Squat Stand vs. Power Rack

by Adam Miezio
Rigs Squat Rack
Comments

HOME GYM ESSENTIALS: Squat Stand vs. Power Rack

If you’re building your home gym, the focal point should be one of two home gym essentials- a squat stand, or a power rack/cage. In rare instances, you may install a rig in your garage or yard. We’ll explain the difference of a rig another time. The squat stand or power rack/cage will become the focal point of your home gym. What is a squat stand and a power rack/cage? Why do you need them? We’re here to explain and break down the pros and cons of owning a squat stand versus a power rack/cage.

A squat stand/rack/cage purchase arguably will be your most important purchase for your home gym, aside from your barbell. Make sure you do the research, so you can save yourself money and avoid buyer’s regret. You’ll also want to buy equipment that guarantees safety and stability.

Fit for a King

Think of a squat stand or power rack/cage as the throne of your home gym. It will be the centerpiece of your strength training universe. You can’t be master of your domain without a throne, so you certainly can’t be a brute force without a squat stand or power rack/cage. The popularity of squat stands and power racks/cages owe to having a place to rack the bar for squats (the undisputed champion of weightlifting exercises), bench presses and any other exercise you might normally use a spotter for. Think of squat stands and power racks/cages as a helpful workout station for barbell exercises.

A squat stand, sometimes also known as a rack, is designed to support weight when doing squat variations. Two adjustable metal posts comprise the squat stand or rack, which support the barbell. Positioning yourself under the bar, lifting it off the stands, stepping back, and squatting executes a standard squat. After the final rep, you step forward and replace the bar on the stands.

 A squat stand lacks four uprights that enclose the barbell. On a squat stand, the barbell is strictly used off the front and most models don’t include safety arms to catch a failed rep. Due to the design, squat stands are relatively small, compared to cages/power racks, and noticeably cheaper. By adding a squat stand to your home gym, you’ll be able to do two of the most important exercises; the squat of course, and bench presses.

If you’re disciplined and dedicated to working heavy iron and lifting man weights, then you might want to consider a power rack/power cage. To eliminate confusion, consider the terms “power rack” and “power cage” interchangeable. Powerlifters tend to prefer to use “cage.” The power rack looks like a metal-framed cage-like structure and allows lifting a loaded barbell without a spotter.

A cage has four metal posts connected by horizontal framing and hooks or catchers fixed to the vertical rods at various heights, designed to hold the bar. The addition of safety spotters or safety straps to a cage often makes for the biggest difference between power racks and squat stands. The added safety features allow you to confidently lift heavy when alone, and not worry about bailing on a rep. The cage allows you the luxury of failing either forwards or backward. The extra safety and security will allow you to do overhead presses (with sufficient clearance), heavy squats and bench presses. Power racks often come with a pull-up bar installed, for a bonus.

Apple is to Android, as Squat Stand is to Power Rack?

It’s probably safe to consider that the squat stand and power rack employ different means to the same end, much like an iPhone or Samsung. Both phones offer differing features and levels of user-friendliness, but in the end, both make a phone call or send a text. The same applies to squat stands and power racks. You can do a squat with both, but it’s how you’ll do the squat that’s the difference. Let’s explain those differences now.

Squat Stand

Power Rack/Cage

Safety

Unless using horses, must dump bar if you get stuck. Requires bumper plates if you don’t want to destroy your floor. If dumping weight with bumpers, NOT a good idea in apartments.

Maximum safety, without spotter. Lateral safety pins/straps act as insurance policy. Horizontal bars can be set at different heights as safety stoppers. Can work alone. More freedom.

Flexibility

Squat variations and bench presses. Limited exercises. Better for Olympic lifts.

In addition to a variety of squats, allows pull-ups, chin-ups, bench presses, deadlifts, inverted rows, barbell curls and many other lifts. Versatile.

Size

Space saving design with small footprint. Can fit into a corner. High ceiling not required. Easy to move. Better for low ceiling spaces.

Bulky and large. Requires a good bit of space. Also, tall and needs generous ceiling room (add in extra room for pull-up head clearance). Difficult to move. Usually need a cubic meter/10 square feet of space.

Stability/Sturdiness

Not as rigid as power rack. Doesn’t offer absolute confidence in heavy lifts.

Awesome workouts for many years. Stout and resilient. 100% confidence in equipment for heavy lifting.

Price

$-$$. Starting at $200+. Not including price of bumper plates, which are expensive.

$$$-$$$$. Starting at $500+ with no accessories.

Customization

No.

Yes: weight storage, bands, chains, safety pins, landmine, wall ball target, etc.

Pull-Up, Dip Bars

Good ones come with pull-up bars, but no dip bars.

Pull-up bars, and sometimes dip bars.


Take ‘Em to the Rack

Now that you know the basic differences between a stand and a cage, let’s goal dig a bit deeper and look at some of the finer details and nuances of a rack. You’ll want to be aware of some characteristics that will influence your final decision.

