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The conventional wisdom is you need a power rack, no matter whether you’re doing a strength training, bodybuilding, or powerlifting training routine. It saves your fragile body from being crushed by the barbell when you fail a rep.
This video perfectly demonstrates how you can fail a rep and live to lift another day.
Do you feel like you don’t need a power rack? you might have a point. I’m open minded, and I’ve heard lots of really good points and inventive solutions.
What happens without a rack?
Watch this video to find out. (don’t worry, not gruesome, just scary)
That’s exactly what parents fear when their kid wants to get a weight set. This is why he can’t have heavy things.
Now that you get the gist of the situation, here are the situations where you could reasonably get by without a power rack.
Olympic Weightlifting / Dumping the Bar
Lifters trained in olympic weightlifting are taught how to dump the bar if they are failing a squat, clean, jerk, snatch, or press. They normally lift off the floor, so dumping it to the floor is a natural part of their training and is done at the end of most sets and many singles anyway.
A lot of Crossfit athletes are taught these skills by smart coaches to keep them safe.
It feels good knowing you are in control of your own safety and you aren’t relying on some safety bars or safety straps to catch the bar at just the right height before you injure yourself. There’s something about being in control of the weight, whether you complete or fail the rep.
Keep in mind that dumping the bar like this is only a good idea when you’re in a standing position with the bar in front of you, ie; front squats, cleans, presses, snatches, and jerks. That’s about it. Obviously for other accessory exercises like bicep curls you’ll be fine too, and you don’t have to be the jerk hogging the squat rack doing your curls.
Don’t do this for back squats (ie: traditional squats, with the bar behind your neck) or bench presses. Doesn’t work. Admittedly, I have seen experienced lifters dump the bar behind them during a failed back squat. But you better know for sure what you’re doing and keep your body in a position where you can do that safely.
Lastly, you will need to use bumper plates (solid rubber) if you’re doing this. Iron plates will damage your floor or equipment, even with rubber flooring.
Half Rack with Long Safety Spotters
A few types of half racks / squat racks have safety spotters. They aren’t supported the way they are by the front and back of a full power rack, but they’re there.
Short safety spotters, those ones 12″ long or even shorter, are nearly useless. They will be long enough to catch a failed rep until you find yourself in a bad situation and they aren’t. Meaning, you can kind of count on them, until you lean a couple inches too far back and the spotters aren’t long enough to catch the human killing barbell as it comes crashing down.
These spotters need to be at least 18″ long or so to give you better security. 24″ is great. Still, you better not fall backwards where the bar will miss them, so we’re still talking about a lower degree of safety than a power rack.
For bench pressing, however – or any angle of presses – they can work really good, because even with a failed press you don’t have much variation in your bar path like you do with a failed squat, and you put yourself in a position where the bar is close to the uprights where the safety arms attach.
You Have a Buddy Spotting You
Even better, a coach. Because your buddies are idiots. The person spotting needs to know exactly what they’re doing, including leaving the bar alone when you’re struggling and grunting, “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch the bar!”, trying to get it up yourself, and at the same time he needs to be ready to grab and lift it the instant you fail, and be strong enough to do so.
This is the way lifters used to train, buddying up. Most of us like to do everything ourselves now and not bug other people in the middle of their workouts. Plus, you know what you can expect from a rack. It will catch the bar. A rack’s attention doesn’t wander when Miss Yoga Pants struts by.
You Aren’t Going Heavy
Naturally a lot of people deal with the situation of having no safety spotters by just not lifting heavy. If that works into your goals, fine. You won’t get much stronger without challenging yourself hard. But if you’re just trying to stay in reasonable shape, great, take it easy and don’t lift more than you know you can. In that case even if you get a sudden shooting pain in your shoulder, you’re probably lifting light enough that you can handle getting the weight off of you without dying.
Bench Pressing Without Collars
For benching, Mark Rippetoe suggests not using collars to secure the plates, so that if you find yourself under a bar that won’t go up, you can tip it to the slide, let the plates slide off, and like when your asshole friend jumps off the teeter-totter, the other end quickly falls and the plates slide off it as well.
“the bench press is where virtually all of the fatalities associated with weight room activity occur, usually guys training alone that get a crush injury or suffocation. So,TAKE THE COLLARS OFF THE BAR IF THERE’S ANY DANGER AT ALL OF GETTING STUCK UNDER THE BENCH PRESS.”
For squats it’s not gonna work so well.
Some Other Solutions
As mentioned above, there are some racks that have long safety spotters that work, such as the Rogue SML-1 Monster Lite Squat Stand.
You can also get the Rogue Mono Stand, or monolift attachment for a few of their racks. A monolift is a cool piece of equipment that helps you rack and unrack the bar without having to go forward/back, ie: the rack moves instead of you.