Use the Power Rack to Power Up Your Strength
The world’s strongest bodybuilder explains how this underrated piece of equipment can safely boost gains on all your big lifts
By Johnnie Jackson, IFBB Pro
[Q] Johnnie, what’s the point of using the power rack?
[A] The main reason is safety. With the weight used during heavy workouts, having an extra element of safety built in is nice. You can use the pins to “catch” the weight if you miss a lift without having the weight fall on you. Another use is to check your range of motion on some lifts, like setting the pins at the bottom of your squat, or for partials.
[Q] How can I use the power rack to bring up my bench?
[A] That’s easy. Do partial bench presses. It’s almost like doing floor presses, which I love, but with a bit more safety. To do it right, set the pins in position so that the bar rests at the midway point of your normal press. Pressing from here up lets you improve your strength at a point above your sticking point, allowing you to go heavier than your max weight for a full-range rep. Personally, I think you can go as much as 30% more than your 1RM from this position because you’re stronger, then adjust if you need to later. Hey, if you get stuck, you don’t have to worry about the bar crushing you, but having a spotter never hurts.
[Q] I always set the pins at the bottom of the squat in case I fail, but a guy at the gym says I could also set the pins higher and train heavier. What do you think of this idea?
[A] Once in a while you should train the top half of the squat. Although you may have good power out of the hole as a result of elastic energy when you reverse direction at the bottom, that doesn’t negate the fact that you’re stronger over the top half of the lift. Normally the weight you choose is determined by your weakest area, not your strongest. So set the safeties above the sticking point, add some plates and train heavier than you normally would. Your quads are going to love you for it.
[Q] How often should I try performing partial deadlifts in a rack? And how do I know where to set the pins?
[A] Good question. A lot of people like to do rack pulls (partial deadlifts), but they don’t understand the pin placement. The bar should be just over your knees so that you work the top half of the exercise. When you reach forward to the bar from this position, your butt, hamstrings and hips are already engaged, so you can increase your strength and power coming to vertical. Your thighs should be touching the bar the whole way. The farther from you the bar is, the more strenuous the lift. This technique keeps you more biomechanically correct. People who don’t understand the benefits of this principle think going through such a small range of motion is a copout, but they have no idea. What’s important for you is to know you’re working what you need to work. I’ll deadlift for two weeks, then the third week do rack pulls. They’re good for adding shape and muscle quality to your glute-ham tie-in and your Christmas tree, but their main purpose is to add strength.
RACKING UP GAINS
To continue benefiting from partials, keep adjusting the pins to less advantageous positions from workout to workout. For example, if your 1RM on the bench is 300 and you’re rack-pressing 320 from the midway point this week, try moving the pins down one notch the next time you do partials with the same weight to continue gaining strength through a larger range of motion.