If you’ve got access to a power rack, a barbell, and a bench, you have everything you need to develop muscle size, strength, and power. With a power rack, you can train virtually every muscle in your body in complete safety. If you miss a rep, your power rack will stop you getting pinned during bench presses or stapled during squats.
However, power racks are more than just substitute spotters. You can also use a power rack for big training gains. There are several workout methods and exercises you can do with a power rack that are all but impossible without one.
Be warned; these exercises and methods are intense! Expect some gnarly post-exercise muscle soreness after adding any of the following to your workouts.
BUILD STRENGTH WITH OLD-SCHOOL ANDERSON SQUATS
Paul Anderson, who was born in 1932 and died in 1994, was a legendary weightlifter and strongman. Many strength sports aficionados believe that Anderson was the strongest man who ever lived. Known best for his immensely strong legs, Anderson developed a unique method for boosting squat performance which has since been dubbed Anderson squats:
- Position your barbell in a power rack, level with your traps (shoulders).
- Load up the barbell with a heavy weight (we recommend 85% to 95% of your one-repetition maximum, but only if you’re an experienced lifter).
- Next, adjust the safety rails so that you can only do a partial squat.
- Unrack the weight, squat down to the pins, and then stand back up.
For your next workout, keep the weight the same but lower the safety rails so that you can squat a little deeper. Continue dropping the safety pins week by week until you are doing full squats. Once you can do full-depth squats, increase the weight by 5 to 10%, raise the safety rails, and start over.
You can apply Anderson’s progressive range of motion method to bench presses and deadlifts too.
Check out our article for more ways to master the barbell squat!
PUMP UP EXPLOSIVE POWER WITH DEAD STOP REPS
Dead stop reps make your workouts harder. If you want big gains, harder is good! When you lower a weight during an exercise like the squat or bench press, energy is stored in your muscles and tendons. This is called the stretch-shortening reflex. That energy will help you lift the load more easily. The faster you lower the weight, the more energy there will be. That’s why slower reps are harder than faster reps.
In dead stop reps, also called pin reps, you start each rep from a stationary position. With no stretch-shortening reflex, you'll have to double-down on your explosive efforts to get the weight moving. This is called overcoming the moment of inertia. Here’s how to do dead stop squats, bench presses, and overhead presses:
- Set your power rack safety pins so they are at the bottom of your usual range of motion.
- Lower the bar as normal but then pause with the bar on the pins for 3-5 seconds.
- Stay tight – this is not an opportunity to rest.
- Next, drive the weight up as quickly as you can. It won't actually move very fast, but that should be your intent.
- This method works best with heavy loads and low to moderate reps. Three to six repetitions is a good place to start.
BUILD A BETTER DEADLIFT WITH RACK PULLS
Deadlifts are one of the best posterior chain exercises around, your posterior chain being the muscles that make up the back of your body. A strong posterior chain will have a noticeable impact on how you look, feel, and perform. Deadlifts are also a great way to develop a vice-like grip and mountainous traps too.
The main disadvantage of deadlifts is that lifting heavy weights from the floor can be hard on your lower back, especially if you have poor hamstring flexibility. This will limit the amount of weight you can safely lift.
With rack pulls, each rep starts from a raised, more accommodating position. This is not only easier on your lower back but will also allow you to lift more weight.
- Set the safety pins on your squat rack to just below knee-height.
- Rest your barbell on the pins and then load up.
- Do your deadlifts as usual (back slightly arched, abs braced, arms straight, shoulders back, head up, etc.) using a double overhand or mixed grip as preferred.
- Make sure the bar touches down and settles on the pins between each rep.
- Deadlifts are so-called because each rep should start from a dead stop, so no bouncing!
You can add more weight week by week or, if you prefer, lower the safety pins as your mobility and flexibility improves, just as you would for Anderson squats.
OVERCOME STICKING POINTS WITH ISOMETRICS
All exercises have sticking points, which is where your momentum grinds to a halt, and your rep fails. Sticking points vary from person to person, but they commonly occur in mechanically-disadvantageous positions such as where the weight you are lifting is furthest away from your body or levers are at their longest.
Sticking points are frustrating. You often feel that, if you could just get past this tricky joint angle, you’d be able to complete your rep. But, try as you might, the bar grinds to a halt in the same place it always does. The good news is that, with nothing more than a power rack and a barbell, you can beat your sticking points. The solution is isometrics.
Isometrics are contractions where your muscles generate force, but your joints do not move. You can use isometrics to specifically target your sticking points so that, over time, they cease to be weak links. You can use isometrics to fix almost any sticking point, but they work best for compound exercises like squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and overhead presses. Try this during your next workout:
- Set up your power rack safety bars so that they at your sticking point for the exercise you want to fix.
- Rest your barbell on the pins and load it with more weight than you can lift.
- Next, adopt your normal position and grip.
- Push or pull against the immovable weight with all your might. Keep in mind that because the weight is so heavy, it will not move.
- Maintain the isometric contraction for five to six seconds. Relax, take a breath, and repeat. Do three to five isometric reps before taking a full two to three-minute rest.
Isometrics are intense, so limit yourself to about two to three sets per workout. Follow up isometrics with full range repetitions to maintain your strength and technique. After a few weeks of isometric training, you should find that you can blast through your old sticking points.
DO YOU USE A POWER RACK?
There is nothing wrong with using your power rack as a surrogate spotter, but it’s good for so much more. Used right, your power rack could be the key to big, long term gains! Have a video of yourself crushing your workout with the power rack? Tag us on Instagram so we can share!