Learning to squat, press, bench, and deadlift; there’s no lack of tutorials showing you how to do each one of those correctly and safely. However, safety is not only dictated by your form or whether or not you are choosing the correct weight on the first day, but also knowing how to set up your equipment correctly. Here are some guidelines for your reference.



Rack height:

Regardless of which variation of the squat you do, ensure the pins are set up to smoothen the unracking process. Not too high that you need to tiptoe to unrack/rerack the bar. Not too low that you need to get lower yourself significantly to unrack/rerack the bar.


Figure 1 Rack height for squat – mid sternum, in between your collar bone and the nipple line


For a low bar squat, the bar should be somewhere in the middle of your sternum (chest bone). It will be between the collar bone and the nipple line. Once the bar is unracked, you should be able to walk the bar out without hitting the hook. And as you return, it shall hit the vertical component of the hook.


Figure 2 Once you unrack the bar by extending your hips and knees, the bar should clear the horizontal portion of the pins easily, yet not high enough to be over the vertical section of the pin. This will ensure a smooth exit from the pins and entry back to the rack.


If your height is in between two holes/slots (happens all the time when the gap between them is too big), always choose the lower one. Never tiptoe.


Safeties/ safety pins/ spotter arms:

You’ll probably only need it when the weight gets heavy, but I recommend setting it as early as the first warm-up (empty bar). The approximate height of your safeties is around your groin level. Please test it out! If the safeties can’t catch the bar even as you are squatting “ATG” (ass-to-grass), then it’s too low.

If the bar keeps on hitting the safeties as you are reaching proper depth, then it’s too high.

The correct height for your safeties will allow you to squat normally (and even slightly too deep) without hitting them but will save you if you miss the rep.



Rack height:

The starting position of a press is slightly higher than a low bar squat. Thus, you can try to slightly increase the pin height. In a Rogue R-3 rack, I usually increase the height by 1 hole (2 inches). If your rack has a wider gap in between, it’s totally fine to use the same height as a squat. Similar concept to squat setup, you shouldn’t tiptoe the bar out or lift the bar beyond your starting position to get the bar out.


Figure 3 Unracking position for press – bar is able to clear the horizontal section of the pin, but still within the height of its vertical section



Safeties are not necessary. If you fail a press, you can rack it back on top of your shoulder and walk it back to the pins. On a very rare occasion of an emergency, dump the bar in front of you.


Side notes:

Never use the suicide grip (thumbless grip) for the overhead press or bench press. It’s called the suicide grip for a reason. Rip famously said, if you REALLY MUST use a suicide grip, ONLY do it at home. So when the ambulance comes to pick you up, it doesn’t distract other people training in the gym.


Bench press

Rack height:

The correct rack height for the bench press allows you to unrack and rerack the bar with your scapula fully retracted and depressed. Your shoulder blades should always be in contact with the bench. If you need to shrug the shoulder forward to clear the pins, the pins are too high for you.

In a commercial gym, you might find a bench rack with a fixed height. If your arms are too short for that fixed height, and you really must bench there, get a spotter to help you in and out of the rack.


Body placement on the bench:

Make sure that your eyes are vertically below the bar. If your pins have a horizontal base,  roll the bar as far away from the rack as possible. If you are positioned too far inside the rack, you risk hitting the pins with the bar. If you are positioned too far away from the rack, you will have a hard time unracking the bar and risking yourself missing the rack on the way back. See the video for illustration.


Figure 4 Correct body position relative to the bar – your eyes need to be vertically below the bar




A good spotter is probably more useful than installing safeties. Having a spotter is my go-to for a PR bench. Why? Because on top of being able to save you from dying, they can also help with the lift-off and racking back.

If you are training alone or there’s no one reliable, your next good option is safety pins/spotter arms.



Number 1 rule for bench safeties: when the bar is resting on the safeties, it should clear your neck and face from hitting the bar.



Next, the safeties should be low enough so the bar can touch your chest without hitting your safeties.


Figure 5 The barbell will not touch the safeties in a fully arched position


Figure 6 Once the lifter stops arching, the bar will be supported by the safety pins/spotter arms


Side notes:

If you are benching without safeties, please do not lock the bar with the clips. Give yourself an option to tilt the bar sideways and letting the weights fall off your bar.


Deadlift and Power Clean

You don’t need any rack or safeties for this one. If you can’t lift it, drop it back to the floor. Not so fast, though! Maybe read this article to understand what I mean.



My interest in fitness started when I was around 19 years old. Being overweight for most of my growing up years, I decided to do something about it. After months of not being able to achieve the desired results, I began poring through books and articles about training and nutrition. The more I read, the more interested I became in this field, and got better results when the the newly discovered knowledge was applied. After 1 year of persistence and hard work, I lost 24kg and felt fantastic. The sense of achievement motivated me to pursue a career in working with people to help them achieve their own fitness goals.

After achieving my weight loss goal, I tried a variety of training programs for a few years, looking for a new goal to train towards. After aimlessly moving around from program to program, I chanced upon a book called Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, written by renowned strength and conditioning expert, Mark Rippetoe. Little did I know that this book was about to change my life and coaching career.

At that point, I had experience training with barbells and was relatively familiar with it but never have I come across any material that gave such explicitly detailed explanations of how to perform the barbell lifts. I devoured the book and modified my lifting technique and program. In just a few months, I was pleasantly surprised by how much stronger he had become. I now had a new goal to work towards – getting strong.

With full confidence in the efficacy of the Starting Strength methodology, I began coaching my clients using this program and got them stronger than they ever thought was possible. The consistent success my clients achieved through the program cemented my confidence in Mark Rippetoe’s teachings. I then decided to pursue the credential of being a Starting Strength Coach and I’m currently the first and only certified coach in Singapore and South-East Asia

In my 9 years of experience, I have given talks and ran programs at numerous companies and worked with a diverse group clientele of all ages with a variety of goals. Today, I specialise in coaching people in their 40s, 50s and beyond because it brings me a great sense of satisfaction to be part of the process of improving this demographics’ health and quality of life by getting them stronger.