Front squatting and cleans are some of the highest-intensity calorie burning exercises you can perform. However, many people struggle to master the front rack position. This sticking point will cause pain for many people and is often the reason most forgo front squatting.
What is The Front Rack?
The front rack is the position in which the barbell sits while performing front squats or where you catch the bar during cleans.
Proper rack positioning places the bar across your collarbone and shoulders. Your elbows should be pointed towards the sky, and if you have proper thoracic mobility, your chest should be high, back tight, and you should have a couple fingers wrapped around the bar.
This position, however, can be extremely painful and difficult for many people to get themselves into. Due to this pain, this is why many people skip front squatting or develop shoulder issues from not properly executing cleans.
In today’s modern computerized world, the vast majority of us – even fitness writers – spend far too much time hunched over with rounded shoulders. This position causes our pec minor and major in our chest to become shortened and tight, while muscles like our traps, rhomboids, lats, and rear deltoids lengthen and weaken.
The two most common causes for a poor front rack position are:
- Lack of thoracic mobility
- Weak upper back strength
Thoracic Mobility for a Better Front Rack
Thoracic mobility can be improved by adding these two stretches to your warm-up routine. What makes these even more awesome is that these stretches can be performed on a break at the office or during a Netflix binge at home.
- Quadruped Thoracic Rotation
Begin this stretch by getting onto your hands and knees. Place one hand behind your head and without rotating from your hips, reach with your elbow underneath the stationary hand, then rotate back through the starting position and take your elbow to the sky – reaching as far as you comfortably can without pain (tip, follow your elbow with your eyes).
- Thoracic Spine Opening on Foam Roller
Place a foam roller just under your shoulder blades. Lean back until your head touches the floor, bending your upper back without moving the rest of your body. If you lack the mobility this will be hard at first but don’t push yourself into pain, take it slow and each time work to get a little further.
The Empire Lifts Back
The second most common sticking point for the front rack is most people lack the strength needed from the upper back muscles to stabilize the shoulders and remain in an upright position throughout the squat.
It’s this weakness that leads to bailing and upper back rounding. The best way to build a stronger, more stable front rack, is to train your back more often.
One easy rule to follow is to implement a 2:1 ratio with chest and back exercises. Meaning, for every chest exercise you perform you must do two back focused strength exercises on top of that.
The extra volume and workload that your back will receive will help you to gain more muscle and strengthen the muscles of your upper back.
Dumbbell based exercises like the 3-point row, incline chest supported dumbbell rows, Batwing rows, seal rows, shrugs, or cable based exercises like face-pulls, stiff-arm lat pulldowns, or rear delt flyes are great ways to strengthen the traps, rhomboids, and upper back muscles that will improve your posture.
You don’t need to fear the front squat or avoid it like the plague. Developing the thoracic mobility and upper back strength will not only translate to better posture, less muscles aches from typing, but will also help you build a strong and stable front rack position. This position is going to be a game changer in your overall gym performance and your muscle building or fat loss goals.