10 Essential Squat Rack Exercises for Muscle Building

Squat rack exercises were once only tailored to build lower body muscle groups. Innovative designs and some creative thinking to build strength in other areas led to great exercises and full-body workouts. With the right squat rack and training regimen, everyday people can improve their physique. These are 10 essential squat rack exercises to build muscle in the gym. 

1: The Squat: The Foundation of All Squat Rack Exercises 

The benefits of performing the barbell squat far exceed building thigh muscles. This core strength exercise requires almost every muscle in your body to participate at some level, making it a go-to exercise for many personal trainers. Adding strength to the lower back, abdomen, hip flexors, and shoulders, squatting delivers an almost total body workout. 

How to Perform a Squat on the Rack 

A good starting squat position involves dipping your head under the bar resting on the power rack. Find a comfortable and balanced position across the top of your shoulders, below the nape of your neck. Place your feet firmly and squarely, and then lift the barbell loaded with weight plates off the squat racks. 

Step back, feet aligned at approximately hip-width. Dip your legs without hunching forward too much. A half squat is when your things are at a 90-degree angle with your knees and calves. A full, competition-level squat goes slightly deeper. Once you reach the desired depth, stand straight up, and repeat the rep. It’s a great exercise and typically best for beginners to start with half squats. 

Common Squat Mistakes and How to Correct Them 

There are several correctable mistakes squatters make. These include using too much weight, not achieving a minimum of a half-squat, leaning too far forward, and angling the knees too far forward. One of the best ways to avoid these mistakes is to use relatively light weights and practice proper form. 

2: The Deadlift 

Although this movement is traditionally performed by lifting a barbell directly from the ground level, deadlifting from a squat rack has some advantages. It allows beginner and intermediate strength training buffs to avoid completely arching over, sometimes causing a lower back injury. You may also notice the powerlifters at your local gym supplement squat rack deadlifts into their exercise routine. 

deadlift squat exercise in gym

How to Perform a Deadlift Using the Rack 

Set an appropriate bar height. Add manageable weight plates that allow you to perform 8–10 reps. Use an overhand grip with one palm and an underhand grip with the other. Bend your knees and pull the barbell in a steady motion until you are upright. Return the barbell to its original start position in a fluid motion and repeat. 

Common Deadlift Mistakes and How to Correct Them 

Like squatting exercises, fitness buffs sometimes become overzealous and put too many weight plates on the bar, resulting in lower back strain. Other correctable errors include using only an overhand grip and failing to bend your knees. By correcting the issues, you can develop robust lower back and trapezius muscle strength. 

3: Pullups 

Performing pullups as a squat rack exercise to build the upper back muscles requires a sturdy and accommodating product. When done correctly, this movement can create broad, sweeping latissimus dorsi muscles, aka “lats.” It also affects the biceps, forearms, and trapezius muscle groups as well. 

How to Perform Pullups 

Secure a barbell on the squat rack that gives you enough room to perform pull-ups without touching the ground. It’s okay if you need to bend your knees while doing reps. Use two overhand grips and pull your body up until your chin passes the bar. Then, lower yourself to the lowest possible point and repeat. 

Common Pull-up Mistakes and How to Correct Them 

A properly orchestrated pullup workout relies heavily on good form. Be careful to lead with your upper chest and not your chin. Avoid taking an overly narrow grip. A comfortable overhand pull-up grip should be around shoulder width. And never allow your body to drop too quickly. Maintaining control will help you avoid a muscle pull or shoulder injury. 

4: Overhead Shoulder Press 

The overhead shoulder press is a darling for those who want to add muscle to their upper pectorals, deltoids, and triceps. By using proper form, your sweat equity can lead to broad shoulders and a V-shaped physique. 

How to Perform an Overhead Press in the Rack 

Place the barbells on the squat rack at shoulder height, just below the point where your collarbones meet. Using an open-hand, shoulder-width grip, dip slightly under the bar. Secure your feet evenly and lift the bar off the squat rack. If necessary, take a step back and reposition yourself. Then, press the bar overhead and back down to your upper chest. Consider starting with a light weight to get your form down. 

Common Overhead Press Mistakes and How to Correct Them 

Avoidable shoulder press faux pas include arching too far backward and straining the lower back muscles. It’s also prudent to use the open grip, also called a “false grip,” rather than use your thumbs to bear some weight. 

5: Barbell Lunges 

Barbell lunges are something of a throwback squat rack exercise used to build the quadriceps, hamstrings, and tone the gluteus maximus. Using a relatively light weight and performing high repetitions can elevate the heart rate and benefit the cardiovascular system. 

barbell lunge squat rack exercise

How to Perform Barbell Lunges in the Rack 

The starting position for a barbell lunge mirrors that of the standard squat. The key difference is that lunges are a lightweight squat rack exercise that requires room to move about. You’ll need to take a few steps backward. Then, step forward with one leg while the other knee gently touches the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat by putting the alternate leg forward. 

Common Barbell Lunges Mistakes and How to Correct Them 

The most common barbell lunge mistake starts with using too much weight. When overburdened, weight trainers tend to shorten their steps and push the rear leg backward, so the knee can reach the floor. Always use a relatively light weight and extend so the forward leg can create a 90-degree angle with the knee at the hinge point. 

6: Barbell Rows Using a Squat Rack 

Doing barbell rows using a squat rack is an excellent way to avoid lower back strains and hamstring pulls. Traditionally, barbell rows were performed by loading a bar with weight plates at ground level. By using good form when performing barbell rows off a squat rack, you can effectively work the lats, middle and lower trapezius, as well as the rhomboids and the posterior deltoids. 

