The 13 Best Power Rack Exercises

Power racks have become an increasingly common fixture in fitness studios and home gyms around the world.

These amazing apparatuses have grown in popularity as more people have discovered that consistent resistance training is among the most powerful methods for looking, feeling and performing better regardless of your age, gender or ability level.

Fitness enthusiasts love the safety, independence, variety and training intensity power racks can provide.

In this article, we’ll take a look at thirteen of the absolute best power rack exercises at your disposal.

  1. Barbell Back Squat

Let’s start off with the most well-known power rack exercise — the Barbell Back Squat.

Without a power rack or squat stand, performing a heavy back squat is virtually impossible. There’s just no other safe, practical method for getting a loaded barbell into a good start position.

The Barbell Back Squat is a powerhouse of an exercise that builds muscle and strength in key areas including your quads, hamstrings, glutes, back and core.

One reason squats are so effective is because they take advantage of what’s known as Lombard’s paradox.

Usually, when one muscle group contracts, a corresponding (or antagonist) muscle group relaxes.

For proof, try to flex both your biceps and triceps on the same arm simultaneously. Impossible, right?

Lombard’s paradox refers to a unique feature of our anatomy where both our hamstring and quadriceps (two muscles typically categorized as antagonists) contract at the same time as we stand up out of a squatted or seated position.

It’s one reason Barbell Back Squats are such an efficient (and exhausting) exercise.

 

  1. Barbell Front Squat

The Barbell Front Squat is such a powerful squat variation that it deserves its own dedicated entry.

Front squats shift the center of mass forward by placing the barbell across the front side of your body, allowing for a more upright posture during your squat. This enhances the demand on the quads and helps make the movement more spine-friendly.

There are several grips that can be used with the Front Squat. A power rack makes set-up and experimentation with different grips easier and more comfortable.

For example, the cross grip is a good choice for beginners and/or those still developing their wrist mobility. Yet achieving a proper cross grip without the use of a rack is extremely perilous.

A power rack also enables you to change the range of motion of your squat, which brings us to our next best power rack exercise …

  1. Barbell Pin Squats

Barbell Pin Squats are an extraordinary exercise that’s totally unique to the power rack.

Also known as an Anderson Squat after legendary strongman Paul Anderson, Barbell Pin Squats see the barbell come to a rest on the pins between each rep.

This momentarily takes the load off the lifer and removes the stretch-shortening cycle from the equation. Pin Squats force you to explode through the concentric portion of the exercise and are great for building power out of the ‘hole’.

Barbell Pin Squats can improve your rate of force development and help you power through any sticking points you’re encountering in your traditional squats.

Barbell Pin Squats can be a great way to grow confidence under the bar for both beginners and advanced lifters alike.

  1. Barbell Bench Presses

The Barbell Bench Press is the classic exercise for the chest, shoulder and triceps.

Proper set-up with a power rack removes the biggest safety concern related to bench pressing — a failed rep.

The above video outlines how to properly adjust the safety pins so you can confidently bench press heavy loads without fear of finding yourself trapped under the bar.

  1. Barbell Pin Bench Presses

You feel like you’re strong enough to get the weight up, only to hit an invisible wall a few inches off your chest.

Sound familiar?

Barbell Pin Bench Presses help you address this issue by improving your concentric press.

Purposefully set the pins at the area of your press where you commonly encounter friction. Training this way will help your body blast through sticking points.

“Any part of the bench can be trained by placing a set of pins in your rack. I had no training partner in the early 1970s and used the power rack almost all the time. For the positions just off the chest, two-inches off the chest and midpoint, I would lower the bar to the pins, relax my arms, then press to lockout,” Louie Simmons, legendary powerlifter and strength coach, writes for Westside Barbell.

“Pressing off pins from a dead start eliminates any momentum, which means no cheating. By using three or four pin settings, you will hit all angles of the bench press.”

  1. Pin Negatives

A “negative” is a strength training tactic where you slowly lower a load yet do not lift it back up.

Thus, negatives force you to focus solely on the eccentric part of the lift (the portion that lengthens your muscle).

Humans are actually ~20-30% stronger during the eccentric portion of a movement than the concentric. The eccentric phase also activates a higher proportion of our fast-twitch muscle fibers.

The power rack pins allow for Negative Squats, Negative Bench Presses and more, while the attached overhead handles allow for eccentric Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups.

Negative barbell movements are typically done as heavy singles. These are a staple of the famous Smolov Squat training program.

You can enhance your strength and muscle gains by occasionally exposing your body and nervous system to weight  beyond your one-rep max (even if it’s only during the eccentric phase of the movement).

The only good way to do heavy negative singles is with the help of a power rack.

Simply un-rack the weight (which should be roughly 105-110% of your one-rep max) and lower it down to the pins with control. This can be a great finisher on a heavy lifting day to get a little extra juice out of your workout!

Full movements where the eccentric portion is done slower than the standard tempo are also often referred to as “negatives”. These exercises are a fantastic change-up to your typical training routine and are best done in a power rack as the slower eccentrics can significantly increase the risk of a failed rep.

  1. Incline Barbell Pin Bench Press

A power rack also lets you perform a pin press variation for the Incline Bench Press.

