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Fix Your Front Squat: The Complete Guide to the Front Rack
- Updated: August 14, 2015
By Mike Wines – Front squats are incredibly beneficial from both a muscular and a movement standpoint but yet so many people struggle with them.
For some reason, you can’t get your elbows high enough, your wrists hurt, or you incessantly arch your lower back no matter how hard you try to brace your abs…Sound familiar?
For most folks, the limiting factor in their front rack position is not “wrist flexibility” as assumed by most trainees. On the contrary, if you’re feeling a strain on your wrists and can’t seem to stretch them enough, it’s likely because your shoulder flexion is limited and thus your elbows aren’t high enough.
So, the question remains, how do you fix it?
Well, first thing’s first, you should determine correct bar placement:
Now you may not be able to train in the front rack position yet but if you still want to incorporate front squats, you have a few options:
- Cross Handed Grip
- “Pseudo” Front Rack Position w/Straps
- Front Rack
- Front Rack with Supination
The pros and cons for each setup are shown here:
Addressing YOUR Limitation(s)
Well, when it comes to front squats, it’s typically an issue with one of 5 areas:
- Thoracic Spine (T-Spine)
If you’ll notice, I included forearms last, as these are often not the issue in most folks but they are involved in the movement so they should be given some attention.
Your triceps can get fairly short given the amount of pressing (horizontally & vertically) that trainees perform, so we’ll address it first since it’s a common limitation.
The long head of the tricep crosses BOTH the elbow and the shoulder, so it can limit shoulder flexion if excess tone is present. You can utilize a barbell or a lacrosse ball to help relieve some of the resting tension and assist in gaining mobility for the front rack position.
Secondly, the lats play a large role in shoulder flexion as well given they are internal rotators and attach to the medial lip of your bicipital groove on the humerus. When they become tight, they can pull you into excessive extension and prevent you from attaining a proper front rack position. Clean them up with this soft tissue and mobilization coupling:
The thoracic spine is a double edged sword – it can be extremely beneficial in stabilizing the scapula and enhancing proper breathing mechanics, but if you neglect the soft tissue surrounding the spine, it can easily become overextended (the case in most lifters and athletic populations) or rounded (the case for desk jockeys and those who are tighter through internal rotation).
Either end of the spectrum is deleterious to lifting things overhead or squatting big weights which require controlled (not excessive) thoracic extension.
Given the fact that we know front squats require shoulder flexion coupled with external rotation, we can assume that the pecs might be one of our limiting issues with the amount of pressing that is performing by bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts alike.
In most cases, movement limitations should be addressed with soft tissue solutions first given these have the greatest input upon the central nervous system and muscle tonicity. However, you can typically follow these with some sort of banded joint mobilization in order to enhance the stretch and allow the trainee to access newly acquired ranges of motion.
If you’re a male, odds are you love your biceps curls. Suns out guns out is the motto adopted by nearly every young man who has aspirations of looking like Arnold when he grows up.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you perform a large amount of grip work and flexion based exercises for the upper body, you might be dealing with some tension in the forearms and palmar fascia which can restrict movement and lead to pain in the long run.
Clean things up with this simple soft tissue and mobilization solution, all you need is a lacrosse ball and a large band:
So there you have it, a simple, effective, and easy to follow guide that addresses the trouble spots for front squats.
This mini-series is certainly not comprehensive by any means as there could be other issues at play (setup, breathing mechanics, anterior core control, ankle mobility, etc.) but these solutions can help to correct a large number of the dysfunctional patterns commonly seen in front squats.
Give ’em a shot, let me know what you think, and drop any questions below!
About the Author
Mike Wines has trained a wide variety of athletes and clients and seeks to provide programming and movement based solutions to match each individual’s goals. He is also the content editor at Muscle & Strength.