On the surface, the question about how to squat without a rack seems, to the uninformed, to be little more than an excuse for why you’re not actually working your legs out more often. However, for the experienced bodybuilder or weightlifter, there are some serious issues that need to be dealt with (both mentally and physically) before you learn how to squat without a rack.
First of all, if you try to squat without a rack, odds are you may injure yourself, especially if you attempt to do so with more weight than you’re comfortable clean jerking up by yourself. When you contort your body with all that extra weight, just trying to get it into position on your shoulders, you can cause some serious harm.
Second, if you only do enough weight so that you’re comfortable getting into position, you probably aren’t going to do much for your legs.
Squats are intended to build muscle up in your legs, so you want to make sure you can actually do enough weight to make it worthwhile, otherwise you’re merely going to be working on some definition and your legs will essentially look the same after a while.
Okay, with that out of the way, what are you going to need in order to squat properly and safely without a rack?
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What You’ll Need
I’m going to make this as simple as I can, so even though some of this may seem obvious, you might be surprised to learn that there are a lot of people out there who assume they can use other things to do a proper squat.
Most of those ‘other things’ are just not safe for use in this type of situation. So, you will need:
A barbell. This almost seems to need no mention, but yeah, you need a barbell. You’re not going to try squatting with some other objects, like a large boulder. Some people actually do that. No, seriously, they take other objects, whether it’s a large boulder, engine components, or even stacks of books and try to squat those. Not only is this ridiculous because you don’t know the weight of those items, they are unbalanced.
If you try to clean lift anything off balance, you’re placing immediate pressure on other parts of your body and that can cause some serious harm. Get serious at the very least, even if you don’t have room or money for a rack and get a solid barbell that can handle enough weight for your squats. Some barbells are only rated for, let’s say, 200 lbs. That’s not nearly good enough.
A lot of weight. The stronger your legs are, the more weight you’ll need in order to make those squats worth doing. If you squat with only about 150 lbs, for example, but your legs could easily do three sets of 10 reps at 350 lbs, what’s that little bit of comparable weight going to do for you?
So be sure you have enough weight to make it worthwhile to be working on those squats. Otherwise, it’s better for you to get to a gym where you would have a rack and some spotters, if needed.
A clear understanding of your abilities (and limitations). If you try and do something you’ve never done before, you won’t have a clear understanding about your limitations. As a result, you’ll probably put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation trying to do too much.
Don’t let yourself get into that potentially dangerous situation. Understand your body, your strength, and your limitations. It would be a great idea if you’ve never squatted before, to not just see what you’re capable of by starting with a lot less weight and working your way up. Keep in mind, your upper body is going to need to handle that extra weight as well, so working your way up to an ideal squat weight will also determine if your upper body is ready to handle it all.
An ‘exit’ or escape plan. When you are working at lifting weights up into position for squats, you need an exit plan. In the event you have to bail on the attempt, be sure you have plenty of room to move forward or backward. When you clean jerk several hundred pounds up, and you can’t do it, push the weights away from you while you lunge back.
If you get the weight up over your head and suddenly can’t hold on, let go while you’re lunging forward. See what happens in that situation? You are protecting yourself. Ultimately, attempting to learn how to squat without a rack should not be done if you have no experience with serious weightlifting before. Give yourself some time and patience.
Now, let’s learn how to do this properly.
Step 1: Develop Better Upper Body Strength
When you’re going to do a clean jerk lift to get the weights into place for squats, as noted, you’re going to need a lot more upper body strength than you may realize.
This doesn’t mean you need to be able to bench press 425 pounds in order to squat with that kind of weight, but you should be able to handle that to some degree. You’re going to need to lift whatever amount of weight you’re looking to squat with up over your head in order to position it properly on your shoulders.
That’s no easy feat, especially for someone who struggles to bench 200 pounds once. It might take you six months or a year before you can really get to that point, and if that’s the case, I highly recommend you work out with a partner at a gym before you attempt to work on your squats by yourself.
Step 2: Practice Clean Jerk Lifts
A clean jerk lift is essentially when you stand with your feet shoulder width apart just behind the barbell. Bend at the knees and grip the bar with your hands comfortable, about shoulder width apart. With your back straight (with the proper minor curvature to it), you’re going to lift the weight up hard and fast, flick it up over your head, and then settle the barbell on the back of your shoulders, your hands properly balanced.
It’s a good idea to be practicing this for a while with lighter weights in order for you to get comfortable with the process. Then begin increasing the amount of weight you lift until you get closer to the weight you need for your squats. If, at any time, you don’t feel comfortable doing this because you’re getting tossed off balance, then that’s a pretty good indication you need to go back and build up more upper body strength or bail on the idea of squatting without a rack for now.
Step 3: Give Yourself Plenty of Room
If you try to do something like a clean jerk with several hundred pounds in your cramped one bedroom apartment, you could get into serious trouble. Not only would the neighbor downstairs be under a tremendous amount of stress with all the crashing and banging you’re going to be doing, but unless you’re on a hard, solid floor surface, like concrete, you could see some damage to the floor.
That’s because when you’re done or you realize the clean jerk lift is not going to be as smooth as you hope and you need to bail, if you have no room to move forward or back, out of the way of several hundred pounds crashing to the ground, it can lead to serious injuries. Broken feet, ankles, sprained backs, and even broken backs have all occurred as a result of men trying to squat without a rack and not planning their exit strategy properly.
Make sure you have plenty of room going forward and back. It’s not good enough to just go forward and not back. You may have to bail with the weight in front of you or on the back of your shoulders.
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Step 4: Keep Your Back Straight
Your back handles an incredible amount of weight. When straight, it’s your legs that’ll be dealing with the weight, but the moment you bend a little forward, or too far back, the amount of load on your lower back increases at an exponential factor. For example, if you bend at your waist to pick up a 50 pound bag of cement, and you are bent over at a 90-degree angle, the amount of force exerted on your lower back is about 10 times the actual weight, or in this example, 500 pounds.
Imagine that with 300 or more pounds of weight! It’s enough to break your back. So be sure to keep your back straight the entire time. Any shift can lead to serious, debilitating injuries.
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Wrapping This Up
Okay, now that you know how to squat without a rack, and although you’ve heard the warnings and know it’s probably not the best idea in the world for you, at least at this time, if you’re still determined to do it, be careful.
You may seem men doing squats without a rack and think, ‘Hey, I can do that,’ but you don’t know how long they’ve been working out and lifting weights, how many years they’ve been honing their body and upper body strength, or whether or not they’ve been trained professionally.
There’s a lot that goes into squatting and building up muscle in your legs. If you’re new to this, seek out a personal trainer first. Grab a membership to a gym to get more muscle and the strength and confidence to be able to actually squat without a rack.
You’ll be safer and your body will thank you.