Tag Archives: smr

How to Improve the Front Rack Position

frontrack

The front rack position is useful for the front squat, clean (also any variation of it like the hang clean or power clean) and any olympic style overhead press (i.e. push press or jerk).

 

Front Rack Position

Here is a quick example of what a good front rack looks like.

front-rack

She could improve her position by pushing the elbows in (together) and up a little more. She could also grab the bar a little wider to make this possible.

Key points to a good front rack position:

Grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder width. Note that 2-3 fingers on the bar per hand is enough to keep the bar in place for a front squat or to finish a clean, if current wrist flexibility limits you from grabbing it with 4 fingers per hand. The load should be carried by the ‘shoulder shelf’ created by the arm position, so the hands only serve to help hold the bar in position and should not be carrying the load.

Note: For a push press or jerk, flexibility will need to be improved until four fingers can be placed on the bar with a fairly narrow grip (right outside the shoulders basically) to facilitate proper overhead pressing mechanics.

Force the elbows in and up, which puts the shoulder in external rotation and allows for a good position: Chest up, shoulders back and down. The bar should rest in the groove created behind the front delts, very close to the throat.

 

Flexiblity/Mobility for the Front Rack Position

The front rack position requires more flexibility than most other upper body movements. To facilitate a good front squat with vertical torso, hip mobility and ankle mobility will also be important, but I will stick to front rack specific stretches and mobility drills in this particular article. Always take the entire body into account for compound movements.

Areas that need to be stretched and/or massaged (i.e. using self myofascial release) to create a good front rack position tend to be the pecs (especially pec minor), lats, triceps, wrists and thoracic spine (often simply called the T-spine or upper back). Daily or even multiple times daily stretching and mobility work will improve things quickly, but not everyone has time for that. Do these things when you have time for them and prioritize them depending on how bad your front rack position currently is (and how important a good one is to you). Expect results based on how much work you put in and how consistent you are.

The following videos are resources I use to improve my own front rack, which was fairly atrocious a couple weeks back and is slowly improving now as I spend time daily on improving my shoulder and front rack specific mobility. Take what you find useful and use it in your own training.

 

Front Rack Help from MWOD

I’ll start you off with a few front rack specific MWOD videos from Kelly Starrett. If you’re interested in watching more of his videos, check out his YouTube Channel and his web site mobilitywod.com. He knows his shit and – if you have the spare cash – I can also recommend getting his Supple Leopard book. It’s basically the mobility bible.

Tools required: Jumpstretch Band | Dowel Rod, PVC Pipe or Broomstick (I’d go for the PVC pipe because it has some ‘give’ to it.) – Special note: If you don’t have a partner to hold your elbows together for the second stretch, wrap a jumpstretch band around your arms at the elbows to hold them together. You’ll feel like you’re wearing a straitjacket, but it’s all good.

Tools required: Barbell | Squat Stand or Power Rack

Tool required: Jumpstretch Band | Lacrosse Ball Peanut (made with two lacrosse balls taped together with athletic tape like this) or get the fancy MobilityWOD GeminiNote: If you’re going to do a good amount of mobility work recommended by MWOD, a mobility pack from Rogue is a good ‘starter kit’.

The next video is more of an explanation on how to set up your front rack when you front squat. No mobility drills, but it’s very good information.

Tools required: Jumpstretch Band | Kettlebell | PVC Pipe

Tools required: Jumpstretch Band | Athletic Tape

 

Other Helpful Stretches and Drills for the Front Rack

The rest of these aren’t from MWOD, but they’re still really good.

This article describes a nice front rack stretch with a PVC pipe.

In the video above, I set the starting time at the 2 minute mark, because that’s when Glenn Pendlay describes his partner stretch specific to the front rack. The exercise before that is also good for shoulder mobility.

A while back, I did an article with some self myofascial release videos from Kai Wheeler. For the front rack specifically, you’d want to do the traps, pecs, lats and subscapularis ones.

 

Other Grip Options for the Front Squat

With clean variations or Olympic style overhead presses, you really have no options aside from the front rack, but for front squat I believe there are two other feasible options.

Cross Arm Grip

If you don’t have the required upper body mobility to do the front squat with a true front rack position, the cross arm grip shown below might be an option for you.

My problem with this ‘easy fix’ is that you’re not going to improve the underlying issue of poor mobility in the upper body when you take this route. A lot of people also find it easier to maintain their torso position with a true front rack position with clean grip once weights get heavier. The front rack with clean grip also makes it easier to ditch the weight in a more natural way, if you miss a lift.

You can argue that a guy like Dan Green front squats over 600lbs with a cross grip, but he is definitely more of the exception than the rule (with regards to just about any lift).

If you work on your mobility and use a cross grip while you develop the required mobility to do a clean grip front squat, I see no problem with it. I would recommend working toward using a clean grip front rack if possible… or at least gain the required mobility to do so. Being flexible enough to do this will keep your shoulders safer on other lifts as well and enable you to perform them with good mechanics.

Strap Method

You will need some lifting straps for this one.

This is a better stepping stone toward a true clean grip front rack position, if your mobility isn’t quite there yet. Christian Thibaudeau explains in the video above why he prefers the strap method over the cross arm grip and I tend to agree with him on this topic.

 

And that about wraps up the things I do to improve my front rack position. I hope it helps some of you!

Limber 11 Video – Upgrade of Agile 8

One of the most popular lower body warmup and general flexibility routines has been the Agile 8 from Joe DeFranco. The video below is a new and improved version called the Limber 11, also from Joe DeFranco. This routine will improve your hip mobility and can be a part of your daily active recovery work.

Tools you will need: Lacrosse Ball | Foam Roller – A PVC pipe does the trick and the Rumble Roller is probably the best foam roller you can buy. I also like the Trigger Point The Grid foam roller.

