If you are serious about building a home gym, getting a rack is an absolute must.
There’s just no way to perform the essential barbell compound exercises safely without a rack.
However, here comes the dilemma: full rack vs. half rack, which is right for you?
This article will explain the differences between full racks and half racks, tell you about exercises you can do on each, and list the pros and cons of both pieces of equipment.
By the time you finish reading this article, you will have all the necessary information to decide whether you need a full rack or if a half rack is right for your home gym. Let’s go!
Why Every Home Gym Needs A Rack
Full rack and half racks allow you to perform integral barbell exercises such as squat, bench press, overhead press safely and comfortably, even when exercising alone.
That’s because they have safety catches that are designed to “catch” the bar if you fail the lift, thus preventing injuries and property damage.
But, racks also make it much easier to perform the exercises. They allow you to set the J-hooks at an appropriate height, helping you load the bar and start the lift from an optimal position.
Take the barbell back squat as an example. Without J-hooks to hold the loaded bar in a position that allows you to get underneath it, it would be impossible to perform the exercise with heavy weight.
But, without safety catches, you wouldn’t be able to exercise safely when alone. If you fail the lift and can’t get out of the bottom position, you would risk a severe injury.
But, if you can’t finish the rep, the safety catches will prevent the bar from dropping and injuring you when exercising with a rack.
The Two Types Of Racks
Now that you know the two key reasons why every home gym needs a rack, safety and convenience, it’s time to explain the differences between a full rack and a half rack.
A full rack, also known as a power cage, has two pairs of vertical bars, with two safety catches between each pair. Safety catches are secured to the vertical bars on both sides. The two pairs of vertical bars are connected at the base but also at the top with two horizontal bars. One of the horizontal bars is usually a pull-up bar, which is very convenient.
A half rack, also known as a squat rack, on the other hand, has only one pair of vertical bars, with some models having safety catches connected to each bar only on one side. The two vertical bars are connected at the top with a single horizontal bar, which usually serves as a pull-up bar.
What are the key differences?
Full racks are much larger than half racks. But, because safety catches are connected to two pairs of vertical bars on each side, full racks are much more stable and able to withstand more weight than half racks.
What’s A Half Rack?
As we explained, a half rack consists of two vertical bars connected at the top with one horizontal bar and at the bottom with a broad base to make the construction stable under load.
Half racks have adjustable J-hooks that hold the barbell in the right position so you can load it safely. And better models have adjustable safety catches that make sure you don’t injure yourself when lifting.
Even though half racks allow safer exercising, it has to be said that they are not as stable as full racks. To fix this to a degree, you can put weight plates on the half rack construction, which will prevent it from shaking or tipping over.
Half Rack Exercises
If you are creative, you can do basically any exercise even inside a half rack, but here are some of the most common ones most lifters do:
Overhead press (OHP) – half racks are an excellent choice for overhead presses. OHP is usually the weakest of all major barbell lifts, which means that using a full rack will never be an issue, as you will never get close to its limits when performing the OHP. Plus, because there are no horizontal bars above you, you will be able to fully extend your arms above your head, no matter how tall you are. This means that half racks are an excellent choice for Olympic-style lifting too.
Bench press – you will be able to fit an adjustable bench inside most racks. Doing that will allow you to perform the bench press safely, even alone. Just remember to set safety bars above your chest level so they catch the bar before it smashes your chest if you fail the lift.
Pull-ups – half racks usually have a pull-up bar at the top, which is excellent as pull-ups and chin-ups are essential for back training.
Hanging leg raises – you can perform hanging leg raises while hanging from the pull-up bar too.
Rack pulls (lighter) – rack pulls are excellent for building your back and traps. The only problem is that they allow you to lift a lot of weight, which is not a good idea since you start the lift with the bar resting on the safety catches, which might bend them.
Front and back squats (lighter) – a half rack is ideal for squats, both front and back, as it lets you get into position easily and lift the bar safely. However, if you are super strong, it might not be the best option for you, as the half rack construction isn’t suitable for the heaviest loads.
Half Rack Benefits
- Much smaller than a full rack – takes up less space
- Offers a good variety of exercises, including OHP and Olympic lifts
- More affordable than a full rack
- Ideal for beginner and intermediate lifters
Half Rack Drawbacks
- Lacks stability when compared to a full rack
- Can’t withstand the heaviest loads
- Not suitable for advanced lifters
- Not every half rack has safety bars
What’s A Full Rack?
Full racks don’t have two but four vertical bars, with safety bars between each pair of vertical bars. Because of their look and the fact that the lifter is inside the construction, full racks are also known as power cages.
Because the safety bars are connected to each pair of vertical bars, the connection is very secure. Also, because each pair of vertical bars is connected at the top and bottom, and with the other pair by a horizontal bar (which acts as a pull-up bar), full racks are incredibly stabile and secure, being able to withstand even the heaviest weights.
Full Rack Exercises
Every exercise you can perform in a half rack can be done in a full rack, too, apart from the OHP, so we won’t repeat ourselves. But, because of their sturdy construction, full racks allow you to perform exercises with more weight, such as:
Heavy squats – half racks allow you to perform squats, but not with the heaviest weights. But, with a full squat rack, even the strongest lifters will be able to exercise safely, knowing that the safety bars will hold the weight and prevent injuries.
Heavy rack pulls – just like with squats, full racks allow you to perform rack pulls with the heaviest weights. This will allow you to safely overload your back and traps without fearing that the safety bars will bend.
But, there’s also one exercise you usually can’t do inside a full rack unless you are shorter or have the biggest rack model – overhead press. Most racks lack the height to allow you to fully extend the arms above your head while holding a bar. This makes some Olympic lifts out of reach too.
Full Rack Benefits
- Able to withstand heavy weights
- Improved safety
- Suitable for advanced lifters too
Full Rack Drawbacks
- Most models are not high enough to perform OHP
- Full racks take up a lot of space
How To Decide What’s Best For You
If you are still not sure whether you should buy a full rack or a half rack, here are some deciding factors to consider:
Budget – half racks are much cheaper than full racks. So, if the budget is your main concern, pick a half rack.
Space – again, half racks take up far less space than full racks, and if your home gym is not the biggest, half racks are a better choice.
Preferred exercises – if you are predominantly interested in hypertrophy and strength training, picking a sturdier full rack is a better choice. You will be able to perform even the OHP with slight adjustments or while sitting. But, if you are more into Olympic lifts or you’re tall, not being able to lift your hands above your head fully will be a problem, which is why a half rack is a better idea.
Lifting experience/strength – if you are starting out, a half rack will be a great choice. It takes up less space, and your strength levels are nowhere near their limits yet, which means that less stability won’t be an issue. However, if you are advanced, you will need to lift more weights, which is why it is better to get a much sturdier full rack.
As you can see, even though they serve a similar purpose, full racks and half racks are quite different.
There are many factors you should take into consideration when deciding which one is right for you. After reading this article, we hope you have a much clearer picture of which one you should get for your home gym.
Of course, a full/half rack is just the beginning.
You will need many other items if you want to build a gym that will let you train all of the muscle groups equally well from the comfort of your home.
Therefore, make sure to read our other articles too. We post fitness equipment reviews and comparisons frequently, helping you choose the best value items for your home gym. Thanks for reading!