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How to Use The Combo Rack to Fitness?

Author: May
Jan. 29, 2023
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The Combo Rack – What Can I Do With It (And How)?

If you began your lifting career in a commercial gym, it’s highly likely you did not start out benching and squatting in a combo rack.  For a lot of people, the first time they see one of these racks is at a competition (and for many, it’s only when the technical official conducting their weigh-in asks them for their squat and bench rack heights that they realize they are going to have to go examine the rack in greater detail).

 

The Combo Rack: How to Use it in Three Easy Steps

 

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A combo (combination) rack is a competition-spec rack that you can either bench or squat out of. 

Now that we’re clear on what a combo rack is/does, we need to set it up for use.  While these racks can look confusing, there are really only three easy steps that you need to take in order to be ready to lift.

 

Step 1 – Bench or Squat?

If you’re squatting, you’re obviously going to need to get the bench out of the way.  While not required, you may also want to remove the spotting arms.  While they look really similar to the spotting arms on a power rack, failing a lift and dropping the bar onto these spotting arms can often cause the rack to tip or flip, because the combo rack is not bolted to the ground.  If you’re like me and sometimes squat a little crooked, you can also accidentally hit the spotting arms with your plates while squatting, which can really throw you off balance.  So, long story short – it’s good to know how to get both the bench and the spotting arms out of the way.

To remove the bench, you’re going to grab it close to the front (this is where it is heaviest) and lift up:

 

If you are lifting and it doesn’t budge, someone has probably locked it in place (most lifters don’t do this as the bench is quite secure without).  To unlock it, you need to look for the wingnut in front of the holder for each of the two front bench legs.  Once this is unscrewed on both sides, you’ll be able to lift the bench up and out.

The bench makes a great place to sit in between sets, so feel free to keep it nearby.

Next up:  the spotting arms.  These slide into the base of the rack:

Sometimes, they can be rather tricky to remove.  In the video you can see that I’m pushing up on the rack while pulling the spotting arm back; essentially I’m trying to make it so that less weight is pushing down on the arm so that it will come out more easily (shout out to our good friend gravity).

Further reading:
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You may be tempted to pull the silver pieces of the spotting arms (the arm proper) out of their holders instead of removing the whole apparatus.  It’s really preferable that you don’t do this.  More pieces floating around generally means more pieces that could go missing, and honestly – if you have the time to remove the arm, you have time to remove the whole apparatus.

It probably goes without saying, but if you’re benching, you’re going to want to follow the above steps in reverse and ensure that both the bench and the spotting arms are in place.

 

Step 2 – Set Your Rack Heights

If you’re squatting, you are going to need to set just the rack height; if you’re benching, you’ll need to set both the rack and the spotting arms.  To set the rack height, you’re going to need to locate the pins on the outside of each side of the rack.  There should be two (one will be setting the rack at its current height; the other should either be sitting in another rack height hole, or in the storage hole).

 

Conveniently, the racks come with a jack attached to both sides.  All you have to do is hook it to one of the pins (you can use the pin currently setting the rack height if you are looking to increase the overall rack height; you will insert the second pin into a lower numbered hole and hook the jack to that if you are looking to decrease height).  You can make jumps of roughly eight holes at a time, so if you’re sharing a rack with someone significantly taller or shorter than you are, you’ll need to adjust the rack in two adjustments per side versus one).

 

Note: 

Do not put the pins in the rack such that the thick part is on the outside of the rack (facing the barbell sleeve).  Once you put plates on the bar you will not be able to adjust the rack.  This may not be a big deal when you are training alone, but it truly sucks if you’re training with someone, or if you’re at a competition.  You’re better off to just always put the pins in with the thick part to the inside of the rack.

Whereas each upright comes with two pins, the spotting arms come with one pin.  To adjust, simply lift up on the arm and put the pin in the number that represents your desired height.

 

Step 3 – Setting the Rack In or Out (SQUAT ONLY)

A large majority of lifters are going to be able to skip this step, but it’s a good rack feature to know about (especially if you are ever going to volunteer at a meet; inevitably someone will want racks in).

With the racks “in”, the uprights will be angled inwards ( / \ ) as opposed to being straight up and down ( | | ):

 

Lifters who grip the bar closer to the collars will often ask for racks in to give themselves more space for their hands.  You may also encounter some lifters who choose to have either the left or right rack in (and then other out).  Thankfully, it’s very quick and easy to switch the position of the rack, and this can be done even with a fully loaded bar.  Simply locate where the upright fits into a sleeve – there will be moveable cuff (typically with wingnuts on it) that you can lift upwards.  With this cuff up, you will be able to either push the upright into the racks out position, or pull it to the racks in position.  When you’re done, you just put the cuff back down into the sleeve.

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