Is Your Front Rack Lacking? Try These 5 Fixes (Plus Some Technique Tips)

Here’s how to get past pain and stiffness in your squats, presses, and cleans.

The front rack position in Olympic lifting isn’t intuitive or natural the first time you try it. In fact, it is common for many athletes to have some limitations to their mobility when it comes to racking a barbell on their shoulders.

However, by developing the correct supporting musculature and unlocking the ranges you need to maintain a front rack position, you can develop an asset in the functional fitness world. Whether you’re doing front squats, cleans, or any type of overhead work with the barbell, a good rack position comes into play in a big way.

man squatting a barbell holding it in a front rack position

Here are five common mistakes related to the front rack, how to fix them, and some bonus information for building a steel-forged shelf for your barbell. 

Common Front Rack Mistakes

Mistake 1 — Poor Physical Awareness

All barbell movements are fundamentally skill-based exercises at their core, and the front rack is no different. If you’re struggling to find a posture that will allow you to clean or front squat enormously heavy weights, the issue may simply be that you don’t yet have the proprioception required for the movement.

Many of the techniques and skills that experienced lifters rely on for developing maximal strength are intrinsically unnatural to your body — and to your brain. If nothing is tight or painful but the front rack just doesn’t “feel right,” the solution might be easier than you think. 

How to Fix it

First and foremost, a good coach should be able to quickly identify your errors and correct them via physical adjustment. Having another person manually get your arms and torso where they need to be can cue you to perform the front rack properly on your own.

In lieu of that, merely having access to a mirror can provide adequate tactile feedback for your form. If you’re trying to learn the front rack on your own, a solid video reference and some practice in the mirror might be all you need. 

Mistake 2 — Improper Elbow Positioning

The key to a good front rack is having sufficiently “high elbows.” In practical terms, your upper arm should be close to parallel with the floor in the front rack, with your elbows pointing straight ahead.

An inability to get your elbows up may lead to an injury in the wrist if you were to bounce your arms on your thighs during a clean, which would also disqualify your attempt in a weightlifting meet. Low elbows also tend to go hand-in-hand with a collapsed core as your torso hunches over under the stress of a heavy barbell

How to Fix it

When approaching a technique adjustment, your first step should be simply trying a technical cue to see if raising your awareness fixes the problem. For low elbows in the front rack, try thinking of “elbows high” or “point your arms forward” while squatting.

If cueing doesn’t resolve the issue, look to adjusting your posture via accessory movements or stretching. Collapsed arms may be the result of tightness in the lats, shoulders, or even triceps. Exercises that allow your shoulder to flex past your head under tension will stretch the shoulders and mimic the posture of the front rack. Dead bugs, dumbbell pullovers, or straight-arm pulldowns with a band or cable could be effective at getting your arm where it needs to be for the front rack. 

Mistake 3 — Lack of Torso Mobility

For a movement as intricate as the front rack, there may not be a single individual piece that is causing your technical breakdown. Your upper body is comprised of dozens of different muscles, many of which act on the same few joints — the scapula, ribs, and humerus specifically.

Weakness in your kinetic or muscular “chain” in one area may inadvertently affect your front rack. For example, tight pec muscles don’t necessarily inhibit your ability to rack a bar, since shoulder protraction is a key element of the front rack.

However, if you have tight pecs, you might also experience a kyphotic, or overly hunched, posture of your thoracic or cervical spine. Rounding your upper back is extremely detrimental to a good front rack, so you must remedy it by getting to the heart of the issue. 

How to Fix it

Yoga flows that incorporate multiple upper-body stretches in a sequence are a good way to “unlock” any tightness up top while also providing valuable sensory feedback about which ranges are restricted to you.

Beyond that, exercises which demand flexion or extension from one region of your torso and isometric stability from the other can help create a balanced, freely-moving upper body. Seated, single-arm pressing with no back support or most types of rowing, when performed properly, can be impactful. 

Mistake 4 — Thoracic Spine Weakness

A strong upper back may just be one of the most overlooked developmental issues for lifting enthusiasts, and is absolutely essential for an aspiring weightlifter. While you’re likely to see the benefit of a strong spine outside of your front rack, neglecting your posterior chain will undoubtedly spell disaster for your ability to rack a bar. To front squat, clean, or push press heavy, you need to be ironclad in the back. 

How to Fix It

Unlike mobility restrictions that may be improved via mobilization techniques or modalities like foam rolling, strength is developed the hard way — by training. For the front rack specifically, movements that target the muscles of your back while also mimicking the posture of a front rack double-down on relevance.

Seated Arnold presses with no back support, seated cable rows, dumbbell front raises, and band pull-aparts are all particularly relevant as they train the muscles that must be active in the front rack while also resembling the front rack posture itself. 

