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.
Which is best for you – a squat stand or a half rack or a power rack?
Why Every Home Gym Needs A Rack
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 Three Types Of Squat Racks
Now that you know the two key reasons why every home gym needs a rack, it’s time to explain the differences between a squat stand, power rack, and a half rack.
What is a Squat Stand?
Squat stands consist of two vertical posts which are sometimes joined at the top and or base.
You can also use squat stands for bench press, overhead press, and various other exercises.
There are three main types – Standard (twin-linked), Independent (singular), and Wall mounted.
We go into a lot more detail in our article on the Best Squat Stands.
The benefits of a squat stand are relatively simple, but they’re all incredibly powerful.
First, the squat stand is the most economical and easiest way to equip your home gym for weight training. It’s a simple and effective piece of equipment at a price point that other items simply can’t rival.
This is perfect for your first home gym experience or with anyone who has limited money. The squat stands offer the major utility of a squat rack without the price.
Even using iron plates without a platform it’s a good option for submaximal squat training.
Squat stands are also a more minimalist design and lack some of the larger pieces’ safety and versatility features. For example, you typically won’t get reliable spotter arms or landmine attachments. Still, they take up nearly no space and are perfect if you’re using bumper plates and a platform.
This makes it a great choice for saving space and money and gives you a collapsible squatting option that you can easily tidy away when you need the extra space.
What is a Half Rack?
A half rack 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.
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 power 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.
To learn more, check out our guide to the Best Half Racks.
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 power 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 power rack – takes up less space
- Offers a good variety of exercises, including OHP and Olympic lifts
- More affordable than a power rack
- Ideal for beginner and intermediate lifters
Half Rack Drawbacks
- Lacks stability when compared to a power rack
- Can’t withstand the heaviest loads
- Not suitable for advanced lifters
- Not every half rack has safety bars
What is a Power Rack?
Also known as a power cage, a power rack, 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.
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), power racks are incredibly stable and secure, being able to withstand even the heaviest weights.
To see some examples, check out our guide to the Best Power Racks.
Every exercise you can perform in a half rack can be done in a power 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 power 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, power 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 power 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.
Power Rack Benefits
- Able to withstand heavy weights
- Improved safety
- Suitable for advanced lifters too
Power Rack Drawbacks
- Most models are not high enough to perform OHP
- Full racks take up a lot of space
What are the key differences?
Power racks are typically much larger than half racks and squat stands. But, because safety catches are connected to two pairs of vertical bars on each side, power racks are much more stable and able to withstand more weight than half racks and squat stands.
How To Decide What’s Best For You
If you are still not sure whether you should buy a squat stand, power rack or a half rack, here are some deciding factors to consider:
Budget – squat stands are the cheapest, then half racks, with power racks being the most expensive. However, there are some great affordable power racks on the market now.
Space – again, squat stands and half racks take up far less space than power racks, and if your home gym is not the biggest, a wall-mounted squat stand or a half rack might be the better choice.
Preferred exercises – if you are predominantly interested in hypertrophy and strength training, picking a sturdier power 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 squat stand or 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 power rack.
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- Best Budget Power Racks
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- Best Half Racks
- Best Wall-Mounted Squat Racks
- Best Home Gym Cable Pulley
As you can see, even though they serve a similar purpose, squat stands, power 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 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!