  • Anchor holes in the rack? Select few racks don’t allow for anchoring to a lifting platform or foundation. If you’re going to want to add on a dip station, or do kipping pull-ups, then you’re going to want to anchor down the rack for sure.
  • Stabilizers with the rack? As just noted, most racks have a design that enables anchoring. Despite this, various racks come with a stabilizer installed, found at the bottom rear of the rack, that keeps it stable when not anchored. Stabilizers can be a nuisance and interfere with your bench placement and feet. If you choose a rack with stabilizers, find out if they’re detachable or narrow enough to be flush with the ground as much as possible.
  • Ease of adjustment and use. Like many out of the box products, standard home gym equipment can be just as much of a pain. Off the shelf equipment commonly employs a pipe and pin safety system, which leaves a lot to be desired. You’ll find the urge to upgrade to drop-ins, spotter arms or straps, coming on sooner rather than later. By adding these options from the start, you’ll save yourself some money, instead of putting them on later.
  • Accessory availability. If you find that the out-of-the-box model doesn’t suit your needs, does the manufacturer offer the accessories you’ll need? They may impress with dozens of add-ons, but if they don’t offer the ones you want, then it doesn’t matter. Sometimes accessories are cross-compatible, but don’t count on it. You’re better off relying on a manufacturer that provides all your needs straight away.
  • What’s the right size? An 83” high rack won’t work well for a guy over 6’ tall. If you’re on the shorter end of the spectrum, a rack that measures over 9’ won’t be suitable. Think about the dimensions of the rack. What’s the width, the height and the depth (the distance the bar will travel in the space between the uprights)? Inexpensive racks trend towards being slender and shorter than others.
  • What’s the actual fit? Even though it may fit, that pickup with the dualies in back, may be a tight squeeze in your garage or carport. Same goes for racks. What kind of space will you have leftover to walk around it, to put on loads and to rack an Olympic bar that’s over seven feet long? You don’t want to be rubbing your back up against a wall, using alligator arms to rack weights or having to grab a shorty bar. Remember the short pool stick you had to use in your grandparents’ basement playing pool, next to that one wall that was too close to the table? Don’t be that guy.
  • Shipping cost. This isn’t exactly a hidden cost, because racks are bulky, burdensome items to ship, that often, end up going freight. Getting the thing shipped to you can sometimes put you back half the cost of the rack itself. More customer friendly companies will ship to you for free. Before getting your heart set on a rack, do the shipping cost homework.
  • Shipping size. Racks come shipped to you in a variety of ways. Some will be almost totally assembled and/or welded, save for the cross members. Other racks arrive in pieces. Be sure you can get the parts in the space you want to build the rack. You don’t want to be the guy who can’t fit a piece through a skinny hallway, curved stairwell or having to guide a post through a door like Luke Skywalker flying an X-wing through the Death Star trench.
  • Reiterating the obvious, a rack is safer than a squat stand. Whether you’re falling backward or forward during your set, the four uprights will prevent the barbell from leaving the rack and wreaking havoc. Don’t be this guy, and fall victim to a squat stand that flips you head over heels, because the safety arms caught the load away from the center of gravity.

Taking the Stand

A cage isn’t necessarily the better choice all the time. Here’s the case for a squat stand.

  • Squat stands are lighter than cages, because of fewer frame parts. Some squat stands are stable enough that this isn’t a worry. A quality squat stand won’t flip as seen in the video above, especially if it has tabs that can be bolted down into concrete.
  • A beefy squat stand often has the same footprint as a cage. However, if you’re working with limited space, a squat stand offers more room to maneuver around it and step over it. The little difference can make all the difference when operating in a confined space.
  • Less frame and not as many parts, means cheaper to produce and ship. Although some can be as pricey as cages, due to manufacturing a stable stand in a smaller and lighter design.
  • Raising the bar. If you want to swap the bar out, or do overhead lifts like presses or Olympic style, the squat stand gives you more flexibility and convenience, as you’re outside the rack at all times. A cage requires you to unload the bar if you’re taking it inside or outside, and while you’re guiding the bar through the uprights, be heads up to not punch a hole in your wall.
  • Pressing the Ceiling. If you’re tall and do overhead presses in a standard 81” cage, you’re likely to hit the frame. You can buy a rack with a higher frame, to just squeeze in under an 8’ ceiling, but they’re going to be costly and not common. In this case, it’s easier to buy a squat stand, because you’ll always be pressing outside the rack, and won’t press the ceiling.
  • Olympic Lifts. The popularity of snatches, clean and jerks and front squats has blown up over recent years. Most of these lifts can’t be executed in the confinements of a cage. Since Olympic lifts require much more balance, coordination and technique, it’s critical to learn how, when and where to safely dump the bar. This can’t be learned in a cage, but can be practiced a few feet away from a squat stand with ease.

The Verdict

Your final decision will be determined by two factors, space and budget. You’re going to need to know how much space you have to work with, if the footprint of the stand or rack fits in that space, and the ceiling clearance you’re working with. If pull-ups are important to you, you’ll want a taller rack with the requisite ceiling clearance. Another option to consider may be buying a retractable rack, that can save you some space.

The second biggest determining factor will be your budget. Do your research. Avoid buying on a whim or impulse. With so many options out there, take your time and make an informed decision. Do your due diligence to find a great deal, but don’t cut financial corners and compromise your safety. Consider buying a squat stand that converts into a power rack, should you want that option later, and you’ll save a few bucks. You could also consider buying a retractable rig. What’s a rig? We’ll save that one for another time.

Your Thoughts

Where does your allegiance lie, with the stand or cage? Have you gone the third way with a rig? We want to know. Please share your thoughts, comments, tips and insights with us.


Adam Miezio
Adam Miezio

Author