The Front Rack -- Part I

Published June 27, 2019

Typically I don’t have to look at an athlete’s front rack to tell if they have a “good” front rack. The sheer face of unfamiliarity, uncertainty, and usually pain can relay enough information… but yes, a simple look at the barbell across the front of the shoulders does the trick. 


The front rack position has many personalities…

 - The three-finger hold

(And the two, and the one.) 

 - The Home Alone Aftershave

 - The Chin-Over-Bar-Pull-Up Hold

 - The Levitating Bar 

And if you’re having difficulty picturing these positions as it pertains to holding a barbell, just know that none of them are ideal. If you’ve heard the very uncomfortable compliment of, “you have a nice front rack,” then you might be in the clear, however there could still be room for improvement. 


You will use the front rack position with a multitude of movements in the CrossFit gym. 


 - Front Squats

 - Cleans (of all types) 

 - Push Press

 - Jerks 

 - Thrusters


Knowing this includes an army of movement types implies that you will be hoisting the barbell on the shoulders to some capacity very frequently in the gym. 

So for “Part I” of the front rack position, let’s only go over exactly what we want to see. 


***Disclaimer: there are a significant number of nuances regarding these barbell movements that are multi-dependent on: goals, anatomy, comfort, and repetition/volume. There will always be exceptions to these rules, (like math and grammar), and there isn’t always a “one-size-fits-all” approach to these positions.



A. Should be a fist, to a half-a-fist outside the shoulders. Certainly not shoulder width, or else you will run into a whole bunch of discomfort. Besides, we don’t only front squat and press, we have to take into account that this width can be important if we are lifting the bar from the floor, also known as “cleaning.” 


B. The grip of the hands on the bar when the bar is resting on the shoulders should be a full grip. I said full, not firm. A tight squeeze might make this position almost impossible for some, and sacrifice the platform created by the shoulders for the bar to rest on, and A full grip might not be achievable for some, so we would next encourage at least all fingers to be underneath the bar. 


C. The palms should be facing upward, not toward the face. This will also help with the security of the bar, and is one of the factors that help your shoulder positioning so that you and the bar feel as a single “unit.” 



Must be high as possible while maintaining the full grip. If the elbows rise at the cost of losing certain fingers from being wrapped around the bar, then we may lose shoulder positioning and thoracic spine “shape.” In that instance, the elbow rise won’t help much at all, and you may see a turtle shell shape a the upper back, loss of core stability, and barbells crashing back down to the earth. 



(And most important) 

Must be slight elevated. With this elevation you will find that there will be a nice groove between the tallest point of your shoulders and your neck. This groove will be fairly comfortable to rest the bar in. It is also secure. You should feel that the bar could rest there without your hands being any part of the equation. 


So now we know what we are looking for, here is ONE simple drill to accumulate time with, with the goal of increasing range of motion, more secure positioning and comfort with. 

Empty Bar Full Grip Front Squats! 

Very simple! You don’t have to set up any crazy banded contraptions from the rig.

Before you start building in weight during your front squat warm-ups, stay with the empty barbell. 

  1. Assume a partial squat position on the rig to take the barbell out of the hooks. 
  2. Grip onto the bar with all fingers wrapped around the bar. 
  3. The bar should be sitting deep into the palm. 
  4. Drive your elbows up as far as you can while maintaining your full grip. 
  5. Perform 2 sets of: Front Squat x 5 reps. 
  6. Pro-tip: to increase the stretch perform this using your hook grip! This will provide even a greater stretch stemming from your wrists, to forearms, to triceps and lats. 


Thank you for taking your time on Part I of the series! Next we will take a look at how this position can be properly utilized to increase your performance in the big-bad clean and jerk! 

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