The front rack position is a challenging position for many people who exercise with a barbell. It is involved in many movements, including the front squat, clean, jerk or pretty much any movement that requires you to keep the barbell rested on the front of your shoulders. In my experience, it’s mostly men who deal with the lack of flexibility but women alike also struggle with keeping it during many of the movements. Some struggle to get in position, and some struggle to just keep the position. There are reasons for both of those issues to happen and the way we help each are slightly different. If I had one piece of advice for anyone it would be to lose the “elbows up” mentality and think “elbows forward”. This idea gets the proper shoulder muscles engaged and really helps strengthen the position.
In this article we are going to go over the following:
- Flexibility fixes
- Strengthening exercises
- Modifications for front rack struggles
All of the above can be beneficial for anyone who has limitations in this position, but most people need an individualized program to be sure you are not wasting your time working on something that is not for you. That being said, we will also go over a few tests to be sure you know which exercises to choose. Enjoy!
Let’s check flexibility!
Do you think flexibility is the issue? Check to see if that is the case with the following tests.
You need full wrist flexibility to get a full front rack position. Test it out!
- Get on the floor on your hands and knees, pointing fingers away.
- Keep fingers flat on the floor as you shift your weight forwards.
Can you keep your palms down and get your shoulders and chest over your hands?
Yes? You have great wrist mobility and do not need to spend time here!
No? You have stiff wrists and forearms, you should probably spend time here.
Try this wrist mobility drill for 1-2 mins every time you are in the gym.
Elbow and shoulder mobility
You need a full elbow bend to get a full front rack position. Test it out!
- Stand with your arms out straight in front of you
- With your palms facing each other and thumbs up, bend your elbows as far as you can.
Can you touch your shoulders without your arms dropping?
Yes? Elbow mobility is in check and you don’t have to spend time here!
No? Elbow mobility needs some work, you should probably spend time here.
Try this elbow and shoulder mobility drill for 1-2 mins every time you are in the gym.
Strength is next!
This is an area that will help any and all wanting to either achieve, improve or refine their front rack position. Most feel that the front rack is all about flexibility, but in most cases it isn’t. It actually takes a ton of upper back, core, and shoulder strength to be able to keep that bar in place. Here are some drills that will really make a huge impact! Get ready, they get pretty spicy.
Strength Exercise #1: Banded front raises
This is a great drill that can be used as a warm-up. You want to think about pushing your elbows forward as you raise them up. I like to say, “scooping” the arms because I would like your elbows to stay bent. The bent position is VERY important as it simulates part of the front rack position. Three sets of 8 is a perfect amount.
Strength Exercise #2: Military press rotations
This one is a KILLER. This accessory movement works on everything front rack. Try and keep the forearms parallel to each other the entire time. Begin with 3 sets of 10-12.
Strength Exercise #3: Plank rocks with active scaps
This helps build the core strength as well as shoulder position and endurance. This another, like the military press rotation, helps if you have a great front rack position but have issues keeping it. Keep that upper back pushed towards the ceiling the entire time.
Strength Exercise #4: Front rack holds
This is the last and final in the front rack strength prescription. Just more front rack. Really focus on tight belly, stand straight up, and forward elbows (not “high” elbows). Remember to breathe. Start with about 50% of your max front squat and hold for 1 minute. Rest about 60-90 seconds, then repeat for a total of 3 sets. If that felt easy, go heavier next time.
Lastly, we will go over some modifications.
This is going to be talked about last because this is the quick fix everyone wants, but does not get you to where you want to be. Thanks for reading all the way through, but the stuff listed above is much more beneficial in the long run.
Modification #1: Crossed-arm Front Squat
This is quite the challenge on the shoulder muscles and it can get pretty sore on the skin. That being said, it can be a great way to opt out of the front rack.
Modification #2: Front Squat with Straps/Towels
This is a way to continue to keep the bar in front but does not require as much wrist mobility as the front squat. It is a fine modification and many use it frequently. I would not say that there is greater benefit in this one versus the crossed-arm.
Modification #3: Frankenstein Front Squat
I would not consider this a modification, but more of a drill. This helps strengthen the shoulders and gets you more comfortable with the weight of the bar in front of you. If you are proficient with the front squat mobility, but struggle to keep position after many reps, this is a great drill.
I hope this helped! Please share your feedback or send it to friends and fellow athletes who battle this front rack struggle!