Front Rack Position
Here is a quick example of what a good front rack looks like.
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.
Tool required: Jumpstretch Band | Lacrosse Ball Peanut (made with two lacrosse balls taped together with athletic tape like this) or get the fancy MobilityWOD Gemini – Note: 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.
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!