I have always implemented powerlifting exercises into my workouts over the years. Exercises such as deadlifts, squats, and bench press build foundational strength in the tendons and ligaments and can give you the ability to move greater amounts of weight in other exercises as a result. Years ago, my workout partner, Mike Gigante and I devised a plan to maximize our strength gains with the use of the power rack. We determined that starting a movement from the bars of the rack eliminated momentum and gave the tendons greater stress from the explosive movement needed. We focused on the three powerlifting movements: deadlifts, squats, and bench press. A normal weight-training movement involves momentum in three stages: the negative movement, the positive movement, and the static contraction. The power rack allowed for a greater negative movement, a “touch down” and pause on the bars, followed by an explosive positive motion from a dead-weight position that did not involve momentum. There was also a static contraction of the muscle fibers, so the power rack movements involved a total of four stages, all of which are performed with little or no momentum. The results were astounding. Our strength increases were consistently improving on a weekly basis.
Our bench press increased by an average of 10 pounds each week. Lifting from the dead-weight position of the bars gave the tendons far more stress and stimuli than a normal bench press. As a result, our normal bench press lifts were rapidly increasing by the same average of 10 pounds per week. Ten pounds may not sound like a great deal of increase by itself, but five weeks later, a 50-pound increase on one’s bench press in such a short amount of time is impressive. In 10 weeks, we had each increased our bench press by approximately 100 pounds. We credited it all to our power rack training and our diligence with our nutrition.
Our squat increased by an average of 15 pounds each week. Mike already had an impressive maximum squat, but the power rack helped him improve his maximum squat to a massive 735 pounds. The power rack helped me to improve my squat to 515 pounds. (Mike’s bodyweight was 250 at the time, and my bodyweight was 185. The difference in our bodyweight and structures gave many the idea to compare us to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu, two famously different builds who excelled as workout partners. So, we quickly received and gladly accepted the nicknames of Arnold and Franco.) The squat was performed by a starting position of 90 degrees with the Olympic bar resting on the power rack bars. Just as we exploded from the dead-weight position for the bench press, so it was with the squat as well.
Our greatest overall increase in strength was in our deadlifts. Each week we increased our power rack deadlifts by 20 pounds, and consequently increased our standard deadlifts by the same amount. We started our power rack deadlifts on the bars, slightly off the floor, with the power rack bars set in the second peg hole. This allowed us to build the hoisting power that is necessary for a properly executed standard deadlift, and for a period of adjustment to the weekly increases in weight due to the shorter motion of not descending all the way to the floor.
Here are our maximum totals for our standard powerlifting lifts after having implemented the power rack into our weight-training routine for several months:
Mike Gigante, bodyweight: 250 pounds
Bench Press: 480 pounds, Squat: 735 pounds, Deadlift: 685 pounds
John M. Di Fazio II, bodyweight: 185 pounds
Bench Press: 405 pounds, Squat: 515 pounds, Deadlift: 645 pounds
The power rack combined with these powerlifting movements gave us both a surge of strength that we had previously not experienced, even though we were both fairly strong for our respective bodyweight. It was the steady, consecutive increases that were made each week that amazed us, and amazed others in the gym who had witnessed the gains in strength. We also began to use these movements in the power rack for clients who sought to increase strength. It’s a good project that you can begin this winter. We began this journey into the “cage,” as we called it, in the winter, though it can be done in any season. There were many ice-cold mornings, when the heat had not yet warmed the gym, when Mike and I worked in that “cage.” I encourage you to embark on this journey for yourself in the power rack this winter.