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Improving Your Front Rack Mobility In CrossFit and Olympic Lifting

Front rack mobility In CrossFit can be questionable at times. Since I made the transition to more CrossFit/cross lifting style of training, I’ve seen some shocking cleans and front squats, This is due to mobility and tightness issues that are limiting the front rack position.

The 2020 CrossFit games had a max front squat event as well. I’m sure this lead to a lot of people trying they max front squat, and like some of the top athletes at the games, they will be going all spinal on their max lifts.

However not to worry! As you can improve your front rack mobility in CrossFit quite quickly. The form will break down when you are doing max effort lifts, however, this can be prevented with some focused mobility work.

The Front Rack Position.

This movement is a combination of –

  • Shoulder flexion
  • Shoulder external rotation
  • Elbow extension
  • Wrist extension

The Main Muscles

It’s common that a lot of people feel a lot of pressure in the wrist and elbows. This is mainly due to the fact they have to compensate for the other muscles that are needed in this movement.

Latissimus Dorsi

The main one is the Latissimus Dorsi (Lat) the massive muscle on the back that attaches to the side of the spine and to the inside of the upper arm.

The main movements of the Lat are shoulder adduction and slight shoulder extension and internal rotation. This is the complete opposite of what we want to achieve in the front squat position.

Tricep

The triceps are the muscle on the back of your upper arm and their main roles are elbow and shoulder extension. Again, the opposite to what we want in the front rack position.

Shoulder Internal Rotation

The subscapularis is one of the rotator cuff muscles. Its job is to internally rotate the shoulder. To grab the bar in a comfortable position we need to externally rotate the shoulder, as it’s important to have an adequate length in this muscle and movement.

Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine is the upper back portion of your spine. To keep the elbows high throughout the front squat or the clean, it’s important to have enough thoracic extension. This is commonly quite tight due to the number of people working in offices, slumped at desks and looking at computers.

Test It

I have a few different ways to test these movements but the main one is to try the front rack position with an empty bar, seeing how high you can get your elbows. If you can’t keep your elbows high with an empty bar, how would you expect to do it with a loaded one?

The other test I like to do is this variation of a wall angel sitting with your back flat against the wall, holding a light bar or PVC pipe to help keep your shoulders externally rotated and raising your arms to the wall as far as you can without your back coming off the wall. arm fully touching the wall is good mobility, if you cant get closer this could be something to work on.

Starting position for the lat length test
Straight up to the wall knuckles touching, is the end position of this test.

Fix It

Now you know if you are tight, how do we fix it? There are a few different techniques I like to use –

  1. Foam rolling and pin and stripping – rolling throughout the full range of the muscle, specifically targeting any tight/painful bits. When you find a painful bit, I would stay in the area that is painful and move. e.g. if you are on your tricep, extend and flex the elbow to pin and strip the area.
  2. Stretching and mobilisation – stretching is more of static exercises such as a child’s pose. Whereas mobilisation takes the muscle or joint through its full range a number of times slowly improving it. For this reason, where possible I would recommend mobilisation over stretching.
  3. Eccentric loading – this is loading the movement slowly in the lowering phase. Take a pull-up, for example, you can jump up to get your chest to the bar then slowly and with control lower yourself down throughout the full range of the movement.

Here are my favourite exercises to improve the front rack –

Conclusion

Improving your front rack mobility in CrossFit and Olympic lifting is important to build the foundation to a good front squat or clean. Making sure you can get into this position comfortably before loading up a bar is going to be important for injury prevention. Don’t be going all spinal on me. Spending a bit of time warming your front rack before a workout can make a huge difference. You will be surprised how quickly you can improve.

Let me know in the comments what movement/exercises you would like me to cover next.

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