How to Squat When You Don’t Have a Power Rack

StrongLifts 5×5 includes free weight barbell Squats 3x/week. These are key to the program since they work all your muscles from head to toe. For maximal results you must Squat often & increase the weight systematically.

But some gyms don’t have the equipment you need for Squats: the Power Rack. Or maybe you’re building a home gym and don’t have a rack yet. Here are some alternatives to Power Racks and ways to Squat without rack.

Benefits of Power Rack.
Power Racks make it easy to get the bar in the proper position for the Squat & Bench Press. They add safety and are versatile. Every gym should have a Power Rack.

  • Easier. The easiest and safest way to get a loaded barbell on your back for Squats is using the uprights of your Power Rack.
  • Safer. Power Racks have safety pins. If anything goes wrong during a Squat, you can drop the bar on these. Read this post.
  • Versatile. Tons of exercises you can do with a quality Power Rack: Dips, Pull-ups, Inverted Rows, Rack Pulls, Bench Press, Front Squats, …

Alternatives to Power Racks.
If your gym doesn’t have a Power Rack, you’ll usually encounter one of these to do your Squats in:

  • Squat Rack. Open Power Rack. Less safe since they usually don’t have safety pins (although some do, but can’t be adjusted). Example.
  • Squat Stands. Can fall over if you don’t watch what you’re doing. Don’t come with safety pins, but you can use saw horses. Example.
  • Smith Machine. Power Rack with fixed barbell. It looks safer, but isn’t. And it’s less effective than using free weights. AVOID. Example.
  • Leg Press. Same problems as the Smith Machine. Also: your pelvis can tilt back when going deep, causing lower back rounding and pain.

Why You Should Avoid The Smith Machine.
The Smith Machine looks the same as if you would do free weight Squats, but safer. It’s, however, different. Here are 3 reasons you should avoid Smith Machines:

  • Less Safe. Force your body into fixed movements patterns. This can cause knee/back injuries. And the fixed bar doesn’t prevent accidents.
  • Less Efficient. Build less strength & muscle since the Smith balances the weight. Expect Squatting less when switching to free weights .
  • Little Carry-over. Technique is different using free weights since you have to balance the weight yourself. You’ll have to relearn technique.

How to Squat When You Have No Power Rack.
The next solutions work well to give you an idea of what you get from free weight Squats. But they’ll limit your progres in the long-term. Best is to get access to a Power Rack.

  • Steinborn Lift. Lift the bar vertical, Squat under it and let the bar fall on your upper-back. Now Squat your reps. Video.
  • Power Clean. Perform a Power Clean to get the bar from the floor on your front shoulders. Now Front Squat your reps.
  • Bottom Position Squat. Put the bar on 2 saw horses. Now Squat from the bottom up. This is a lot harder, expect to lift less.

Limitations of The Steinborn Lift.
Named after Henry “Milo” Steinborn who was Squatting 550lbs for reps in the 1920s. The Steinborn Lift will strengthen your abs. But it’s an advanced exercise with limitations.

  • Less Safe. You have to know what you’re doing when picking up the bar and returning it to the floor since you don’t have safety pins.
  • Less Strength. You’ll struggle increasing your Squat to more than 1x your body-weight since the Steinborn Lift pre-exhausts your Squat.
  • Compromised Technique. Getting the bar in proper position on your back gets even more tricky when you have to do a Steinborn Lift first.

Limitations of The Power Clean.
The biggest problem here is that you’re doing Front Squats instead of Back Squats. I recommend you to do the Steinborn Lift instead of Power Cleans. 3 reasons not to Power Clean + Front Squat:

  • No Back Squats. Most people are quad dominant. They need posterior chain emphasis from Back Squats to restore balance (think knee health).
  • Less Strength. Your Power Clean will limit your Front Squat. Hard to get past 1x your body-weight. You’ll stall on Power Cleans first.
  • Less Safe. You don’t have safety pins in case you get stuck. This also limits strength since you can’t go all out without taking risks.

The Long-term Solution.
Use the Steinborn Lift if you don’t have a Power Rack. You’ll be able to progress for 2-3 months before things get hard. Your progress should motivate you to find ways to keep going. Ideas:

  • Switch Gym. There are gyms out there who have Power Racks. Find one. Check out the gym guide in the forum for ideas.
  • Buy a Power Rack. Build a home gym if you got the place. You’ll get your money back within 3 years. Example racks: link, link, link.
  • Build a Power Rack. Can be cheaper. Read this, this & this guides on building a Power Rack. Also these threads in the forum: link, link, link.

Last time: find access to a Power Rack. Smith Machine won’t work. Steinborn Lift only works for a while. If you want to get maximal results, the Power Rack is the only solution. Don’t waste your time on this.

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