How often do you catch a clean or do a front squat, only to lose the position you worked so hard to get to. Your elbows drop, your shoulders shift forward, and you really do look like a dog fighting to get their shit out. So why is it that that some people make a front rack look so effortless, while other just struggle. Well, for 99% of the population, it’s pretty simple. You’re only missing 3 key elements.
What does it take to have a great front rack? If you have a coach I am sure they may say something like mobility and strength If you’re lucky, your coach may have mentioned breathing or valsalva. But where do I need the mobility and strength? And how do I get better at them if I am struggling?
Lets look at strength first. I know some incredibly strong individuals who just cave under a heavy front rack. So it’s not general strength or power, what you need is much more specific to the front rack. A lot of the people I see with poor front racks have incredibly well, even overdeveloped, upper traps. But that does not mean that their upper back is strong. The area that needs to be strengthened are the rhomboids, middle, and lower trapezius, and that is because of the way these muscles function. (insert pic of origin and insertion)
The rhomboids, middle, and lower trapezius are responsible for scapular retraction and thoracic extension. These are undoubtedly the two things you need to do with your upper back to help ensure a solid front rack position. So what do you do to develop these muscles?
Sotts Press (front / back)
Trap 3 Raise
Just 3x10 of one exercise each day will develop the incredible strength you need to have a strong front rack.
In some cases people have the strength in their upper back, but they do not know how to stabilize their spine under any condition. These people typically lift significant weight, but even a beginner can tell something is off. This is because their spine is never truly stabilized, and because of it, their torso moved throughout the entire movement (very dangerous).
In order to stabilize your spine you need to first be able to move it. This is where mobility comes into play. To stabilize your spine, any and all muscles that originate or insert on the posterior side of the body need to be functioning properly. Some of the big culprits here are the lats, upper trap, rhomboids, glutes, triceps, erectors, QLs, psoas, the list goes on. When these do not contract properly because of adhesions, or shortened length, or prolonged stretching (bad posture), they stop your spine from moving (which it should be able to do, just don't let it happen under load).
Once you lose the ability to perform extension/flexion/rotation of your spine,you also lose the ability to be aware of your spine. If your squat starts in a bad position it will end in a bad position, no way around it. You need to be able to get in a good position at the beginning (mobility), then hold that position the entire time you move (stability). Finally, you need to know if or when you lose that position (awareness). We have a very in depth mobility and stability program we offer that goes through multiple phases over 6 months that will teach you how to mobilize, stabilize, and develop awareness of your spine. However, even If you possess all of the things we have mentioned so far strength, mobility, stability and awareness there is one last thing that can break your positions down quickly.
Breathing can have a very intense effect on your training, both acutely and chronically. Many people have mentioned this before, so we are only going to be looking at it in the sense of how it affects the front rack right now. With front squats, most people breath between reps, which is smart because you'd likely blackout otherwise. But a lot of what happens is people’s breathing mechanics, especially under load, change the organization of the spine each rep. This usually causes a hyper extended lower back, and the chest rises. Both of these things means that the valsalva we are hoping to accomplish does not actually occur. If valsalva is off, then we do not form the increased internal pressure that our body can push against to keep us upright under load. Then boom, rep 2 looks worse than 1, 3 worse than 2, and so on until we dump the bar or look like we have never touched a bar a day in our life.