The Ultimate Squat Rack Workout: 8 Squat Rack Exercises For Total Body Strength

Getting The Most Out Of The Squat Rack: A Powerhouse For Strength Training

The squat rack is more than just a piece of equipment in the gym—it’s a powerhouse for strength training.

While many associate it primarily with back squats and bench presses, its versatility extends far beyond these classic exercises.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the full potential of the squat rack, uncovering lesser-known exercises and techniques to get the most out of your workouts.

Whether you’re a seasoned lifter or new to the gym scene, we will briefly discuss a squat rack and then provide step-by-step instructions for some of the best exercises to add to your squat rack workouts.

Get ready to elevate your strength training game and achieve your fitness goals!

A squat rack row.

The Ultimate Squat Rack Workout

Here are some of the best squat rack exercises for total-body strength:

#1: Back Squats

The back squat is a foundational squat rack leg exercise for power and strength.

Here is how to do a back squat in the squat rack:

  1. Stand upright with good posture inside the squat rack with your feet about shoulder-width apart and directly under the bar. 
  2. Unrack the barbell and rest it across your shoulders and upper traps.
  3. Bend your knees and sit your hips back as you squat down. Brace your core and engage your glutes; keep your chest up and your shoulders back and down.
  4. Pause at the bottom of the squat when your thighs are parallel to the floor, and your knees are bent to 90 degrees.
  5. Press powerfully through your heels to return upright to the starting position.
  6. Complete 4-12 reps per set.

#2: Split Squats

You can also do split squats in your squat rack workouts.

Split squats train your legs unilaterally, which allows you to work on correcting strength deficits in your weaker leg by focusing more training volume on the weaker side. 

Here is how to do this exercise in the squat rack:

  1. Stagger your feet with one foot about 3-4 feet in front of the other. Your front foot should be far enough in front of your body that when you drop down into a lunge, your front knee does not extend forward beyond your toes. 
  2. Unlock the barbell and hold it along the upper portion of your traps.
  3. Keeping your shoulders back and core tight, bend both knees to drop down into a split squat until the thigh of your front leg is parallel to the ground and your knee is bent 90° degrees. Keep the back knee from touching the floor.
  4. Then, press through your heel on the foot in front to return to the standing position.
  5. Complete 8-10 reps and then switch legs.

#3: Barbell Bulgarian Split Squats

You can add variability to your squat rack workouts by modifying the standard split squat into a Bulgarian split squat.

Your quads will be burning with this one!

Essentially, you will perform the exact same exercise except that you will elevate your rear foot on a bench or a box behind you.

When trying to correct deficits in weakness in one leg1December 2017 – Volume 39 – Issue 6 : Strength & Conditioning Journal. (n.d.). Journals.lww.com. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/FullText/2017/12000/Technique, place the stronger leg on the bench behind you and focus your reps with the weaker leg in front.

#4: Bench Press

The bench press2Schick, E. E., Coburn, J. W., Brown, L. E., Judelson, D. A., Khamoui, A. V., Tran, T. T., & Uribe, B. P. (2010). A Comparison of Muscle Activation Between a Smith Machine and Free Weight Bench Press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research24(3), 779–784. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181cc2237, along with variations like the incline and decline bench press, are great for the upper body. It will work your pecs and triceps along with your upper back and core.

Here are the steps for this squat rack exercise:

  1. Place a bench inside the uprights of a squat rack. Use a flat bench for the regular bench press or an incline or decline to target different regions of your chest.  
  2. Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Lift the bar to unrack it and then raise it up as high as possible, being mindful not to bend your wrists as you lift.
  3. Slowly lower the bar back down towards your chest, keeping your elbows tucked into your sides as they drop down below your torso.
  4. Once the bar reaches chest level, press it back up for the next rep.
  5. Complete 4-12 reps per set, depending on your training goals.
  6. Carefully rack the bar into the hooks when you are done.

You can also use dumbbells, but there’s no real need for a squat rack at that point.

#5: Romanian Deadlifts

Is it OK to deadlift in the squat rack? Absolutely.

Deadlifts are a classic weightlifting exercise for the posterior chain. You will want to step outside of the squat rack with the bar so that you have enough room. 

