Can I Squat without a Squat Rack?

Posted on 14 Dec 2011 16:44

Why should you use a squat rack, or "power rack", or cage to perform squats? There are two main reasons: First, squat racks and cages comes with safety pins or cross bars that are adjustable to heights in order to catch the bar when you fail during a lift. With these safety catches, sometimes called "spotters", you can safely discard the bar and not without getting stuck underneath it because you cannot lift it off of your shoulders; an extremely dangerous situation.

The second reason is the reason squat racks were invented in the first place. The bar can be set at a height that lets the lifter to get underneath the bar and set it on his or her shoulders without having to actually lift the bar from the floor to shoulder height. This makes sense because most the squatting ability of most strength trainees will quickly surpass the weight that they are able to lift from the floor to the shoulders.

Some "purists" consider squat racks to be cheating. They say that one should not squat a weight that one is not able to clean and overhead press or jerk. This view is based on the concept that true strength requires one to lift without any helpful devices like squat racks. These types of viewpoints have nothing to do with the reality of building muscular strength, but instead are personal value judgements. There is no technical reason for holing such a view.

To be fair, however, most do not agree with such puritanical attitudes and consider such statements to be simple sophistry. Squatting is a maximal strength exercise. Your maximal squatting strength will always outstrip your maximal clean and jerk lift. Even an absolute beginner can squat more weight than he or she can safely press overhead. To limit the weight on your squat bar to only so much as you can clean to your shoulders and then jerk or press overhead makes no sense, unless you are not interested in developing maximal strength as opposed to power, as in Olympic lifts like the clean and jerk.



Still, if you do not have a squat rack or a training partner, you will have to content yourself with only the amount of weight that get to your shoulders from the floor. For this, the Olympic clean and jerk (or clean to press) is the safest method. You may be tempted not to bother learning the proper way to do this. Instead of using the clean, you might just use "brute force" to get the bar to the shoulder whichever way you can, which means shoulders will probably bear the brunt of the burden. This practice is dangerous and may result in shoulder injury. Sure, it may be alright at first but it will not be a viable option for long as the weight will grow way too heavy in short order, quickly causing this method to fail. You might then decide you would have been better off learning to properly clean the bar in the first place, allowing a longer progression period before the squatting weight required became too heavy.

Therefore, if you want to train the squat without a squat rack, but you do not necessarily want to do the Olympic lifts, it's still a good idea to become somewhat proficient so that you can safely clean the bar to the shoulders. The front squat only requires the bar to be cleaned to the shoulders and then "racked", at which point it is in the proper squatting position. So start with the front squat. The front squat is always a safer lift than the back squat for those without spotters.

You can add the back squat later if the Jerk lift is practiced. But remember that will require you lower the bar from overhead to behind the neck. Lowering heavy weights behind the neck, an eccentric action, can be potentially harmful to the shoulder joint, especially true for those with unconditioned shoulders. Previous overhead pressing activities can help to ready the shoulders for this duty but there is still some risk involved since the jerk can allow you to raise more weight than you can necessarily lower under control. Therefore, there is a case for using the overhead press instead of the jerk to raise the bar overhead but most will have to resort to the push press after a short period, and then on perhaps to unsafe cheating movements. Clearly, performing the back squat without a rack is not a long-term solution and may just be an accident waiting to happen. Performing the back squat alone and without safety catches is never a good scenario and sometimes sudden technical failure can occur even with relatively light weights. So always take this exercise seriously.

Now, just because you can get a heavy bar to the back of your shoulders does not guarantee that you can safely "dump" the bar. The front squat, therefore, as stated above, is always the safest alternative of the two for those who train alone without a rack or power cage.


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This page created 14 Dec 2011 16:44
Last updated 19 Jul 2016 21:49

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