The front rack position is critical for successfully nailing cleans, heavy front squats, and even jerks. Despite our best efforts to cue this positioning, the front rack seems highly elusive to both beginners and intermediate weightlifters and fitness athletes alike. Lack of mobility, stabilization, and/or awareness of sound barbell positioning while in the front rack are all potential reasons behind a poor front rack.
In this article, we will explore some common, and uncommon drills and practices to improve your front rack position during squats, cleans, and jerks.
What is an ideal front rack position?
The ideal positioning in a front rack is highly dependent upon the individual. Limb lengths, previous injuries, and mobility limitations can play a role if one finding the most comfortable and stable positioning. Generally speaking, the following are true across all front rack positions, and should be kept in check throughout the rack positioning in squatting, cleaning, and jerking.
“Elbows Up, Elbows Up!” Whatever your cueing is, the elbows need to be pushed towards the weights to some degree (often I have found most lifters benefit from having the elbows up 45-90 degrees from the floor) to allow the barbell to sit upon the shoulders (never the chest). This will allow the barbell to sit securely in the front rack position instead of needed to be held with the shoulders and arms.
Spread Your Wings
Lat engagement is critical to maintaining a secure positioning and vertical alignment in the front rack. Slight scapular elevation with a side of protraction is often seen, which will increase stabilization while in the front rack as well as increase the shelf for the barbell to sit upon.
Externally Rotate the Shoulders
While in the rack position, slight external rotation needs to occur to help stabilize the shoulder joint. While in the front rack, I often urge lifters to think about sweeping their triceps under the barbell so that they are near or at parallel to one another, while still maintaining opening of the lats, securing a broad, braced torso.
Breathe Through The Belly
Diaphragmatic breathing is key to bracing and the Valsalva maneuver. While under the load, be sure to fill the belly with air, increasing intra-abdominal pressures. This will also allow for greater movement and positioning in the lats and shoulders, since heavy chest breathing may decrease your ability to maneuver the limbs under load to find your rack positioning.
5 Drills and Exercises to Try
The following exercises/drills have been beneficial for many of my athletes, clients, and training partners for improving the front rack positioning in weightlifting and CrossFit movements. Although only a snapshot of the numerous drills and exercises out there, the following have supplied great results and improvement.
Lat and Tricep Mobility
Kelly Starrett covers some of the top mobility drills to stretch, smash, and increase lat and tricep ROM, all of which can improve the front rack positioning in cleans, squats, and overhead movements.
Scapular Movement Circles
Scapular elevation and protration are needed to secure a stable front rack position. This drill will increase the awareness of what each movement feels like to help lifters develop a better scapular stabilization during a lift.
Front Rack Partner Stretch
Both Grenn Pendlay and Jon North attribute this stretch as one of the best drills for lifters having issues getting in sound positioning in the front rack. Using a partner for this drill will allow you to focus in on keeping posture set and increase ROM. To view, fast forward to last half of the video below, or better yet, watch the whole thing and improve the snatch positioning too!
Front Rack Hold
This is a great exercise to not only supramaximally load this front rack positioning, but also to help a lifter gain confidence and awareness while in the front rack. By unracking the loaded barbell while locked in a stable front rack position, a lifter is able to develop a better understanding and bracing control in the front rack position.
Anderson/Pin/Bottoms Up Front Squat
Although it goes by many names, make no mistake, this exercise does exactly what it should. The Anderson/Pin/Bottoms Up front squat can be used to treat a breakdown of the front rack position at a given phase of the front squat or clean. By having a lifter find stabilization and positional strength from the bottom of the squat, you are able to develop a stronger front rack position throughout the entire ROM.
Coach and athletes should approach a poor rack positioning by first determining if there is any mobility concerns with the athlete. Once addressed, both positional awareness and stabilization are key to nailing a better front rack position, and ultimately improve performance.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
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