Next to the barbell itself, the power rack is the most valuable and versatile piece of strength training equipment. Walk into any thrift store and you will see multitudes of discarded infomercial exercise pieces, but you will never see a used power rack for sale in one of these places.
In order for you to achieve your strength and development potential, you are going to have to become proficient at fighting the weight through sticking points and at grinding out additional repetitions that may appear to be impossible to complete. This requires complete focus, along with mental and physical toughness.
If you are worried about getting stuck with a heavy bench press, buried by a heavy squat or that your spotter might be distracted or intervene either too soon or too late, then you will never be able to achieve the focus you need. The power rack solves these problems by allowing you to train with total confidence and safety. Competitive powerlifters can train with the power rack, but they need to a certain amount of work with traditional squat racks in order to duplicate contest conditions. I often hear lifters complain about guys who use the power rack to perform barbell curls. If a guy pays his fees and follows the gym?s rules that he should be free to use whatever piece of equipment for whatever purpose. However, I keep a pair of vice-grips in my training bag and I make sure that the ?J? hooks stay good and tight at a level designed for squatting. It only takes a couple of times for a would be curler to discover that hooks are much too tight for them to loosen and they quickly find another place to do curls. Most standard power racks come with ?J? hooks and a pair of pins, but you will want to add some extra accessories. It is rare to see a power rack in a commercial gym that has an extra set of pins so you will need to get a pair of heavy duty metal pins that will fit the power rack you are using. I would also suggest visiting a hardware store or a plumbing supply warehouse and buy a couple of lengths of rubber insulation, the type that goes around water pipes. This insulation is used to wrap around the power rack pins to minimize the jarring effect of barbell when it is lowered onto the pins.
One of the best uses of the power rack is to perform partial repetitions, which overloads the muscle groups being worked. I also believe it strengthens the tendons and ligaments to a great degree. Connective tissue strength is a very important and often overlooked component of strength development. Partials can be a very valuable tool but they can also cause some problems. You have to remember that the partials movements are an adjunct exercise and NOT a lift. I see far too many guys doing quarter squats and bench press lockouts in the power rack with far too much weight and with a sloppy style of bouncing the bar off the pins. Such ego driven habits are not only un-productive but can also lead to injury. When doing partial movements, it is imperative that the partial movement is a duplicate of that portion of the full range movement. For example, if you are doing bench press lockouts, then the lockout must be exactly as if were performed at the end of a normal bench press. It is all too easy to put yourself into a biomechanically advantaged position to do the partial movement. This is why you should always do partial movements only after completing the full range movement as this helps you to duplicate the original groove when doing the partial movements. I would also advise warming up with a couple of light sets of the partial movements to further establish the correct groove and get the body ready for the heavy set. Keep the reps in the 3-6 range for 1-2 sets for the best results.
Growing stronger in the basic movements involves an on-going analysis and feedback of weak areas and sticking points and then performing adjunct movements to strengthen the weak areas. A fantastic way of using the power rack to improve sticking points is to use the extra set of pins in what could be described as an isometric movement. Using the bench press as example, let?s say that your sticking point is about four inches above your chest. You place the second set of pins about four inches above your chest. You can place the J hooks at a level just above your face and with the assistance of a spotter, place the bar on your chest to begin the exercise or if you do not have a spotter, have the 1st set of pins just above throat level and then you can slide the bar towards your chest and place it in the appropriate starting point. Push the bar up to the 2nd set of pins, touching the bar to the pins for a momentary pause, then return to bar to the chest and repeat. On the last repetition, you are going to push the bar against the pins for as hard as you can for anywhere from 8-12 seconds. It helps to have someone watching a clock or wristwatch and calling out the times to you interspersed with sporadic insults about your strength and manhood along the way. This is an extremely demanding and humbling exercise and one which requires total concentration and intensity. You also have to maintain near perfect form with your head, buttocks, feet etc. You can use any rep range you like but I have always like doing triples and sixes with the last rep being the one that is held for time. Once you reach the point where you can do a given poundage for 12 seconds, then its time to increase the weight.
An additional technique is to use a pair of wooden rods (sawed off broomstick handles) rather than the metal rods and then on the last rep, try to break the wood. When you are pressing against a steel rod, you know there is no chance its going anywhere, but with wood there is at least a chance of breaking it, so I am motivated to push even harder and I have cracked and broken the rods a couple of times. You can use pin partials in most any kind of compound exercise.
Below are some descriptions of power rack exercises that I have used with good results.
WALKOUTS: walkouts involve loading the bar to about to about 75-100lbs above your best single squat and then getting into the squat position, un-racking the bar, stepping back and setting up just as if you were going to squat, hold that position for about 4-5 seconds, then walk the bar back into the rack just as if you had completed the squat. The idea behind this is that your body (and your mind) gets used to supporting an increased amount of weight, so that when you go back to your regular exercise weight, it seems much lighter by comparison. It is also likely that the connective tissue is strengthened during supporting movements. You can do the same thing for the bench press. Take the weight and hold at arms length for 4-5 seconds. One set of these per exercise is ideal
STARR POWER SHRUGS: This is an excellent movement advocated by the legendary Bill Starr to build the trapezius and surrounding muscles of the upper back. I also believe it will help increase most of the major compound pulling exercises. Set the pins in the power rack so that the bar is at mid thigh level. You are going to need lifting straps and either chalk or resin. Grip the bar tightly and explode the bar upwards while at the same time driving the hips forward. You want to achieve as much height as possible?think of trying to touch your shoulders to your ears. Hold the weight at the top position for a brief second, then lower back to the pins and repeat. Make sure that each repetition is performed from a motionless bottom position?you do not want to bounce the bar off the pins. Do a warm-up set of five, then maximum weight for 5 reps, reduce the weight by about 20lbs and perform an additional set of five.
POWER PUSH PRESS: This one is brutal and should only be attempted by those with at least close to a bodyweight overhead press. Put the pins in the power rack so that the bar is 4-6? below your starting point for a standing overhead press. Grip the bar as if you were doing a standard overhead press. Your knees should be slightly bent. Make sure that your entire body is tight and then drive the weight upwards with your arms and at the same time you use your legs to get the weight moving. Push the weight to just above your head, hold motionless for a second, then lower the weight under complete control back to your chest and then set it back on the pins. Take a deep breath or two and repeat. Start light at first, but you eventually want to reach a point where you are using your best overhead press weight for a set of six reps.
BOTTOM POSITION FRONT SQUATS: This is a front squat performed from the bottom or starting position of the squat. Perform these after you do either full squat or front squats. Put the pins at the lowest possible position that you can comfortably get under the bar to commence this movement. To make this even more difficult-place a second set of pins about 3 inches shy of the top of lockout position so that when you are performing your squats you are never able to lockout the weight which keeps constant tension on the legs.
BOTTOM POSITION TRICEP EXTENSION: Using the straight bar, perform the exercise like a normal tricep extension, but instead of coming down with the bar and going right back up to extend the triceps, bring the bar down and let it rest on the power rack bar for one full second and then take the bar up to full tricep extension. You need to maintain tension on the triceps while the bar is resting on the pins. During the entire exercise, try to pull your hands apart as if you were bending or breaking the bar in two. When you reach the point where a positive repetition is no longer possible, then simply slide the bar onto the chest and perform a narrow grip bench press, then lower the weight back to the pins.