Hopefully, everyone reading this is familiar with at least the basic understanding of gym etiquette. Wipe down machines and benches after use, put your dumbbells away, unload plates when you are done with a machine, don’t hog equipment… You get the idea.
There is however one gym sin that rules supreme among any other, a certain action that infuriates lifters so much around the globe that it’s become its own meme and quote. That action is curling in the squat rack!
So, why can’t you curl in the squat rack? It’s frowned upon to curl in the squat rack because it’s considered a misuse of equipment and causes an inconvenience to others. Bicep curls can be performed anywhere on the gym floor, however, only certain exercises can be performed in a squat rack for safety reasons which include squats and presses.
If you’re reading this and think you’ve paid for your gym membership, you can use the equipment however you want (within reason), then read on. We’ll be covering why this one action causes so much debate in the lifting society.
Why Can’t You Curl in the Squat Rack
Picture this, you are gearing up for a heavy 1 rep max squat test – you’re feeling good, the warmup went well, and as you make your way over to the free weight section of the gym you’re met with a feeling of disappointment and frustration.
Not only is the only squat rack in the gym currently taken, but it’s also being used by someone performing bicep curls.
If you are new to lifting, you might not fully understand why people get so annoyed with other people curling in the squat rack, after all, people don’t get annoyed when you use a dumbbell to perform a goblet squat. Surely, people are free to use a squat rack as they see fit, they do pay for the privilege of using it after all.
While this is true, the reason it’s so annoying when people curl in the squat rack is that not only is it unnecessary, it also restricts other people from having an effective workout – which is arguably the main reason why you shouldn’t do it.
A squat rack has specific functionality and uses for lifters. It provides a structure that allows you to safely and easily train with heavier weights for the main compound exercises. The same is true for a power rack. These frames allow lifters to perform heavy squats, presses, and rows in a safe and controlled area of the gym floor.
Why Do People Do Curls in the Squat Rack?
Me curling in the squat rack… but it’s my home gym so it’s fine.
The main reason people do curls in the squat rack is for convenience. A squat rack with J-hooks or spotter arms means that you can rest the barbell at a comfortable and convenient height in between sets.
It’s also easy to change plates when using different weights, and you can go to failure and drop the bar without damaging the weight plates or the floor.
If you’ve tried loading a barbell with plates while it’s on the floor, you’ll know it can be a little bit of effort lifting the bar with one hand while trying to load the plate with your other. Therefore, it’s just easier to rest it on pins in the squat rack and use minimal effort in between sets to change weights or even pick the bar up to start a set.
While the above applies to many people, some people just don’t know that you shouldn’t curl in a squat rack! There are gym policies on the wall in most gyms but these are mainly:
“Please put away your weights when you are finished with them”
There is nothing to say don’t curl in the squat rack and it’s also not forbidden or bannable – though I’m sure Planet Fitness likely has some kind of ban for this action?
It’s just an annoyance to experienced lifters and most beginners simply don’t understand that it’s considered bad etiquette. It’s easy to curl in the squat rack and as humans, it’s in our nature to gravitate towards what is easy.
Therefore, while some people curl in the squat rack because they simply don’t care and want to rack that bar and load/unload weights with minimal effort in between sets, the majority of people just don’t know that you shouldn’t curl in the squat rack.
Why You Shouldn’t Do Bicep Curls in the Squat Rack
The main reason why you shouldn’t curl in the squat rack is that it’s a misuse of equipment. A squat rack is named so because it’s designed for performing squats. A power rack is named so because it’s designed for performing powerlifting exercises (squat, bench, deadlifts, etc…).
Both types of rack/cage have features that support heavy weightlifting and the key aspect for them is safety.
They come with J-hooks to easily rack and unrack the barbell, have spacings for spotter arms to drop the bar on a failed lift, and also have a large footprint to safely drop a barbell without impact or risking injury to people training nearby.
Basically, they are designed for heavy weightlifting. A bicep curl is not considered heavy weightlifting.
A bicep curl can be done anywhere on the gym floor and many argue that you shouldn’t necessarily be using “heavy” weight for this kind of exercise because it’s an isolation exercise utilizing a small muscle group.
A barbell curl is considered a compound exercise for the bicep, however, most people won’t be lifting weight above 225lbs, with around 175lbs being more realistic and much, much less for a beginner. For such lightweight relative to what can be lifted when squatting and pressing, the squat rack doesn’t cater to a bicep curl.
The above is the technical reason why you shouldn’t curl in the squat rack, the real reason though is the inconvenience to other lifters. Squat racks are in short supply in the majority of commercial and even specialist gyms, they are therefore reserved for the people who really need them.
If someone is waiting to squat 500lbs, you can’t do that in an open free weight area of the gym and you need to use the squat rack, there’s no way around it. If you need to wait to use it because someone is performing curls (which can be done anywhere in the gym), then it’s going to cause frustration.
The bottom line is that bicep curls can be performed anywhere in the gym and the squat rack should therefore be reserved for those that are going to use it for its intended purpose. No single person’s routine is more important than another’s, but thinking logically if someone needs to squat 500lbs, it’s only reasonable that someone curling 80lbs does so elsewhere to facilitate this. That’s almost the definition of gym etiquette.
If you have a home gym and access to your own squat rack, feel free to use it however you wish. This article is not designed to tell anyone how they should train or what to do. When it comes to a commercial gym though, you really should be considerate to others and avoid curling in the squat rack.
A squat rack has a very specific purpose in that it allows people to train heavy compound lifts comfortably and safely. There’s no easy way to work from a 222lb – 450lb squat without the use of a squat rack. It is however easy to pick up a barbell and train anywhere else on the gym floor if you want to do bicep curls.
This is the reason why it’s considered bad etiquette to curl in the squat rack, you prevent someone else from having an effective workout and while it might be accidental, it’s completely avoidable.
So, next time you are in a commercial gym and have arm day – don’t be that person. Find a suitable space on the gym floor to curl and reserve the squat rack for exercises that actually require it.