The best racks, rigs and lifting platforms are not beginners' equipment – unless you are a very driven and ambitious beginner, of course. Most newcomers to home strength training should start by looking for the best weight bench.
The best racks, rigs and lifting platforms should join the home gym equipment shortlist of anyone looking to take their strength training to the next level. Free weights, such as dumbbells and barbells, are fantastic for overall conditioning, muscle development and improving strength, but there comes a point where you are going to want to start adding some serious weight.
Working with massive amounts of, erm, mass has its drawbacks, chiefly when it comes to getting into position to squat, press and curl, as well as the tricky conundrum of where to place said weight when your muscles are screaming for you to stop. Getting stuck underneath a barbell during a heavy bench press is embarrassing and a little bit scary. But you can make sure it doesn’t happen by investing in the right kit - namely a safe rack or rig with the appropriate catch bars and hooks for supporting the weight of a barbell when not in use.
However, rigs, racks and lifting platforms all serve a slightly different purpose, and choosing the right one will depend on what you need and the kind of space you have at home. We’ve broken down the differences below, so you don’t blow the budget on something that isn’t fit for purpose.
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Rigs, racks and lifting platforms: what’s the difference?
Let’s start with the largest and most cumbersome item on this list. Racks or cages tend to be quite complex affairs, with bulky steel cross beams and upright stanchions that can house multiple attachments thanks to pre-drilled holes that allow J-hook or U-hook accessories to be added.
With the general demeanour of a gorilla’s cage (minus a few bars) they are heavy, solid and built to withstand a great deal of punishment. They are also one of the most versatile strength training products you can invest in, because the number of exercises you’ll be able to perform is almost limitless.
Add a weights bench to the mix and you can bench press, incline press and curl. Attach some dipping bars to - you guessed it - dip, or use the horizontal bar at the top of the rack or cage to perform all manner of pull-up variations.
There’s typically the option to add weight storage horns (for housing bulky weight plates), safety bars (for catching a barbell when you fail a rep), as well as anchor attachments for battle ropes and simple pulley system attachments for performing lat pull-downs and the like.
You’ll find some are free standing (these take up the most space), while some manufacturers offer a folding option that bolts the wall and handily folds flat when not in use, reducing the space required.
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Rigs are essentially slightly less complicated racks that are designed to work in harmony with other components to create a larger area for multiple folk to work out.
These systems are often found in commercial gyms, where an entire area is dedicated to rigging, allowing for various additions to be thrown in to assist in multiple exercises. Pulley systems, gymnastic rings, dip attachments, you name it.
Although not quite as versatile as a full-on rack or cage, a simple wall mount rig can be excellent for those tight on space and the modular design means it can be expanded over time.
Again, any good rig will be able to house various attachments thanks to the ubiquitous pre-drilled fastening system. That means something as basic as a one-bay wall-mounted rig can also house dipping bars, safety bars and more, increasing its versatility and extending its shelf life.
Finally, a lifting platform is fairly self-explanatory, typically comprising of an even, soft rubber surface and a harder wood section in the middle, which provides a predictable and stable surface for performing Olympic-style lifts.
Although not essential to a home gym set-up, a lifting platform will protect the floor beneath it and offer the perfect surface to perfect complicated strength training manoeuvres, like snatches and the clean and press. Don't view this as an alternative to a rig or rack, but perhaps consider it as an addition to the perfect home gym set-up.
The best rigs, racks and lifting platforms
No space? No problem. This Bison Series folding rack from Wolverson Fitness is specially designed for those home gyms that lack the square footage, as the clever package bolts to the wall and then folds in on itself, meaning you can transform the depth of the boxy structure into an almost flat feature. Perfect for garages or tight outdoor areas.
Better still, it is fashioned from extremely durable 3mm-thick steel and its makers offer a lifetime guarantee on all welds and joints. The 400kg weight limit should be perfectly fine for even the most ardent lifters and this system will happily take care of squats, presses and multiple other exercises.
In fact, the unit is so versatile, you can attach all manner of products to the simple J-hook fixing system, ranging from safety bars to dip attachments. Sling a pulley system over the pull-up bar at the top and you open up a brave new world of pull-down workouts.
We’ll admit, the set up process probably requires two people, as the box steel frame is pretty chunky in itself, but the physical act of bolting it to a (very sturdy) wall is relatively simple and all fixings come part of the package. It’s also recommended to opt for the safety bars if training alone, as they will happily catch a massive amount of weight when pushing yourself to failure.
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If you’re looking for a rack that offers pretty much everything in one package, this should be at the very top of your shopping list. Again, the heavyweight steel frame provides the perfect basis for all manner of exercises but Body Power offers a multi-grip pull-up bar, dip bars and sturdy safety bar catch pegs gratis in this bundle.
Space is going to be one of the major requirements here, because although the rack itself isn’t particularly tall, it is fairly cumbersome in all other dimensions.
But we really like some of the thoughtful features here, such as the numbered catch holes for easy positioning and the footrests mounted to the rear crossbar that can be used in conjunction with the optional lat pull-down and pec dec attachments for seated row exercise.
Although this rack is designed to be screwed to the floor (for added stability), it can be viewed as a slightly more mobile version of a small rig or Wolverson’s own folding rack. With up to 450kg tolerance, it’s perfect for loading up a barbell with weight discs and smashing out squats or presses wherever convenient.
There’s a sturdy straight bar at the top with plenty of room for pull-ups and muscle-ups (if that’s your bag), while standard moveable J-hook slots make it easy to find the right position for each exercise. Add a bench into the mix and it’s a powerful pressing tool, or it’s simply a great platform for explosive barbell workouts.
With a max upright height of 2220mm, it has been designed to fit into most garage gyms, yet this beats comes with a full commercial warranty.
One of the simplest ways to start increasing weight and improving lifting technique is with a relative small and simple squat rack or stand, which acts as safe storage for a barbell but is versatile enough to work with a bench for pressing and other moves.
Not only is this number for Amazon seller XRTJ surprisingly affordable, it’s also pretty clever, featuring easy adjustment for both height and width thanks to simple twist-locking mechanism on the base and an easy latch-and-pin adjustor on the main uprights.
Build quality isn’t amazing and we can’t guarantee how long it would last if left out in the garden for long periods of time, but its maker claims it can support up to 260kg of weight, which is more than enough for most improving lifters.
If you perform plenty of floor-based movements, such as lunges, deadlifts and complex snatches or clean and press, it could be wise to invest in a lifting platform, rather than a rack or rig. Although lacking the safe barbell stowage of the previously mentioned units, platforms provide a safe and stable surface for heavy lifts.
The oak centre is industry standard in Olympic lifting circles, as it’s easier to get maximum traction from workout trainers or bare feet, while the heavy outer rubber area is designed to soak up maximum impact, meaning less damage to your precious floors.
Above all else, nothing really beats the feeling of marching up to one of these, chalking the hands and then pulling a monstrous deadlift. If the pros can do it, so can you.