Ultimately you want to ensure you're buying the right rack (unless you have the space and money to buy both) before you decide which brand or model. Read through our quick guide below to give you the arguments for each so you can make an informed choice. We've also provided some links to our most popular models.
In case you were to fall backward or fall forward during your set then a power rack is safer to use. To prevent injury, the four uprights stop the barbell from leaving the rack. Further, were you to drop a bar on the safety bars, as they are enclosed in the power rack, they stop the whole rack from tipping over.
In comparison, whilst a half rack may catch the bar, the force of the bar may be great enough to lead to the whole rack to flip. Thus, in terms of safety, it is clear that although a half rack can be made safer in differing ways, fundamentally a power rack is safer. Moreover, particularly beginner lifters, who may not necessarily have the squat movement down should use a power rack. This is a smart choice because should they lose their balance, they may have to let go of the bar whilst losing control which may result in injury. It is also recommended that beginners don’t use running shoes as the padded sole does not help with stability.
This is a major reason to use a half rack, particularly with the popular CrossFit programme.
When we refer to Olympic lifts, we mean the snatch and clean-and-jerk, along with variation exercises such as complexes and front squats. The popularity of these exercises has been massively increased by the introduction of CrossFit. The half rack enables you to choose to do warmup exercise such as front squats off the rack, to then take a few steps back and perform a set of cleans off the floor without the rack being in the way dangerously.
In comparison to a simple barbell back squat, Olympic lifting requires more coordination and balance. In order to build conditioning and strength as well as to practise the movement for safety purposes, athletes perform lots of reps at a light weight. This also allows them to get it down pat before they move up to heavier weights. An Olympic lift relies heavily on technique and is a dynamic, quick movement. To stay safe, athletes know to dump the bar. This essentially comes down to training philosophy; to some, training does not only help them to build strength, but allows them to learn how to handle themselves in dynamic situations when they don’t have the reliance of safety bars to save them. It is important to be able to push ourselves, but also prevent injury. Thus, risk assessment is vital, we need to know if it is viable to attempt a new weight whilst also being able to dump it safely should we fail the rep. In our minds, we need to be aware if we are going to dump it backward or forward. Safely controlling a heavy weight from the ground to overhead is more easily accomplished by being a few steps away from the rack, allowing us to rely on ourselves to accomplish this.
A half rack is cheaper to make and ship because it has fewer frame parts. Yet, good half racks can also be more expensive than some power racks as they need to be designed and made strong enough to remain stable in spite of having a lighter or smaller frame than a power rack.
The standard ceiling height of residential units are 8ft. Due to this, a lot of racks are made to approximately 81″ high in order to allow them to both fit within the unit but also to provide the option to complete pull ups without the risk of the user banging their head on the ceiling. This is also the right height for racks to be able to fit in a lot of basements without having to make problematic cuts into the ceiling struts. However, although this height is adequate for most exercises, anyone reaching 6ft and wanting to do standing overhead presses will face the bar smacking right into the frame at this height. If the ceiling isn’t an issue, then taller power racks can be used but these tend to not be as common and thus more expensive. As a result, the better solution is to use a half rack as you will be pressing outside of the rack anyway, thereby bypassing the problem of a power rack.
Because you are always outside of the rack, a half rack offers more flexibility to perform exercises outside of the rack such as Olympic lifts or overhead presses. Even just switching the bar out is easier with a half rack.
A power rack requires you to unload the bar first completely and then manoeuvre it carefully around between the uprights to set it inside. In contrast, with a half rack you have the freedom to clean the bar to your shoulders, finish the set of standing rows outside of the rack and also set the bar on the rack ready to perform a set of squats.
Finally, although technically the half rack footprint is generally the same as that of a power rack, in a tight space a half rack provides more room in which to move around and to step over the feet. Essentially, it gives enough room to make a difference. This is vital to consider especially in home gyms which may have limited space to make the most of.