Here are the steps for performing this squat rack exercise:

  1. Attach the J-hooks at a mid-shin height so you can lift the barbell outside the squat rack.
  2. Hinge at your hips, grip the barbell with an overhand grip (palms down), and step outside the rack with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Keeping your chest up and shoulders down, press through your heels, using your glutes and hamstrings to pull your body upright into a standing position.
  4. Keeping your core tight and back straight, hinge at the hips to lower the bar back down to the ankle or mid-shin level.
  5. Complete 4-12 reps per set, depending on your training goals.

#6: Shrugs

You can do shrugs in the squat rack with a barbell to work your traps and shoulders.

Here are the steps to perform this squat rack exercise:

  1. Set the bar just below hip level and stand with it behind you so that you are facing away.
  2. Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart using an overhand grip so that your palms are facing down.
  3. Release the bar, and then shrug your shoulders, squeezing your traps and shoulders at the top position for a full breath before slowly lowering back down. The range of motion of this exercise is not very large, so you really want to maximize the workload on your muscles by focusing on squeezing your traps as hard as possible as you shrug and hold the top position.
  4. Complete 6-10 reps.

#7: Squat Rack Inverted Rows

You can take advantage of the barbell on the squat rack or power rack to do inverted bodyweight rows.

This is a great exercise for your biceps, lats, traps, and core.

The more upright your body position, the less resistance you will have, so the easier the exercise will be.

Here is how to do this exercise on a squat rack:

  1. Grip the bar with an overhand grip with the bar located around hip height. 
  2. Take several steps forward, leaning your entire body back so that you are stiff as a board, like a plank, with your weight on your heels and your toes pointing toward the ceiling.
  3. Contract your biceps and lats to lift your body up, keeping the barbell in place by pulling it into the uprights. 
  4. When your chest touches the bar, slowly extend your elbows to lower your body back down.
  5. Complete 12-15 reps.

#8: Triceps Pushdowns 

The beauty of a squat rack workout is that not every exercise on a squat rack has to involve lifting the barbell necessarily.

You can also take advantage of the ability and structure of the squat rack for other pulling, pressing, pushing, rotating, and stabilizing exercises, either with resistance bands or just your own body weight on the squat rack.

You can perform triceps extension on the squat rack with a resistance band attached to the top bar of the squat rack.

Here are the steps for performing this squat rack workout exercise:

  1. Toss one handle of a resistance band up and over the top bar of the squat rack so that the band is looped over the squat rack.
  2. Hold one handle in each hand with your palms facing down.
  3. Stand upright with good posture facing the squat rack. 
  4. Squeeze your upper arms and elbows in at your side so that they stay fixed next to your torso at all times.
  5. Keeping your core tight, glutes engaged, and chest up, hinge forward slightly from your hips so that your torso is leaning forward.
  6. Keep your elbows tucked at your side. Push the band down by squeezing your triceps, lowering the band from the position where your forearms are up by your face until they are fully straightened down in front of your pelvis.
  7. Pause at the bottom position before slowly coming back up, bending your elbows so that your hands bring the band back up towards your face.
  8. Complete 8-10 reps.
Tricep pulldown.

What Is The Difference Between A Squat Rack And A Power Rack?

The primary difference between squat racks and power racks is that squat racks only have two uprights, whereas power racks have four uprights. For this reason, power racks are often referred to as power cages, as they create an enclosure. 

Many people use the terms squat rack and power rack interchangeably, so for the purposes of these squat rack workouts, most of these exercises can be performed on either piece of equipment.

However, a power rack will give you more options and attachments and better stability and safety features.

Summary

A few honorable mentions that we haven’t covered are pull-ups, overhead presses, shoulder presses, barbell rows, and—forgive the meme—bicep curls.

Whether you are a dedicated powerlifter, amateur lifter, or general gym goer looking for a lower-body or full-body workout, the squat rack is a great piece of gym equipment. It is a must in any home gym.

Many of the exercises are compound, which means they hit a variety of muscle groups and, as such, are a great option to build strength.

Before strength training or bodybuilding, always warm up, use a spotter if needed, or make sure the safety pins are correctly attached.

As always. consider working with a personal trainer if you don’t know where to start!

If you would like some actionable tips for how to build muscle fast, check out our muscle-building guide here:

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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