How to Perform Barbell Rows in the Rack 

Like doing deadlifts on the squat rack, set the bar at a position where it won’t make contact at the low point of the lift. Using overhand grips, secure the iron, bend your knees, and stand up with the bar. With your knees slightly bent, lean over, so the weight hangs downward. Pull it into your lower abdominal region and repeat. 

Common Barbell Rows Mistakes and How to Correct Them 

There are two critical mistakes people make when introduced to the bent-over row. The first is failing to bend the knees. This places an inordinate strain on the lower back muscles. The second is not supplementing with wrist straps as you build strength. Using wrist straps allows you to surpass the grip ability of your forearms, in many cases. 

7: Bench Press Using a Squat Rack 

Doing flat bench presses as a squat rack exercise helps build pectoral girth and strength. Using the power rack also allows workout warriors to sidestep common pec, shoulder, and elbow strains. 

How to Perform a Bench Press with the Rack 

Set the bar high enough that you can slide a flat bench under it with ample room for you as well. The bar should just touch your chest at its lowest point. It’s also feasible to set the bar higher to perform a three-quarter and half-rep press variation. Squat rack users can also build triceps strength by doing close-grip bench press exercises. 

You may notice powerlifters using this strategy to improve their barbell bench press lockout power. Slide under the bar, place your hands at a comfortable shoulder width and push upward. Bring the bar down just shy of touching the squat rack supports and push upward again. 

Common Bench Press Mistakes and How to Correct Them 

The two most common bench mistakes involve not placing your feet firmly on the ground and arching the lower back. Loose feet tend to slip and throw off your balance when pushing through a tough rep. The second also occurs when straining to complete the final reps in a set. This type of poor form may result in a shoulder strain or pulled pectoral muscle. Always lock in your entire body when doing bench presses on a squat rack. 

8. Dips

Dips are a great exercise for developing the lower chest and giving the pectorals shape and lift. This easily orchestrated squat rack exercise also benefits the triceps and frontal deltoids. 

How to Perform Dips With the Rack 

Set your squat racks close together enough to be at or about shoulder width. You’ll want the crossbars high enough to dip down without your feet touching the ground. Using a flat bench or sturdy item to stand on, place your hands on the bars and remove your weight from the support. Lean forward slightly as you dip your torso and bend your elbows. Once you reach the lowest comfortable point, push upward and repeat. 

Common Dips Mistakes and How to Correct Them 

Aside from doing the motion too quickly, some gym-goers confuse the difference between a chest and triceps dip. If you want to create a well-rounded chest, it’s important to lean forward and feel the tension on your pecs. If you want to emphasize your triceps, straighten your torso, and transfer the tension to your triceps. Advanced weightlifters sometimes do dips at the end of push-day to hit the chest, shoulders, and triceps as compound exercises. 

9. Lat Pulldowns

Doing lat pulldowns as a squat rack exercise requires accessories. DIYers may use a pulley and secure it at the top of the squat rack. When going this route, it’s critical to make sure the power rack has been secured in place and can handle the torque created by lat pulldowns. There are also manufactured accessories available designed to widen the number of possible squat rack exercises. This exercise helps build overall back, biceps, and forearm grip strength. 

How to Perform a Lat Pulldown with the Rack 

Secure a lat-pull bar to the cable connected to the weight plates. Use a firm overhand grip to grab hold of the bar and place your knees under a support pad or appropriate accessory. Pull the bar to your upper chest while arching back slightly and repeat. 

Common Lat Pulldown Mistakes and How to Correct Them 

The top two errors made when performing lat pulldowns inhibit muscular development. The first involves jerking the weight down using the lower back muscles instead of the upper back muscles. This defeats the goal of focusing up the lats and upper middle back. The second involves not leaning backward enough and pulling the bar to the chin instead of below shoulder level. By using proper form and pulling the bar steadily to the upper chest, you’ll make better gains. 

10: Hip Lifts 

Hip lifts on squat racks are a hot-trending exercise designed to tighten the glutes. To maximize the benefits and ensure safety, squat racks are necessary. 

How to Perform Hip Lifts 

Place the barbell at a low height so that you can scooch under it. Position the bar just below the hip joint on the upper thighs. Using shoulder-width feet positioning and your back on a bench or secure item, slowly thrust your hips upward and squeeze those glutes. 

Common Hip Lift Mistakes and How to Correct Them 

Perhaps the most common hip lift mistake involves poor foot placement. Outstretched feet tend to minimize the positive effects of hip lifts. Feet too close to the torso puts unnecessary strain on your knees. When performing hip lifts on a squat rack, your knees should be at a 90-degree angle at the exercise’s highest point. 

Safety Tips When Using a Squat Rack 

If there are three essential safety features needed when performing squat rack exercises, they are spotters, safety pins, and straps. It’s also important to warm up, and always use proper form when working out. 

Squat Rack vs. Smith Machine: Which is Better? 

It would not be fair to say that a Smith machine or squat racks was better, per se. They are similar types of exercise equipment that help people achieve different goals. If you require a controlled lift due to injury or physical restriction, a Smith machine may be suitable for you. But if you want to pack on muscle with free weights, squat racks provide safety, support, and an opportunity to expand your exercise routine. 

racks at the gym

Making the Most Out of Your Squat Rack Exercises 

Squat racks exercises are a mainstay in gyms all over the world for good reason. They help beginner, intermediate, and advanced weightlifters expand their exercise options and build muscle safely.  

Find a Chicago Athletic Club location closest to you to get started with these exercises. As a CAC member, you’ll also get access to tons of weekly classes, yoga, Pilates, swimming pools, personal training, and more. Join today.