The incline version of the bench press places a lot more emphasis on your shoulders (specifically your anterior deltoids). Many lifters also feel it targets the upper portion of their pectoral muscles more directly.

Keep in mind almost everyone can bench press more than they can incline bench press — it’s just the way the human body works. An Incline Bench Press is typically done using a bench angled at 45 degrees, though anything between 15 and 50 degrees is acceptable.

The greater the angle, the less weight you’ll likely be able to press.

The combination of the less advantageous body position and the dead momentum of the barbell on the pins make this a beast of an exercise you’ve got to try for yourself. Prepare to be humbled!

  1. Barbell Overhead Press

The Barbell Overhead Press is a monster of an upper-body exercise.

Also known as the Military Press, Strict Press or Shoulder Press, the Barbell Overhead Press offers a ton of bang for your lifting buck.

Not only does it target the deltoids, triceps, upper pecs, and shoulder stabilizing muscles, but a strong press also requires tension throughout the core, glutes and hips.

Functionally, a good press enhances your ability to reach overhead, improves your posture and generally builds a more aesthetically-appealing upper body.

  1. Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups


Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups are two of the absolute best exercises out there — period.

Since virtually every power rack comes equipped with the necessary handles, you can work your lats, traps, shoulders and biceps with this major vertical pulling movement.

Pull-Ups (done with palms facing away from you) and Chin-Ups (down with palms facing towards you) are an excellent measure of relative strength, or the amount of strength relative to your  own bodyweight.

Bands can help exercisers build the strength needed to eventually do these moves unassisted, while weighted variations ensure more advanced exercisers can use them to continually pack on strength and muscle.

Chin-Ups tend to be a bit easier than Pull-Ups rep for rep. Power racks like the HulkFit Power Cage also include neutral grip handles, which many fitness experts believe offer the best balance of safety and effectiveness.

  1. Barbell Inverted Row

While Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups are amazing, they can also be difficult to perform.

An unassisted Pull-Up can be nearly impossible for new lifters (or even extraordinarily strong lifters who happen to carry a lot of body weight).

The Barbell Inverted Row is a little more accessible yet remains a great builder of relative strength.

The big key here is ensuring the J-hooks are at the right height. The more parallel your body relative to the ground, the more difficult the exercise. Advanced trainees can even elevate their feet on a bench or box to take things to a new level.

  1. Deadlift Rack Pulls

Deadlift Rack Pulls are a fantastic variation that can be used to safely improve your technique, enhance your grip strength, and help you move significantly heavier weight.

This is an exercise where the barbell starts by resting on the safety pins. The height of the pins depends on what portion of the Deadlift you’d most like to focus on. Most people start with the barbell just above their bent knees.

Since you’re starting your pull from a more mechanically advantageous position compared to a Deadlift off the ground, you should be able to lift significantly heavier weight.

Expert weightlifting coach Mark Rippetoe often has his athletes use their one-rep Deadlift max to perform a set of five reps on the Rack Pull.

Deadlift Rack Pulls are especially great for taller lifters or those with any injury/mobility issues that prevents them from safely lifting from the floor.

  1. Barbell Front Rack Pin Split Squats

Let’s get a little creative!

This one comes from famed strength coach Eric Cressey, who’s trained the likes of MLB Cy Young award-winner Corey Kluber.

“One of my favorite single-leg progressions is to do split squats from a dead-stop on the pins. It works great with an anterior-loaded (front squat) set-up or on the safety squat bar. It also pairs well (with) split-squat cycle jumps in a complex training pairing,” Cressey writes in a Tweet.

Split Squats are a unilateral exercise, meaning they mainly target one leg at a time. They’re generally safer than traditional Barbell Back Squats and may also translate more effectively to sports performance since we often find ourselves driving off one leg at a time as we sprint or jump.

  1. Pin Overcoming Isometrics

Isometrics are a special type of muscle contraction.

Rather than a concentric or eccentric, isometrics require you to rapidly fire your muscles to maintain a static position.

Overcoming isometrics involve exerting very high effort in the attempt to move an immovable object. This tactic helps develop your ability to exert maximal force.

The pins or J-hooks on a power rack are a great way to make an unloaded (or lightly loaded) barbell feel immovable.

Simply position the barbell to press/pull directly into the bottom of the pins or J-hooks and exert as much force as you can while maintaining good mechanics for 3-6 seconds. Relax momentarily and perform 3-5 total reps.

Common overcoming isometric exercises involve Squats, Bench Presses, Deadlifts and Split Squats.

Thanks to the lack of an eccentric/concentric component, overcoming isometrics also don’t produce significant muscle soreness. This makes them especially useful during in-season training periods or phases of heavy activity.

This article is just a small sample of the many remarkable exercises one can confidently tackle using a power rack.

The HulkFit Power Cage comes standard with not only high-quality safety pins and J-hooks but also a pair of premium dip handles.

This durable steel rack safely handles up to 1,000 pounds and retails for just a fraction the cost of the “luxury” brands.

The HulkFit Power Cage can also accommodate a huge range of attachments, including a Lat Pull Down, Low Row, and Cable Crossover Machine, making it one of the most versatile power racks on the market today.

Photo of Avinash Nagavalli

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