How to Implement Assessment and Corrective Strategies into Your Box: Part 3 – Assessing Front Rack Mobility

cerbus front squatIn last week’s article we talked about implementing assessments for overhead mobility into your box, this time we’ll talk front rack (Front rackanese?).  One of the first things I’ll ask when going over the front rack is, who out there has a perfect front rack position?  Usually the answer is not too many.  Improving front rack position is something that most of us can probably benefit from.

How much faster would you be at Fran if you could just get yourself into a solid front rack position?  Of course it would be faster.  What’s exciting to me is that we can improve our Fran times with a through evaluation and corrective strategy without having to pound a thousand reps (although mobility is not an excuse not to train hard).  What’s also interesting is that if you do have a significant restriction, you’ll never reach exercise mastery with exercises that require a sound front rack.

I also tend to see a decent amount of pain associated with the front rack position.  The pain is typically in the shoulder while in the rack and while pressing out of and returning into the front rack during overhead press.  Give them a set of dumbbells and ask them to do the same and they don’t have the pain anymore.

I also see a decent amount of medial elbow pain in the front rack.  It makes sense, if you’re missing motion from the joint that’s supposed to rotate (The shoulder into external rotation) you’ll try and get motion from the next joint down the line which is the elbow (Which last time I checked doesn’t rotate too well).  You’ll also see individuals with poor shoulder rotation end up in thoracic and lumbar extension with their ribs flaired up.  We know this isn’t efficient.

Assessing front rack position is actually pretty easy.  This assessment is easily placed into a foundations / elements / on ramp day where you’ll be going over the front rack.  I like to evaluate this on a day you’ll be going over the thruster.  The reason for this is because the thruster is going to require your athletes to have the maximum amount of front rack mobility.  If you can keep a full grip on the bar, sink into a deep front squat and finish your thruster without any compensations you’ll have enough motions for cleans, front squats and jerks.

Here’s how I assess the front rack.  If you want to be even more strict then use a PVC pipe.

Now once you’ve spotted the athletes who have issues here then let them know.  At this point I like to show a few good corrective strategies to help people who are having difficulty with the front rack.  Here are some of my favorites:

Athletes should also be given a specific schedule for mobilizing with sets and reps (To be explained during the warm-up and performance of exercises).  I like my athletes to be performing these exercises before and after classes as well as 1-2 times per day on off days.  The faster we can eliminate these deficits, the better.

Note: If a member passes this test with flying colors then they don’t need to be spending time with front rack mobility.  We want efficiency with our corrective exercises and we want to be spending the bulk of our time actually training.

This gives valuable information to the coach as well because if we have an athlete with sub par technique we can know if they have a true flexibility restriction or they need better cues / different exercises or more time and practice.  Like stated in part 1, let’s put a square block through a square hole and practice efficiency.

Again, these assessments aren’t perfect.  A front rack can go wrong at the wrist, elbow, shoulder or thoracic spine.  It could be a muscular issue, joint / capsular issue or potentially a nerve issue.  It could also be a true flexibility problem, motor control issue or technical issue.  Keep in mind that an issue at the hip or ankle will cause the elbows to drop during a front squat as well.  Atleast this is a start to correcting our athlete’s issues.

Now, if you have an athlete who has a terrible front rack position what can we do to modify things before proceeding with these movements?

Front Squat Mod 2

Front Squat mod 1

  • For Front Squats: Arms crossed variation, Strap modification, Goblet Squats, Back Squat, Safety Squat Bar
  • For Cleans, Presses and Thrusters: Dumbbell, Medicine Ball and Kettlebell Variations, Clean Pulls, RDLs, High Pulls

So to recap:

  1. Begin assessment on the 1st few visits of your athletes at your box, preferably on a day where you’re teaching thrusters.
  2. Explain why having full range of motion is important for performance and safety.
  3. Perform a front rack assessment.  Utilize barbells and if you desire to be more strict about assessment, perform your assessment with PVC pipes.  Identify athletes with issues and set an expectation for those athletes to begin working on improving their mobility.
  4. Explain that if you don’t have a restriction you won’t need to do perform extra mobility
  5. Teach and perform several corrective strategies as part of a warm-up.  Explain that these exercises will be your friend if you have a limitation.
  6. Set the expectation that your athletes need to work on these limitations with specific set/rep/frequency goals for progress (Up to twice per day everyday)
  7. If your members fail these tests give them options for modifications of the lifts shown throughout the session.

As stated in part 1, I strongly suggest making this a system at your box.  Like anything else, there is a learning curve for putting this into play.  Once it’s in place and being used consistently, it isn’t a big deal at all anymore.

Again, this isn’t a perfect system, only a work in progress.  I’d be very interested in hearing how your box implements overhead screening.  Please respond in the comments if you have any ideas for improvement or want to share how your gym addresses this.

Racks on Racks on Racks,

Dan Pope DPT, CSCS

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