Perspectives and Choices - Power Rack and Leverage Gym
A rack is the classic strength training tool. With a barbell and plates, and safety bars that can catch a loaded bar you can’t handle, it permits the major compound exercises – presses (with a bench), dead lifts, squats, and with many variations. Add-on features (sometimes included) are chin up bars, and dip bars, which can be used for assisted press-ups, and inverted rows. Usually at extra cost, cable facilities can be added, which, with a variety of handles, offer other compound exercises such as pull-downs, rows and cross-body wood-chops, and many isolation (single-exercise) moves such as bicep curls and shoulder exercises.
A barbell, however, locks you into single grip for major exercises. This concentration of force brings greater risk of shoulder and elbow wear than a something with more variable grip. (Unless you’re prepared to spend extra on bars with different grips). More varied grips can provide better all-round development. A leverage machine, whose handles are offset from the line of the plate holders, has space for greater grip options. A palms-facing grip, as opposed to flat, palms-away grip, can bring less elbow and shoulder stress on a leverage gym, and other variations. Finally, a leverage gym offers isolateral lifts - the arms can be used independently, as well as locked together like a barbell. Arm muscles can develop differently. Isolateral motion allows for equal strength development and offers variety for better muscle stimulation.
Space. With the need for a 7-foot Olympic bar, or even a 6-foot standard bar, the rack needs lots of space in which to operate - upwards of 10 feet, with an Olympic bar, for practical purposes. A leverage gym's handles, being offset from the line of the bar save overall width, taking a good couple of feet (0.6 m) out.
Training style. On the other hand, a rack provides, for many trainers, the ultimate platform for the major exercises. The purely free-weight nature of barbell lifting means effort is expended in controlling the lift, as well as in the lifting itself. This brings development not only of primary muscles, but all others involved as well. Many trainers regard this as an attractively natural approach. With a leverage gym, the machine controls direction and guides the trainer, who simply concentrates on the lift. The leverage fan may say that it offers variation in grips and angles which means the lever-driven device gets you plenty of varied muscular development anyway.
The mechanical benefit of a lever. If you have 180 kg on the bar on the rack, you’re lifting 180 kg; where the same on a leverage bar with 180 kg might only need a 142 kg effort. However, put 225 kg on the leverage gym, it still yields 177 kg in rack terms – which is a top achievement for the top class of 115 kg (personal weight class) amateur lifters in benching – you meet the needs of over 95% of lifters. (NZ numbers) OK for lots of folks.
Leg action with a leverage gym instead of a free-weight squat in a rack.
To someone who's trained on a rack, the lever's mild curve compared to the squat's direct travel, can put them off. And you’re also quite close to the structure. (In fact, directly connected in the lift) This very different to a rack. You don’t feel the solo, all-in commitment to the lift. This can make leverage aspect deficient. But for users who want everything else – space-savings; superb upper-body training, great cable action, a not-so-classical lower body plan, but good leg training anyway, the leverage idea can be excellent.
Towards some conclusions - perhaps...
Free-weight training remains the standard for strength-building. It still has the biggest info- and experience-sharing community. The rack and bench style is how competitions are run. It's where the heaviest lifts happen. Rack and bench better suit body sizes that are at the extremes of the height and shape range. If you're big - 1.9+ m, rack's generally the way for you. Bench and barbell trainers tend to stick with them, though increasing numbers are changing to leverage equipment or dumbbell-based set-ups as they age, because these tend to be easier on joints, take less space, and their users' lifting ambitions reduce. And many regular rack trainers augment their training with leverage for personal variety and potential physical gain from a change. With the increased attention to strength-training as a primary health tool, many people are using leverage gyms as a more "friendly" approach. (In fact the leverage gym or dumbbells-and-bench arrangements are often just a part of their plan). Leverage is favoured by older people and many new to training, as it can be more forgiving, at the same time as better fitting with cardio activity (running, swimming, walking etc) and agility and balance improvement. And very important, leverage gyms do the job for most body shapes, with lots of variety, quality execution, and less space.