle - with the most obvious application of doing so being that of a barbell squat.

squat rack

However, the squat rack may also be used for exercises that are not in fact a barbell squat, especially those requiring a larger range of motion while still maintaining an elevated and secure position in regards to the placement of the barbell prior to the repetition itself.

This is one key difference that the squat rack possesses in comparison to the power rack, with its singular angle of usage allowing for exercises that are otherwise inhibited by the four pillars that make up the power rack.

Generally, most types of squat racks will also come with a set of safety bars that may act as a safeguard in the event that the exerciser needs to “bail out” of the squat exercise.

While these are usually removed so as to maximize range of motion for whatever exercise is being performed, certain types of advanced compound exercises may in fact make use of these safety bars by way of reducing the maximum range of motion applicable to the exercise.

What is a Squat Rack Used For?

The squat rack is one piece of exercise equipment with an extremely versatile set of uses, being capable of aiding in the stability and positioning of a large number of compound barbell exercises, such as in the case of the barbell bench press or the military press.

Though these uses are also possible with the power rack, one key difference the squat rack has in terms of usage is its much smaller space requirement, as well as the fact that it allows for an omnidirectional range of motion once the barbell has been removed from the rack.

This allows for exercises that are otherwise encumbered by the power rack, such as in the case of a clean or barbell jerk, both of which may come into contact with the four pillars of a power rack due to the large path of the barbell throughout the exercise.

What are the Benefits of the Power Rack?

Though the power rack is doubtless an essential in any serious weightlifting gym’s equipment list, certain benefits it provides allow it to outshine other types of equipment similar in form or function, providing ample reason to pick the power rack over the squat rack, squat stand, or any other type of barbell rack equipment.

Safety Benefits

The nature of the power rack allows it to function perfectly in the capacity of a safety mechanism - primarily due to the fact that the exerciser may place catch or safety bars in any direction around themselves, of which will catch the barbell in the event that they fail a repetition or lose their grip on the barbell itself.

By addition to this, the same four bars and catch bars of the power rack also limit the total range of motion of the exerciser, reducing the chance of the exerciser overextending or losing their footing and thus injuring themselves.

High Customizability

Unlike the squat rack, the power rack’s own pins, catch bars, and other modifications may all be modified to function at practically any angle, allowing the exerciser to perform their desired exercise in an omnidirectional manner or in accordance to the space and dimensions of whatever room they are exercising in.

In addition to this, the versatility in the sort of extra attachments that may be added to a power rack apart from the usual bars and pins are vastly more numerous than what one is capable of adding to the squat rack.

Unique Exercises

As previously mentioned earlier in this article, certain exercises are only capable of being performed with the use of a power rack, either due to the limiting range of motion that is a characteristic of the power rack itself or because of the improved safety and stability found in the power rack.

Among these are the ever famous rack pull, half-repetition deadlifts, block bench presses, and a variety of other advanced compound exercises meant to strengthen a sticking point in a powerlifter’s competitive lifts or for training exercisers with poor range of motion.

Self-Spotting Equipment

Unlike most forms of the squat rack, the power rack requires no additional individuals to act as a spotter during particularly heavy or complex exercises.

This is mainly because of the safety mechanisms involved in the engineering of the power rack, with the catch bars and general limited space to perform exercises acting as the exerciser’s own form of “self-spotting” - recreating the effect and precaution of a spotter without actually having one present.

What are the Benefits of the Squat Rack?

Much like the power rack as well, the squat rack comes with its own unique sets of benefits that make it both superior to the power rack in certain aspects and all around another excellent choice for gym owners searching for a proper barbell rack to complete their equipment list.

Though the squat rack and the power rack share many benefits and characteristics owing to their similarity in function, a few of these particular attributes are exemplified by the squat rack itself, and as such are not found in the same capacity in other types of fitness equipment.

