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The StrongArm Sport Combo Rack is the best budget-priced combo rack currently on the market...and largely because it's the only budget-priced combo rack on the market. It's certainly not a bad combo rack, and for the price, it's actually good, but there are a lot of things we'd like to see improved on the rack that shouldn't grossly increase the price.
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We like the idea of a combo rack, although not the greatest piece of equipment for most home gym owners, and we especially like the idea of better-priced combo racks considering the prices of most of the competition. If you just have to have a combo rack and are on a budget, then this is about your only option currently...and it's not too bad of one.
A Combo Rack is basically an all in one barbell squat and bench press system that is designed for powerlifting meets. When this style of rack first came out, they were called the ER Rack, named after Eric Rasmussen. He designed and manufactured them as a way for powerlifting meet directors to quickly organize the platform so squats and bench presses could be run through as efficiently as possible. What also makes them quick and efficient for meets is that you are able to change the height setting (via lever or nowadays hydraulic jack) with weight still on the bar. The idea of the ER Rack quickly took off, and over the years the design has been expanded and updated.
Combo Racks today have built upon the idea of efficient usability, such as many using the above stated hydraulic lever systems to quickly raise and lower J-Cups to accommodate lifters of different heights. As you can imagine, this has also increased the overall price greatly to the point that many lifters are better off training in a power rack as it is would be a much more affordable option (unless you want to practice like you play.) Alas, StrongArm Sport has created somewhat of a bridge with its version of the Combo Rack, as its price tag of $725 (plus $185 shipping in the US) has made it a justified option for many in the powerlifting community, as well as those who want an affordable and easy to use rack that will allow them to perform all of the main barbell lifts.
We have spent several months testing out the StrongArm Sport Combo Rack and judging its performance, practicality, and durability. While there are many areas that we would like to see improved upon, we can confidently say that this is perhaps the best Combo Rack that can be purchased for around $900 (in fact, it’s one of the only ones currently available.) Even though the rack is listed at being $725, pricing in the US as listed above puts you above $800 total cost with shipping. This places the StrongArm Combo Rack significantly lower than the closest competition, as most combo racks we have found are priced around the $3000 mark.
One of the first things we realized when we unboxed the StrongArm Sport Combo Rack is how surprisingly heavy-duty it was for the price. It’s definitely not the quality level of some of the competition like the Rogue Combo Rack, but it’s also about a third of the price. The StrongArm Rack is made mostly with 12-Gauge 3” x 3” square steel, we typically see 11-gauge, but 12-gauge, although thinner, should hold up just fine and is a big reason the rack is so cheaply priced. This base is powder coated black, and the footprint is about 5’ x 4’. The adjustable aspects, such as the spotter arms and J-cup tubing are chrome plated with laser-cut numbering (as well as the StrongArm logo along the long piece of metal that extends to the bench J-cup). The logo, although a bit less than precise when you get close, actually looks pretty cool from a distance.
At the front of the StrongArm Combo rack is the lever system and plate storage. The plate storage functions as a counterbalance to prevent sliding movement from the rack when moving the bar in and out of the j-cups. There is also the option to bolt down the rack as there are holes at each of the 4 corners. The lever system is very easy to use and comes with 4 pins to assist the user to adjust the J-cup height whether or not weight is on the bar.
Using the lever height adjustment feature, we found that it was very easy to use and could get into a good flow of adjusting the heights up and down between 2 users during a high set squat session. The j-cups use what appears to be a PVC pipe, although StrongArm Sport write on their site that they’re nylon roller. Either way, they allow you to easily shift and slide to center the barbell into place. It feels kinda cheap, and we don’t foresee them lasting a super long time, but it doesn’t matter too much because they would be cheap and easy to replace. This said, so far it has not sustained any major damage besides some cuts and imprint from the knurling on some of our barbells, which also means the knurling is likely not being damaged in any significant way.
