What is Westside Hole Spacing and is it Important?
If you are serious about strength training, power racks, commercial bench presses, and strength training rigs are an absolute must. Yes, you CAN train using little more than a pair of freestanding squat stands and a flat or FID bench, but if you miss a rep you could quickly find yourself pinned by a heavy barbell. Injuries in this scenario are all-but guaranteed and are often very serious.
Power racks, commercial bench presses, and strength training rigs allow you work out in safety and also make getting the bar into the right starting position much easier. After all, do you really want to have to power clean a barbell to your shoulders and then jerk it over your head and behind your neck each time you want to squat? Talk about a lot of wasted energy!
These gym essentials also allow you to perform a wide range of exercises and exercise variations, such as dead-stop squats, pin presses, and band-resisted and band-assisted deadlifts. Many of these exercises are imposable without the proper rack.
Because they are such important pieces of training equipment, it’s important to understand the difference between power racks, commercial bench presses, and strength training rigs so that you can choose the best product for your needs.
What to look for when buying a power rack, commercial bench press, or strength training rig?
There are a lot of features and design aspects to consider when buying a power rack or strength training rig. Designs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and this can affect functionality. Consider this information when deciding which rack, rig, or bench press to buy.
Size– power racks, commercial bench presses, and strength training rigs vary in size and often have a large footprint. It is important to check that they will fit into the intended workout area, taking into account the length of the barbell too.
Also consider the ceiling height as most power racks and rigs are quite tall. This height is important if you want to use your rack for standing overhead presses.
Construction– power racks, commercial bench presses, and strength training rigs are gym workhorses and will be used and abused by lots of potentially very strong users. Quality construction will ensure they are long lasting and will not be damaged with regular use. The uprights and safety bars should be made from top quality steel with precision cut holes.
Finish– while a painted finish is usually cheaper, painted rigs and racks will soon get chipped. A powder coated finish is much tougher and longer lasting and will keep the rig looking good for years to come.
Weight– racks and rigs vary a lot in weight. A lightweight rig would be okay for home use but may be too light and unstable for home use. Conversely, a very heavy rack or rig may cause problems for home use where the floor is not strong enough. A home-use power rack could weigh as little as 50kg, whereas a commercial rack will weigh 150kg or more. This extra weight will make it much more stable. When it comes to stability, especially in a commercial gym setting, heavy racks and rigs are usually best.
Strength/capacity– power racks, commercial bench presses, and strength training rigs are designed to support a lot of weight but, in a commercial setting, this could mean several hundreds of kilos! Make sure that the strength/capacity of the rig/rack is more than enough for even the strongest intended user.
Bolt to the floor– some power racks and strength training rigs are designed to be bolted to the floor for maximum stability. This is a useful feature as both tend to be quite tall which means they could topple over or move during use. However, this also means they need to be set up on appropriate flooring. Rigs are usually bolted to the wall for stability so make sure your walls are strong enough for this purpose i.e. concrete/brick and not plasterboard or wood.
Westside hold spacing– Westside spacing is a very important feature to look for in power racks, commercial bench presses, and strength training rigs. It refers to the space between the holes in the uprights that accommodate the J-hooks and the safety spotting bars.
Most racks use standard hole spacing which means the holes are equally spaced from the top of the uprights to the bottom. This is usually 50mm between holes.
West side hole spacing means that the holes in the uprights are closer together (25mm) near the bottom of the rack and further apart (50mm) toward the middle and top of the rack.
This allows for very precise J-hook and safety bar positioning for bench presses, ensuring that the ideal lift-off position can be achieved. The safety bars can also be positioned at exactly the right height to ensure that they can do their job without impeding your range of motion.
Standard 50mm hole spacing means that, for some exercises, the barbell or the safety bars are either too high or too low.
Westside hole spacing is a very valuable feature that is worth seeking out. It was originated by the coaches and lifters at Westside Barbell – a gym famous for producing many of the strongest powerlifters ever.
Also known as power cages or squat cages, power racks are arguably the most versatile piece of equipment in any commercial gym. They are also a great centrepiece for home or garage gyms. A power rack has a wide range of functions that will make exercises and workouts both safer and more productive.
Those functions include:
A rack for your barbell– equipped with moveable J-hooks, you can set the starting position for your chosen exercise. This will ensure you don’t have to waste energy unracking a bar from a mechanically unsound position, i.e. having to rise up on tiptoes to unrack the bar before squats.
Westside hole spacing means you can achieve the perfect height for your barbell and safety bars.
For spotting and safety– exercises like squats, bench presses, and overhead presses are amongst the best strength and muscle-building movements you can do. They allow you to lift heavy weights by recruiting lots of muscle groups at the same time. However, they are also potentially dangerous and the heavy weights that some people can lift make them doubly so.
