Rack ’Em Up
If you have a power rack, a barbell and weights, you have no excuse not to have a great physique and strength levels to match.
By Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS
If you don’t have a spotter or reliable training partner you’re probably not pushing your sets anywhere close to failure or lifting heavy enough to catalyze serious gains in size and strength.
Turns out, a lack of training partners doesn’t have to mean a lack of results. You can push sets to the max, practice progressive overloads and perform virtually any strength-building barbell movement in the power rack!
Fail with a weight? No big deal because the pins are your built-in spotters and will allow you to flee to safety.
Nearly all gyms have power racks. If a gym doesn’t have one, leave, because this week we’re going to build some serious size and strength in the power rack. Go to the gym, park your ass in the power rack and don’t leave until this workout is complete. This may not be the best way to win friends and influence people but it is very effective for getting stronger.
Time to hit the pig iron!
Setup: Stand erect holding a bar across your upper back with your feet about shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and your toes turned out slightly.
Execution: Keeping your head neutral, abs tight and torso erect, bend at the knees and hips to slowly lower your body as if you were going to sit down in a chair. Pause when your legs reach at least a 90-degree angle, then forcefully drive through your heels, extending at your hips and knees until you’re standing again.
Notes: Full squats play an important role in the workouts of virtually all iron game athletes who possess serious size and strength. Full range of motion is the name game. Make sure every squat breaks parallel. Each set should be with limit poundage but not to all-out failure, stopping one rep of shy of true failure. Rest 3–4 minutes between sets.
Setup: Set the barbell on a rack that matches your height. Load the bar, and bring your arms underneath it, while keeping elbows high and your upper arms slightly above parallel to the floor. Rest the bar on top of your delts and cross your arms to hold the bar under control. Lift the bar off the rack by pushing with your legs while you straighten your torso. Step away from the rack and stand with a shoulder-width stance, toes slightly pointed out. Keep your head up at all times as looking down will get you off balance and also maintain a straight back. This is your start position.
Execution: Inhale and slowly bend your knees and descend your hips until thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your chest lifted and head up. Pause at the bottom of the squat and then quickly drive hips back to starting position. Your heels stay grounded throughout the exercise.
Notes: Front squats are a great tool to teach squatting with an upright posture. Many prominent strength coaches feel this squatting variation has the best transfer of training to sports, and bodybuilders love this movement because it is more quad dominant than a back squat. It’s all about full range of motion. Make sure every front squat breaks parallel. Each set should be with limit poundage but not to all-out failure, stopping one rep of shy of true failure. Rest 3–4 minutes between sets.
Half Dead Squats
Setup: Set the barbell on the pins in what would be a half squat position. Load the bar and bring your arms underneath it. Start in a half squat position underneath the bar, resting it across your upper back with your feet about shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and your toes turned out slightly.
Execution: Keeping your head neutral, abs tight and torso erect, forcefully drive through your heels, extending at your hips and knees until you’re standing, then return to the start position.
Notes: This is a concentric only or “bottom up” squat. Half Dead Squats are an excellent way to handle overload supramximal weights. If you can do 400 here, next time you squat 300, it won’t feel so heavy. This builds starting strength because of the removal of the negative portion of the lift that allows lifters to store elastic-like energy that aids them in lifting the weight up. Because of the reduced range of motion, heavier weights can be handled. Use progressively heavy weight for each single repetition ending with a one-rep max. Rest 2–3 minutes between sets.
Setup: Place a barbell across your upper traps and set your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the bar firmly, with knees slightly bent, chest out, and eyes ahead. Begin by pushing your glutes back and bending forward at the hips.
Execution: Keeping your back flat throughout, descend until your torso is parallel with the floor. Pause momentarily at the bottom, then contract your lower back, glutes and hamstrings to raise your torso back to the start position.
Notes: Perform good mornings with great form. If this becomes an ego lift, not only will you rob the hamstrings of the work you’re after, but you’ll get hurt. We need to include good mornings to balance strength and symmetry. Don’t round your back, and make sure your core is braced and tight. Perform this movement with a slight bend in the knee, go until your torso is parallel to the floor, and if you lack mobility, stop before you round. Go as heavy possible keeping great technique. Rest 1–2 minutes between sets.
Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. You can place your hands behind your head. This will be your starting position.
Execution: Flexing your knees and hips, sit back with your hips. Continue down to full depth if you are able, and quickly reverse the motion until you return to the start position. As you squat, keep your head and chest up and push your knees out.
Notes: Bodyweight squats are a fantastic finisher to torch the quads. Bodyweight squats force you to sit straight down rather than back like a power squat, providing the quads with a huge overload. Perform as many repetitions as possible in 90 seconds for one set, using a full range of motion.
Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS, trains some of the strongest and most muscular athletes in the world at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and via the Internet. He is the co-author of Amazon #1 selling book, Jailhouse Strong. To learn more about Josh Bryant or to sign up for his free training tips newsletter, visit www.JoshStrength.com