Pain Relief with Self Myofascial Release from Kai Wheeler

I just came across Kai Wheeler’s YouTube channel and she has some awesome self myofascial release (SMR) videos I wanted to share with you. I touched on this in my active recovery article, but today I’ll just stick to a few quick videos from Kai Wheeler on how to release parts of the body that generally need it.

Tools You’ll Need

For some of the SMR she uses her hands, but a lot of the videos show methods that will require a lacrosse ball (or a tennis ball, if you can’t handle a lacrosse ball yet). Some of them also require a medicine ball.

Personally, I have the following SMR tools: Lacrosse ball (most important in my opinion), PVC pipe (get it at a home improvement store and wrap it in duct tape to make it less slippery), foam roller and Rumble Roller.

Other SMR tools, if you have the cash to spare: This Trigger Point Set and the Trigger Point Roller are pretty badass. A ton of people also love The Stick.

Traps

Pecs

Subscapularis

Lats

Hamstrings

Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL) – Outside Hip Muscle

Hip Adductor – Inner Thigh

Rectus Femoris – Quad or Thigh

Calf

Gluteus Medius – Glutes or Butt

Piriformis – Deep Gluteal Muscle or Deep in Your Butt … That’s what she said.

 

Subscribe to Kai’s channel, because I’m sure she’ll be posting more SMR videos in the near future. I subscribed myself, because I don’t want to miss those.

 

BRB going to do some SMR.

Ankle Mobility

Other Mobility Articles: Shoulder Mobility | Thoracic Mobility | Hip Mobility

 

Adequate mobility throughout the body is important, especially for people who lift weights and athletes that have to move efficiently. Even non-lifters and non-athletes can benefit from postural integrity however, so there is really no valid excuse to have poor mobility. With that being said, the ankles (and adequate range of motion within them) are part of an important foundation that allows you to have better mechanics in all sorts of movement patterns from walking to squatting.

 

Do You Have Decent Ankle Mobility?

A great way to test ankle mobility quickly is to check whether or not you’re able to get into the bottom position of a pistol squat. A pistol squat places a lot of demands on ankle mobility. Where you’re able to compensate more easily for poor ankle mobility in a bilateral squat, the pistol squat will expose your weakness. The video below from MobilityWOD is where this idea came from.

Strength or lack thereof could be a limiting factor in this test, so if you can’t do a pistol squat and you believe it’s because you simply aren’t strong enough to do a unilateral squat movement, then keep it bilateral. Do a regular body weight squat: Heels on the ground throughout the movement with weight distributed through the tripod of your feet. Your feet should be turned out slightly at about 15° and people with exceptional ankle mobility will be able to keep them pointed straight forward. Don’t try to keep your feet pointed straight forward, unless you know you have great ankle flexibility. This can cause knee pain without the required ankle mobility. Why? Answer part 1 and part 2. 🙂 Squat all the way down with the knees tracking your feet (at minimum) or preferably outside your feet. If your knees cave inward during any part of the movement, or you simply can’t get them to at least track your feet, there is a very good chance  you should work on hip mobility. (Note: This does not mean you have adequate ankle mobility, it simply means you have poor hip mobility.)

When doing the squat movement, see if you notice your feet turning outward as you squat down. If this happens, there is a good chance you should work  on ankle mobility. The turning out of the feet is how your ankle compensates for less than optimal mobility to reach depth on the squat. Great hip mobility can compensate for this a little bit, but you should still strive to at least have good ankle mobility.

 

Improving Ankle Mobility

Now that you kind of know where you stand with regards to your ankle mobility, it’s time to improve it.

One of my favorite ankle mobility drills is this one from Kelly Starrett.

More ankle mobility drills: Foam roll your calves like this and stretch them like this. Also mash your calves like this. Improve ankle mobility with a box, jumpstretch band and a friend like this. More ankle mobility work being done here. Another good ankle stretch is this one. If you’re looking for a badass foam roller, the Rumble Roller is your best bet. Your cheapest option is getting a PVC pipe though. Pro tip: Wrap it in duct tape to make it less slippery.

Fix your feet! The feet are also important. Mash them like this with a tennis ball, lacrosse ball (what I use personally) and/or golf ball. Also worth watching: Rebuilding the Feet (from MWOD) – Part 1 and Part 2

 

Compensating for Ankle Mobility Issues When Squatting

Now you know how to improve your ankle mobility, but it’s not going to be completely fixed overnight (while you will notice a difference immediately after self myofascial release) and there is a very potent trick to quickly mask a deficit in ankle flexiblity: Wear Olympic weightlifting shoes to squat (high bar, Oly style squat with a fairly narrow stance) or when you perform Olympic lifts like the snatch or clean. The 0.75″ heel lift in these shoes allows for greater ankle range of motion, which in turn enables you to squat deeper with less than optimal ankle and/or hip flexiblity. Oly shoes also give you a very stable platform to squat from, because they don’t compress like most other shoes. This doesn’t mean you stop working on mobility. It simply means you can compensate a little bit for less than optimal ankle mobility.

adidas-power-perfect-2

Note: If you squat low bar with a wider stance, you’re probably better off wearing flat shoes like Converse Chuck Taylors. More on that in my article about lifting shoes.

 

Conclusion

There is usually a fairly easy way to address a mobility or pain issue. In this case, we have a lack of flexibility in the ankle, so we attack what’s above it (the lower leg) and what’s below it (the foot) to improve it. Coupled with poor ankle mobility can be knee pain, which we try to improve by fixing hip mobility and ankle mobility. Above and below again.

And that wraps up ankle mobility. As always, it’s just my opinion. I’m not a doctor or physical therapist. I’m just a guy who lifts and reads. If you have anything to add, leave it in the comments and I might edit this article to include it.