Power racks have adjustable horizontal safety spotting bars that can be set to limit downward movement of the barbell. In the bench press, this would be set at about chest-height so that, if you are unable to complete a rep, the bar will not come to rest on your chest. For squats, you can set the spotting bars so that the barbell will come to rest when your thighs are parallel to the floor. This will also help keep your range of movement honest – no touch means no rep!
Westside hole spacing allows for very precise safety bar placement. After all, the safety bars should not interfere with your normal range of motion and are only there if you fail to complete a rep.
For modifying range of motion– while most exercises are best performed through a full range of motion, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, performing rack pull deadlifts from anywhere between just below to just above knee height will allow you to lift heavier than normal weights. This will have a positive knock-on effect to your regular deadlift strength.
Range of motion can also be used as a training variable. This progression was popularised by strength legend Paul Anderson and it’s often called the Anderson method. To use this method, load up the barbell with a heavy weight and set the spotting bars so that you can only complete a relatively small range of motion.
As you get stronger lower the spotting bars to increase the range of motion until you gradually progress to full range reps. At this point, you add more weight to the bar, reduce the range of motion again, and start over.
Westside hole spacing means you can precisely control the range of movement for small progressions – especially for bench presses.
For pull-ups– most power racks are supplied with pull-up handles so you can work your lats and biceps (and even your abs) with a variety of upper body exercises. Some power racks also have dipping bars for chest and triceps training.
Power racks can also be used as anchor points for suspension trainers (e.g. TRX) and gymnastic rings. The pull-up bars also provide a convenient attachment point for exercises like band-assisted pull-ups/chin-ups, and pulldowns and triceps pushdowns with resistance bands.
For accommodating resistance training– many barbell exercises can be modified with resistance bands, a training method called accommodating resistance. Adding resistance bands to barbell exercises increases the load at the end of the range of motion, when most freeweight exercises start to get easier e.g. as you approach lock out during squats or bench presses.
Accommodating resistance training is a very effective way to increase power, eliminate weaknesses, and add variety to your workouts.
You could just weigh your bands down with dumbbells, but the best power racks have dedicated, moveable band pegs for convenience and ease of use.
Functional isometrics– isometrics are a form of training where, despite generating maximal force, there is no change in muscle length, i.e. the bar does not move. For example, if you often find you get stuck midway through a squat, you can set up the safety bars in your power rack at that height, load the barbell with much more weight than you can lift and then practice pushing as hard as you can in that position. This will help increase your strength at this joint angle, eliminating your sticking point in the process.
Westside hole spacing means that you can set your safety bars at exactly the right height to achieve the desired joint angle.
Weight plate storage– most power racks have built-in racks for storing weight plates. This will ensure your training area stays tidy and safe and will make loading and unloading your barbell much easier. The weight plates will also make your power rack or rig more stable and secure.
Most barbell exercises can be done in a power rack, and there are a number of exercises that are only possible using one. They are very versatile and make barbell training safer and more effective. Combined with a barbell and a flat or adjustable FID bench, a power rack means you can train every muscle group in your body in safety, even if you train alone.
Commercial bench presses
A commercial bench press is a cross between a power rack and a regular bench press. With a built-in open rack, it has all the advantages and functions of a full power rack but is only designed for bench pressing. The adjustable J-hooks mean you can set the bar at exactly the right height for safe and easy unracking, while the safety bars mean you can train heavy and hard without having to worry about failing a rep.
Commercial bench presses are very strong and stable, providing the perfect platform for heavy bench pressing. They also allow you to perform bench-press boosting exercises such as:
- Bench presses with bands
- Presses from a dead stop (pin presses)
- Heavy partials
- Functional isometrics
- Wide and narrow bench presses
Westside hole spacing means that the J-hooks can be positioned for the perfect lift-off. Too high and you’ll lose shoulder tightness and stability which could lead to poor performance or injury. Too low and you’ll end up wasting a lot of triceps strength pressing the bar up into your starting position. 25mm hole spacing also means the safety bars can be set at the perfect height – ready to help you if you fail a rep but not so high they are in the way, or too low they are ineffective.
Strength training rigs
If power racks and commercial bench press stations have a disadvantage, it is that they can only be used for one exercise or by one user at a time. This can be a problem for busy gyms and for group training scenarios e.g. CrossFit and circuit training.
Strength training rigs allow multiple exercisers to work out at the same time, even if they are doing different exercises. They are essentially open-plan squat racks that can accommodate several users at once. Combined with a barbell and a bench, they can be used for a wide range of strength and conditioning workouts. As well as the standard library of barbell exercises, strength training racks can customised and used with numerous optional add-ons including:
- Suspension trainers
- Battle ropes
- Gymnastic rings
- Plyometric platforms
- Landmine/barbell pivot attachments
- Dipping bars
Strength training rigs are usually modular and are designed according to their intended purpose, the space available, and how many exercisers need to be accommodated. Features and functions depend on the type of rig and how it’s been customised.
Westside hole spacing means that J-hook and safety bar height can be adjusted for a wide range of users and exercises.