Mistake 5 — Low Core Stability

Much like thoracic development. Creating a stronger midline can also pay huge dividends beyond just helping your rack position. While your upper back and arms are what physically support the barbell in the front rack, your core is the framework that keeps the whole structure in place.

An unstable or weak core will disable your ability to meaningfully train in the front rack, plain and simple. When the barbell rests on your shoulders, it is loaded anteriorly — or in front of — your body. This places a tremendous amount of stress on your core to contract isometrically and keep you from buckling under the weight. If your abs don’t have what it takes, you’ve got nowhere to go. 

How to Fix It

The solution for a weak core is simple enough. That said, endless crunches may not adequately transfer to your performance with the barbell. Since the core is isometrically challenged in the front rack, your training should reflect that.

The standard plank gains a lot of ground here. You can add a plate to your back for some higher difficulty as well. To get even more specific, anteriorly-loaded carries may be the most effective overall, whether performed with a sandbag or a barbell, held Zercher style. 

How to Get Into the Front Rack Position

The movement itself is fairly straightforward, but a concise preparatory checklist may serve you well the next time you’re setting up to hit some front squats or work on your clean technique.

  • Step 1: Place the bar in a rack no higher than clavicle height, or even slightly lower.
  • Step 2: Wrap your hands over the bar with a loose grip.
  • Step 3: Protract your shoulders and step forward so your feet are directly underneath.
  • Step 4: Inhale and sweep your elbows down and around, using the bar to “pull” yourself into place. 

Front Rack Drills

These drills are only a snapshot of what’s available to develop a solid front rack. Each represents a different aspect of proper training, and when performed together, should have you primed for performance before you ever touch the bar. 

Lat and Tricep Mobilizations

These mobilizations target some of the most integral muscles to your front squat. Mobilizations to the lats and triceps before working with the barbell are great for eliminating nagging aches and providing some physical feedback as you warm up.

Scapular Movement Circles

Scapular elevation and protration are needed to secure a stable front rack position. This drill will increase the awareness of what each movement feels like, to help you ensure your shoulder girdle is locked-in prior to picking up the bar.

Front Rack Partner Stretch

A more aggressive way of stretching for the front rack is having a partner manually hold your arms where they’re meant to be for a period of time. Many high-level weightlifters employ assisted stretching like this as part of their general barbell warm-up.

Front Rack Hold

This is a great exercise to not only supramaximally load the front rack, but also to help you gain confidence and awareness while in the front rack. By unracking a loaded barbell while locked in a stable front rack position, you can develop a better understanding and bracing control in the front rack position.

Bottoms-Up Front Squat

By starting from the bottom instead of a standing position, you can take the time you need to get your front rack sorted out where it matters most — in the hole of a deep squat. These concentric-only squats are wonderful for teaching front rack posture without inducing excessive soreness.

Front Rack Progressions

Not everyone is blessed with barbell proficiency from the jump. If you don’t feel ready to sweep a barbell up onto your shoulders, you can incorporate some graded exposure to the movement pattern itself. These progressions are particularly valuable for beginners, or if you’re coming back from an injury. They’ll also serve to cover all the biomechanical bases of training in the front rack.

Medicine Ball Squat

Squatting with a medicine ball is a smooth, painless way to introduce the movement pattern of a front-rack squat. By holding a medicine ball at chest height, you can acclimate to squatting with resistance in front of your body, without needing to develop strong mobility in the wrist or shoulder.

Zercher Carry

A simple way to drill down on your core stability in a way that translates over to your front rack is to perform carries a barbell in the Zercher position. This exercise will necessitate an upright, locked-in core and upper back, but doesn’t demand much of your shoulder or chest flexibility.

Overhead Press

A simple overhead press with the barbell provides some specific front-rack practice as well as strength development for both your delts and upper back. The standard technique for the press requires lower elbows than that of a front squat or jerk, making it a great accessory if your flexibility isn’t quite there yet.

Front Squat With Straps

While a bit tricky to set up, the strapped front squat is indispensably effective for training the front rack safely. For many athletes, wrist mobility or weakness is their sticking point in the front rack. By holding onto a pair of lifting straps in lieu of the barbell itself, you can almost perfectly mimic the front rack under load.

Time to Squat

A good front rack position is no easy feat. Even if you’re a veteran gymgoer, be prepared to have to work at it for a while. The posture itself will likely challenge your mobility in a way that many other upper body exercises can’t.

That said, the right tactics can make all the difference for increasing your mobility and strength alike. Once you know where your deficiencies lie, you can attack them properly and get back to what matters — making gains in the gym.