Lower Space Requirement

Unlike the four pillared construction of the power rack, the squat rack is rather compact in shape, and is usually only as large as the length of its detachable safety bars - allowing home gym owners and exercisers with a limited amount of space to make full use of the squat rack without worry of overcrowding their gym space.

This is especially useful for exercisers wishing to perform exercises with a large range of motion, as the reduced profile and size of the squat rack will allow them to do so without worry of hitting the rack with the barbell, or needing to step too far away from the rack, both of which will result in significant risk of injury or form breakdown.

Full Range of Motion

The squat rack’s smaller size and two pillared form equates to the exerciser being capable of performing whatever exercise they wish to the fullest range of motion possible, allowing for explosive compound exercises such as in the case of many olympic lifts, or those more often used in practical athletic training programs.

This is doubly so with the exerciser being capable of “walking out” of the squat rack, as opposed to the power rack which will generally trap the barbell within it for the purposes of safety and stability.

Doing so will provide the exerciser with the benefit of a free range of motion, all with the safety of the squat rack’s bars and safety pins being within a single step or two of the exerciser should they find that their form has begun to break down or similar circumstances occur.

Lower Price Range

With a distinctly smaller size and lower amount of versatility, the squat rack requires far less resources to produce and ship, allowing for a far lower price range in comparison to the power rack or other forms of barbell racks.

A lower price range does not always equate to lower quality however, and as such individuals seeking a more budget friendly alternative to the power rack may find that even higher end squat racks are more than suitable enough for their particular price range.

Higher Equipment Stability

Due to the fact that the squat rack generally only utilizes two pillars instead of the four that is found in the power rack, a large amount of engineering is brought into ensuring that the squat rack is capable of acting as a source of stability despite the large amount of weight placed upon it.

This will usually take the form of elongated platforms at the base of the pillars, of which are distinct from the power rack and as such not only provide a more stable barbell rack for the exerciser but also act as a protecting mechanism for the floor if the exerciser were to drop the barbell within the squat rack itself.

In Conclusion - Which Rack is Better?

As has been demonstrated throughout this article, neither the power rack nor the squat rack are better than the other in an overall or general capacity - as both are superior to the other in certain situations and applications.

For individuals with a limited budget, small space, or plans to perform exercises with a large range of motion, the squat rack is clearly the best possible choice.

In instances wherein the individual requires a barbell rack with enhanced safety mechanics and possesses the budget and space required to house a power rack, purchasing such an equipment is also an excellent decision.

Regardless of whichever one the exerciser may pick, their use in general barbell training is nearly the same, with only the aforementioned key differences resulting in any changes to the exerciser’s training stimulus or routine.

References

1. Nigro F, Bartolomei S. A Comparison Between the Squat and the Deadlift for Lower Body Strength and Power Training. J Hum Kinet. 2020 Jul 21;73:145-152. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2019-0139. PMID: 32774546; PMCID: PMC7386153.

2. Kristiansen E, Larsen S, Haugen ME, Helms E, van den Tillaar R. A Biomechanical Comparison of the Safety-Bar, High-Bar and Low-Bar Squat around the Sticking Region among Recreationally Resistance-Trained Men and Women. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Aug 6;18(16):8351. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18168351. PMID: 34444101; PMCID: PMC8392107.

3. Pinto, Brendan L., and Clark R. Dickerson. “Vertical and Horizontal Barbell Kinematics Indicate Differences in Mechanical Advantage between Using an Arched or Flat Back Posture in the Barbell Bench Press Exercise.” International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, vol. 16, no. 3, June 2021, pp. 756–762, doi:10.1177/1747954120982954.

4. Larsen S, Kristiansen E, Helms E, van den Tillaar R. Effects of Stance Width and Barbell Placement on Kinematics, Kinetics, and Myoelectric Activity in Back Squats. Front Sports Act Living. 2021 Sep 1;3:719013. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2021.719013. PMID: 34541522; PMCID: PMC8440835.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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