Due to the rack being a “combo rack,” it’s designed to be used for both squatting and benching. The bench is removable, and although heavy, moves into place rather easily. The bench is set to the smaller range of IPF standard, with a bench width of 11.8” and height of 16.5”. The bench cover is a synthetic leather fabric that seems to hold fine even wearing a sweaty t-shirt. This a similar vinyl to what we’ve seen used on other cheap, imported benches such as the Rep FID Bench. Although not ideal, it ends up holding up well in the long-term. In order to securely attach the bench (with spotter platforms attached) to the squat rack portion, you simply tighten it via two hand screws.
The bench j-cups are attached by an extension from the squat j-cups by a long, thick piece of metal. However, although thick, it’s very sturdy to the way it’s connected. The entire bench j-cup itself is a little wobbly and the sudden vibrating movements taking the barbell in and out can throw you off a little. The spotter arms/face-savers are well-built and seem to be very secure in their function. However, it is not recommended that you perform pin squats out of them as the rack itself is not designed to handle such lifts, even when bolted down.
Beneath the spotter arms/face-savers are 7 holes with 2 rods included per side that can be utilized to perform banded movements. While this is a cool feature, unless you're a very precise squatter or bencher, banded movements may not be the best thing in this rack as the base doesn’t extend nearly far enough. What this means is that you only have a very narrow window to pull the bar out to bench and squat with bands before the bands would start to pull you forward.
There are a few shortcomings that are pretty reasonable and acceptable given the price point. For instance, the welds throughout the rack are definitely not the prettiest we have seen, as well as the steel that it is made from is not the strongest (it uses 12-gauge steel while most combo racks use a combination of 7 and 11-gauge.) This is a question that certainly has come up a lot, and in response we will quote what StrongArm itself has to say:
"How is it different from an actual ER/Eleiko/Bull rack?" We get this question a lot. The StrongArm Combo rack is not meant to be a copy of those great products, the steel is not as heavy, the construction is not as "craftsman" precise. But we stand behind this product completely, and for 99% of those that buy one, you will not regret the decision. Just don't buy it expecting something identical to a product that costs 4 or 5 times the price.”
We actually greatly appreciate this honest response.
One area we would like to see improvement on though is added structure to the flimsy piece of metal on the extension to the bench j-cup. Perhaps a strategic piece of UHMW plastic would suffice. And while they are at it, adding plastic to the vertical parts of the j-cup would also aid in protecting the rack as well as the barbell itself.
In addition to the previously mentioned areas, we foresee the rollers wearing down rather quickly and we noticed many of the plastic sleeves that provide a buffer between the metal that slides against each other (think uprights and safety arms) was most cracked or missing.
Lastly, our unit showed up with one of the back weight pegs missing, which was possibly due to shipping as the box was pretty beat up, but I didn't notice any gaping holes during the unboxing.
When you consider the price point, we believe the StrongArm Sport Combo Rack is in a league of its own. No other combo rack even comes close in terms of price..yet. We fully expect to see other companies come out with imported combo racks to compete eventually and likely very soon. Companies like Rep Fitness and Titan Fitness are perfectly suited to compete in this area.
The top combo racks currently available are the Rogue Combo Rack, ER Equipment Squat & Bench Press Combo Rack, Eleiko Powerlifting Squat Stand/Bench Combo Rack, and the Texas Strength Systems Combo Rack. The combo rack that is most comparable to the StrongArm Sport Combo Rack is the rack from Texas Strength Systems. The TSS Combo Rack is stronger and more capable, but it’s also more expensive and we’ve heard of people having issues with customer service from the company.
The other combo racks on the market currently shouldn’t even be compared the StrongArm Rack. They’re at such different price points and quality levels that it’s not fair to either side. If you want the best and are going to be using the rack in a lot of meets, go with one of the others. If you’re on a budget and are mostly going to be using the rack for yourself, the StrongArm Sport Combo Rack is your best option at this time.
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