Remember when you first started training and you used to be stronger at every workout? I do. I remember thinking that at the rate I was going, I would be bench pressing 500lbs and squatting a 1000lbs in no time. Ah, the foolishness of youth. To my surprise, my progress came to a screeching halt after six months. I had to get creative and of course work much harder to keep the wheel of progress turning. Regardless, I still developed some weak links in many exercises and after doing some research, realized that the power rack that most gyms do not have was the key that I was looking for.
You know what a power rack is. Most gyms have at least one and when it is not being used as a coat hanger, there are a few teenagers that like to use the power rack to do twenty sets of bicep curls with an empty barbell. Fortunately for serious trainees like us, there are much better uses for the power rack. There are two really good reasons why you should make the power rack an integral part of your training arsenal.
First and most importantly, a power rack allows a trainee to train alone safely. For example, if you wanted to bench press in a power rack you could set the safety bars just above your chest and not have to worry about getting flattened like a pancake if you miss a rep. Same thing for barbell squats. Just position the safety bars at the dept that you want squat to and now you can do worry free barbell squats. If you get pinned, just fall forward and crawl out. Of course, ideally you will have a spotter at all times.
However, many of us train at home alone and the power rack is the next best thing. Actually, considering some of the idiots that have spotted me in the gym over the past few years, I will take my chances with a high quality power rack any day of the week.
Second, a power rack allows you to target various ranges of motion to target weak links. For example, lets say that your weak link is in the bottom position of the squat. You have a really hard time driving out of the hole which is holding you back from increasing the poundage and hampering gains in muscle mass. No problem, with a power rack, you can put the safety bars at the bottom position of the squat and start the movement from there. Most likely, you will find this awkward and difficult in the beginning. However stick with it and you will blow your weak link out of the water. Do not make the mistake of avoiding weaknesses. Attack them with full intensity and make your chain strong. Lets use the Military press for another example of how the power rack can be used to blast through plateaus. Say that your weak link is right at the above the nose when pressing. You can drive the bar off of your chest, but always get stuck at nose level when using heavy weights. You could try doing push presses and then doing slow negatives.
This is an effective method that has worked well for many people. However, a more direct attack would be to position the safety bars at nose level and initiate the lift from there. Of course, you will have to leave your ego at the door, as you will be shocked at how weak you are in that position. I once knew a guy that could bench press 400lbs but could not move 350lbs from the halfway position of the bench press in a power rack. This guy was bouncing the bar off of his chest when doing full range bench presses and the momentum allowed him to get past the sticking point. As far as I know, he never worked on his weak links and probably never improved his bench press. Do not make the mistake of being too proud. Admit your weaknesses and then engage them head on. The power rack can be used to improve virtually all compound exercises such as: deadlifts, squats, bench presses, and overhead presses. You can even use it to increase curling strength, but keep it to yourself if you plan on using a power rack for that.
Getting Started Sample Program To Use With Power Rack Training:
Monday and Friday
- A-1 Military Presses 3x5
- A-2 Weighted Chin-ups 3x5
I like to work muscles groups using antagonistic pairs. With military presses, find a range in the power rack that is your weak link and do three sets of five from that position. Do one set of presses, wait two minutes, do a set of chin-ups, wait two minutes, and so forth until you have done three sets of both exercises.
Turkish Get-ups with a dumbbell or kettlebell 3x5 (This is a great exercise for the core. Lie on the floor and press a dumbbell with one arm to full extension. Turn slightly to the opposite direction and drive forward with the assistance of the non-working arm. From there get into the bottom position of an overhead squat and stand up. Make sure to keep the dumbbell locked at all times. Reverse the movement and do another rep. After you have done three reps, switch arms. In addition, to being a great exercise for the core, the TGU will increase shoulder flexibility)
Wednesday and Saturday
- A-1 Barbell Squats 3x5 (find a range that is your weak link and work on that area in the power rack)
- A-2 One arm dumbbell or Kettlebell swings 3x5 (Using a stiff legged deadlift position, swing a dumbbell between your legs and immediately reverse the direction.
Drive through with your hip flexors as fast as possible and swing the dumbbell to head height. Let the dumbbell swing back rapidly between your legs and do another rep. Make sure to contract your abs as the dumbbell sings between your legs for added stability. In addition to being a great full body conditioner, swings, really work the hell out of your hamstrings and make a great compliment to squats)
Again, work both of these exercises as antagonistic pairs. Do a set of barbell squats, rest two minutes, do a set of swings, and so forth until you have done three sets of both exercises.
Try this program for three weeks and then test your full range strength on presses and squats. I think that you will be delighted with the results. After doing full range for a couple of weeks, try working another specific range in the power rack. Also, you could try some other exercises such as bench presses and deadlifts. The possibilities are endless so get to know the power rack and get to know increases in strength and size.
About The Author
Mike Mahler is a strength coach and a certified kettlebell instructor based in Santa Monica, California. Mike has been a strength athlete for over ten years and designs strength training programs for trainees all around the world. Mike is also available for strength training workshops worldwide. For more information and rates, visit Mike's site at www.mikemahler.com.