If you’re a gym regular, you’d likely agree that the half rack is the crown jewel of the gym. As a squat, military press, and bench press all in one, the half rack has tremendous potential to propel you to your fitness goals.  
We’re introducing our series of half rack beginner’s guides to help you take advantage of all the half rack has to offer. In this blog, we’ll give you a step-by-step guide to one of the most effective workouts on the half rack—the barbell back squat.  
Squats can be performed with your body weight, dumbbells, and kettlebells, but using a barbell and a half rack is the best method for developing absolute strength. While all squats primarily target the biggest muscle in your body (your glutes), barbell squats require stability and engage your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, calves, and lower back. In addition, barbell squats offer long term progression since you can continue to add weight on the barbell as your strength improves.  

Once you master the barbell back squat, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish in the gym. Beyond strengthening nearly every muscle in the lower body, barbell back squats improve body composition, increase reduce injury, improve bone density, improve tissue integrity, and promote positive health responses. 

Ready to get started?


Setting Up the Half Rack for Barbell Back Squats

Like most things in fitness, preparation is key to your success on half rack back squats. To begin, set-up the J-Cups at a height so there's about 1-2 inches clearance from your shoulder/trap area. You should be able to freely walk into the barbell seating of J-Cups.  
Next, you’ll have to adjust the safety bars so that they are positioned low enough to complete a full squat, but high enough so you have can place the barbell on the rack if you’re unable to complete a rep. How low you choose to squat varies from person to person, so try performing your squat with no weight attached first to ensure the safety bars are set up correctly. 
Next, load the barbell with the appropriate weight for your experience level. Once you’ve selected your weight, ensure the weight plates are secured with collars and double-check the weight easily distributed on each end before starting.  

For maximum safety, you should consider having a gym buddy spot you while you perform the exercise.  

Once that’s all sorted, you’re ready to squat!


Your Step-By-Step Guide to the Perfect Barbell Back Squat


Step 1: Get Comfortable


After placing yourself under the barbell, allow the bar to rest comfortably on the dense part of your trapezius muscles, across the top of your shoulder blades. Then, pull the barbell into your body to create tension. Once you feel comfortable, brace and unrack the barbell and take several small steps back. Finally, take up a stable stance by adjusting your feet to about shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing about five to ten degrees out.  


Step 2: Control Your Movement

Begin your squat by “bracing,” where you prepare yourself for the movement by engaging and activating your core muscles for stability. Then, begin a controlled descent, allowing your hips to open before slightly shifting them backward. As you conduct the movement, your knees should move forward and track over your toes.  For proper form, look forward and keep your chest upright throughout the movement.  


Step 3: Drive Up

After reaching your full squat, ascend back up by pushing the floor away through midfoot and heels to return to a standing position. As you move up, emphasize the contraction of your glutes and core. 


Step 4: Succeed and Repeat

After each full movement, take a deep breath to maintain tension and re-brace your core. After you complete your desired number of reps, place the barbell on the J-Cups that are attached to the half rack.

After familiarizing yourself with these steps, you’ll be ready to master the barbell back squat using the half rack. For extra peace of mind, do a dry run with little to no weight and find yourself a spotter.  


Full Lower-Body Workout: Other Exercises to Add

While the half rack will help you break a sweat, there’s plenty of other exercises you can add to go all-in on your lower-body workout. Here are a few options we recommend:  

1. Hip Thrusts

This essential exercise targets your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles to help stabilize your movements throughout the day. Hip thrusts can be performed with your own weight or a machine for greater resistance. 

Adding hip thrusts to your workout can improve your posture and reduce your risk of lower back and knee injuries.

To learn more about hip thrusts, check out our beginner’s guide


2. Deadlifts

Deadlifts are another killer workout that encompasses a wide range of muscle groups, including quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and traps.

Like the barbell back squat, deadlifts can help prevent injury, improve your posture, and even correct muscle imbalances.

While deadlifts are more commonly performed with a barbell, Trap Bar Deadlifts are a particularly useful exercise for those with back pain. The trap bar stabilizes your movement and minimizes the strain placed on the back while still targeting all the same muscles as traditional deadlifts.  


3. Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)

Romanian Deadlifts, often referred to as RDLs, primarily target the hamstrings, along with your glutes and back muscles.

RDLs are proven to improve your hip mobility and flexibility, a major factor in boosting athletic performance and preventing injuries. As a result, RDLs are a great workout regardless of your skill or experience level.  



Add Barbell Back Squats to Your Routine!

Now, you’re ready to take on the half rack with confidence. And you’re in luck, because another brand new, state-of-the-art half rack was just introduced at our Upper East Side fitness center
If you’d like more support, you can also book a session with one of our nationally accredited personal trainers, who would be delighted to work with you to ensure your safety and success on the half rack. Plus, they’ll collaborate with you on putting together a personalized routine to help you reach all your fitness goals. 

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Stay tuned for more how-to's on half rack exercises to complete your full-body workout routine.