Updated: Jul 20, 2020
I have had a lot of inquiries recently about the best way to improve the front rack position. So I decided to write about it! This blog is essentially a quick tutorial on how to 1) quickly self assess the mobility of each region involved in the front rack position and 2) then how to start FIXING any limitations found in your assessment.
The front rack is a foundational position that is used in many barbell lifts including front squats, cleans, clean and jerks, push press, thrusters and more. If you are going to be participating in these lifts, it is important that you have sufficient mobility in certain areas to allow for you to master the front rack position without compensation or pain.
The main body regions involved in the front rack position are the thoracic spine, shoulder girdle, elbow, and wrist. I will also address briefly "neural tension" and its role in optimal front rack position.
Thoracic Spine: You need a certain amount of thoracic (upper back) extension available for the front rack. Check out the self test below.
If you notice or feel limitations, Here is a good exercise to address it.
Shoulder Girdle: There are several things that have to happen at the shoulder joint during a front rack that are beyond the scope of this blog. So let's keep it simple and say we need a sufficient amount of external rotation of the shoulder with the arms in front of us. Try the test below to see if you meet requirements.
Important note: make sure you test both sides as we work through the arms. You can only go as far as your most limited side during the front rack position.
If you had limitations with the shoulder test, give this mobility exercise a try!
Elbow: the elbow joint in isolation is typically not a contributing factor to poor front rack positioning. Mainly because elbow flexion is rarely limited on a healthy athlete. But when it is combined with the "wind up" with all the other body regions in play, it some times is limited and even painful! This video addresses testing the elbow flexion and what factors could be causing the limitation.
Here is a great way to mobilize the elbow and clear out restrictions:
Wrist: Adequate wrist extension is a must for a good front rack. Many of my clients report wrist pain or stiffness when trying the front rack and they normally have wrist extension limitations upon testing. Here is the wrist extension test and a quick way to work out restrictions.
One last contributing factor I want to address is neural tension. Now this is a topic that probably deserves its own blog in itself, but I at least want to introduce it and teach you a nerve gliding technique that best addresses the front rack position.
The nerves that start in our neck/upper spine and feed into the arms have to move, glide, stretch and slide just like our muscles/tendons do. When we put our arms in a "wound up" position such as the front squat, the ulnar nerve in particular is put on stretch as well. If the ulnar nerve is adhered or restriction anywhere in the system, it will give a sensation of tightness or heavy stretch, thus limiting overall flexibility. Adverse neural dynamic testing should be left to a trained clinician; but here is a video to teach you how to self glide the ulnar nerve.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Make sure you re test each region after going through the exercise to see if it improves! If you need more help solving the problem, Give me a call at 423 243 0394 or send me a message and we can set up a full evaluation to create a customized game plan for you!
As always, thanks for reading!
Andy Johnson PT, DPT, OCS