Home Blog How to Train Harder and Smarter Without a Power Rack

How to Train Harder and Smarter Without a Power Rack

Written on October 5, 2012 at 6:14 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: Unfortunately, my gym doesn't have a power rack.  I don't want my strength training program to completely fall to pieces without it.  Any ideas?

A: First off, in most cases, you have the option of finding a new gym - even if it just means driving a bit further and buying a day pass for the day of the week that you'd need a power rack for one or more of your strength exercises.  Of course, all this additional planning can throw you for a loop if you've already got a busy schedule.

Luckily, this is something we addressed in the "Exercise Modifications" chapter of Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, so there's no need for me to reinvent the wheel!

This is a common limitation that is surprisingly easy to work around in your training. To be honest, the only components you’ll miss are squatting, barbell overhead pressing (and push presses), and barbell incline pressing (this, of course, assumes that you have a flat bench press set-up).

You might also be surprised to know that we actually have quite a few athletes who we don’t allow to squat because of functional (e.g., poor thoracic spine mobility, short hip flexors) or structural (e.g., rigid ankle anatomy, femoroacetabular impingement) mobility limitations.  These athletes rely predominantly on extra deadlifting variations and plenty of extra single-leg work. My personal favorites for replacing squatting variations are barbell lunge and split-squat variations because they provide the benefits of axial loading.  If you're strong enough to clean the weight up and get it into position, you can do these for higher reps and get a good training effect.

Unfortunately, without a power rack in place, it's tough to set up for these single-leg variations.  Fortunately,  you can also use variations where dumbbells are held at the sides and still get appreciable loading.  Heavy sled pushes can also provide variety, if you have access to the appropriate equipment; the only downside is that you don't get much of an eccentric stress challenge.

So, a "typical" lower body training session for someone with no power rack might include sumo deadlifts, walking dumbbell lunges, and barbell supine bridges.  Even if you aren't squatting, you're still getting a hefty lower body challenge.

With respect to barbell overhead pressing, simply replace it with dumbbell overhead pressing, or have two training partners hand the bar up to you so that you can receive it in the “rack” position. Incline pressing can be replaced with either dumbbell pressing from this position or a flat bench press variation.

To take the guesswork out of your programming as you take your training to a new level, check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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15 Responses to “How to Train Harder and Smarter Without a Power Rack”

  1. Magalita Says:

    Hi Eric,
    I love this post. No power rack is not a reasonable excuse to skip a workout. Sometimes my schedule gets really crazy, and even though I have a gym membership, sometimes I simply can’t get myself there. So I have to head to my basement (after the kids go to bed) where I have dumbbells, a bar and plates, but no power rack. I get the best workouts on those days it seems because I have to be more creative. Thanks Eric. I love your stuff.

  2. Magalita Says:

    Eric, please delete one of the posts. I got a message saying the server was down so I reposted and both posts went up.
    BTW I love the Show and Go program. I am currently completing it.

  3. Mathiah Says:

    What’s wrong with Power Cleaning the bar to your shoulders to overhead press?

  4. Todd Says:

    I miss out on Rack Pulls From The Knee and Speed Pin Press since my gym doesn’t have a power rack. I end up using Smith Machine for Pin Press and Step Platforms for Rack Pulls. Not ideal but they work. I also tend to push myself harder when squatting alone if I have a power rack and pins in place in case I can’t make the rep.

  5. John Gerlach Says:


    I’m a 57 ocean and white water kayaker. I belong to a couple clubs in the San Francisco Bay area with 100 to 200 members each and the demographics are skewed to folks 45-65. Additionally, this area of California has the highest degree of fitness in the state (mountain biking was invented here, there are many running contests and swimming contests, etc.). Most all of the folks I paddle with are athletic to varying degrees but most also have or had have had desk-type jobs.

    I got worked surfing a kayak and suffered a near dislocation of my left shoulder (paddle over my head like a chin up with the left paddle blade getting slammed forward on the bottom) and ended up buying Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD to educate myself. The stretching and dynamics sections were eye opening.

    I did a web search and found very little of use for this particular demographic. Personal trainers tend to be extremely variable and I tend to just use my home set up which consists of a Total Gym https://www.totalgym.com/p-82416-total-gym-sport.aspx and because it is in my living room I have actually used it for 7 years.

    What my demographic needs is a maintenance program consisting of stretching, strength/endurance, and dynamics for all around conditioning. Emphasis on a few key areas that differentially affect older adults like shoulders and hips should be included. Your clients appear to be younger atheletes but I think there would be a good marked for this kind of DVD and I know I’d certainly appreciate it.



  6. Mike T Nelson Says:

    Of you could try a Steinborn Lift—–EC says Eeeeeek 🙂

    Good tips as always!

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

  7. Derrick Blanton Says:

    Agree with Magalita above. Finding new and creative ways to target muscle groups also really helps with mind-muscle connections, because you have to “feel” it to know if the new variation is working.

    A few more idears:

    1. Snatch grip DL’s from a deficit.
    2. Hip belt squat from raised platforms.
    3. Dumbbell squat from raised platforms.
    4. Trap bar “deadsquat” from deficit, (although if a gym doesn’t have a power rack, they likely aren’t going to have a trap bar!).
    5. Single leg squat/step up from platform.

    Depending on how strong your OHPR is, you can pre-exhaust your delts with raises, or light hang cleans, then clean an appreciable barbell to finish them off with presses.

    And barbell incline presses are easily replaced feet elevating pushups, and can be loaded by strapping a plate to your torso with a chain. I actually prefer this variation to the real thing!

  8. Eric Cressey Says:

    Great contribution, Derrick!

  9. Conor Says:

    Great advice Eric. Although, I made it a point to purchase a power rack to put in my garage this summer because I just love training with it. I realize not everyone can have this luxury, so good on ya for constantly helping people with your great content and advice.

  10. Eric Cressey Says:


    Thanks for your comments. I’d agree that there really isn’t a good program out there for folks in your shoes. However, you might be interested to check out Assess and Correct (www.assessandcorrect.com); it can be individualized to any population, regardless of age. It wouldn’t cover your strength training, but it could certainly get you rolling in the right direction in terms of moving efficiently.

    Thanks for your business!

  11. Ben Says:

    I’m with Mathiah – why not just clean your presses?
    Also, don’t forget you can clean your front squats up so you can still squat without a rack, but your squat load will be limited by your clean strength.

  12. Personal training in Oakville Says:

    All good options. For the most part there’s always things you can do to still partake in the exercises you want. Like alot of you said, either cleaning the bar to the desired position, or even pre-exhausting some muscles so you’ll still benefit from the limited weight. Might be more trouble, but definitely not an excuse. Hardest thing to compensate for will be squats, but as mentioned above, step up/step down squats will be a good alternative. Thanks and good post!

  13. Carlos Mendez Leo Says:

    Hi, I train in South America, and got banned from Gold’s Gym here for doing ass to grass squats. Of course I stopped going, bought myself a barbell, a lot of weights and there it started.

    When I wanted to squat, I had to power clean the barbell and then front squat. This of course limited my squat PR’s, but threw me into Olympic Lifting Variants, and I don’t regret it. After about 6 years I got a Power Rack and I cherish it plenty.

    Thanks for the article.

  14. Karim Says:

    The great Paul Anderson used to up end a barbell and rock it onto his shoulders to squat. Probably not the safest way to do it but there is always an alternative.

  15. Personal Trainer Harrow Says:

    “A “typical” lower body training session for someone with no power rack might include sumo deadlifts, walking dumbbell lunges, and barbell supine bridges.”Yes this is what I do with my troops as a personal trainer. Good post

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