We’ve all been there. Trying to rack the bar on our shoulders for the first time. It’s painful! Especially through the wrists. So, you start doing all the wrist stretches you can think of. It alleviates some pain and your rack position starts to improve. But your elbows are still pointing down to the floor and you are struggling to keep your chest up.
While we may feel the pain in the front rack in our wrists, much of the mobility is needed through the thoracic spine, shoulders, and elbow. Some Weightlifters have such a great rack position from their mobile shoulders their wrists barely bend back.
If you can get your shoulder and thoracic mobility sorted, you’ll be well on your way to having an epic front rack position. Here are my go-to mobility exercises and drills so you can have the front rack mobility of an elite-level Weightlifter.
The thoracic spine in many people is locked up. So stiff that it barely moves in flexion or extension. But for a proper front rack position, the thoracic spine must be able to extend. Without this extension, you are destined for low elbows and sore wrists.
So here are my favorite thoracic mobility exercises for front rack mobility.
Thoracic Extension Over Foam Roller
The easiest thoracic extension exercise you can do and often provides a nice popping release while you do it. Simply lie on your foam roller with it placed anywhere on your shoulder blades.
While keeping your lower back as flat as possible, arch your mid and upper back around the foam roller. As you do this, breathe out and try to relax while folded over the foam roller. Complete 2-3 sets of 10.
While this isn’t a specific thoracic extension exercise for Weightlifting, it’s good to move outside of normal ranges of motion. This will work on your thoracic rotation which you rapidly lose as you spend more time Weightlifting.
To perform these, start by sitting on your knees. Place your fingertips behind your head and turn as far as you can without forcing yourself. Breathe in while you do this. Once you reach your limit, exhale while keeping your shoulders open and perform a side crunch.
Return to the upright position while maintaining your turned position. Inhale again while turning your upper body further. Repeat for 3-4 reps of 1-2 sets on each side.
This is one of my favorite thoracic mobility exercises because it also lengthens the lats while putting your shoulders through external rotation. Essentially making this the perfect warm-up for your cleans.
All you need is a wooden stick and a bench. Start on your knees with your elbows on the bench in front of you while holding the stick with your arms facing toward you.
Start to lower your chest to the floor which will raise your elbows as they are connected to the bench. You must try to maintain a neutral spine by not arching through the lower back or pushing your head too far forward.
Keep your back flat and head in a neutral position while trying to get your elbows as far as possible past your head.
Return to the starting position and perform 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps.
Shoulder mobility is more than being able to straighten your arms overhead (which is mainly thoracic mobility anyway). External rotation of the shoulders is what lets most Weightlifters down when it comes to their front rack mobility.
So, try these exercises to improve the external rotation of the shoulders and lengthen your lats.
Stick External Rotation
One of the simplest shoulder external rotation stretches. It can be a good one to do while you’re on the platform before you rack the barbell. Simply place a wooden stick on the outside of your left foot while standing and point it across your body to your right shoulder.
Now place your arm over the wooden stick and externally rotate your arm like you would be when you catch a clean. Grab the stick with your fingers or hand and use your left hand to pull the stick further to the horizontal position for a bigger stretch.
Lacrosse Ball Rear Delt Smash
Not a mobility exercise per se but is great to do before you perform exercises like the stick external rotation. This can be nasty though so be careful doing this for the first time. You can even start with a foam roller so the pressure isn't pinpointed.
Place any firm ball on the ground and lie with the back of your shoulder (close to your armpit) on the ball.
Perform small multi-directional movements. You can sit on spots that are very tender and try to breathe through and relax.
Lat Pulldown Stretchers
This is an exercise created by bodybuilding legend John Meadows. Smart bodybuilders like John Meadows are notorious for creating exercises that put the muscle under extreme stretch. Training a muscle at long muscle lengths generates greater hypertrophy than at shorter muscle lengths.
But creating tension at long muscle lengths also develops mobility as you’re able to generate force at your newfound range motion.
Many Weightlifters don't realize that poor front rack mobility can stem from the lats. Tight lats can prevent the arms from moving completely overhead and from getting the elbows high in the rack position.
The Lat Pulldown Stretcher exercise is one of the best ways to gain length in your lats and therefore, mobility in your shoulders.
It is best to use the neutral grip handle for this and straps. Grab the attachment while standing with one foot against the seat to stop you from being pulled forward by the load. Lean forward from the hips and create a straight line from your hands to your hips so you feel a stretch through your lats.
Lean back and perform a row/pulldown motion then slowly move back to the stretch position. Perform 1-3 sets of 10 reps. It’s important you perform this exercise at the end of your Weightlifting session and ideally after some kind of back work such as rows.
The DB pullover is the same concept as the Lat Pulldown Stretcher but you will be lying down with the arms slightly bent. Place your hands against one end of the DB so the handle is hanging between your hands.
Slowly lower the DB behind your head with the elbows slightly bent. Once you feel a decent stretch, bring the DB back to forehead level. Perform 1-3 sets of 10-20. Again, it’s important to perform these at the end of your session unless these are performed very light.
Elbow mobility is a bit of a redundant term since it only moves in two directions. But many don’t realize that the lack of wrist mobility is actually a triceps problem. Tight triceps will prevent you from getting the elbows up high.
Lacrosse Ball Triceps Smash
Not exactly a mobility exercise but is a great way to prepare for other triceps stretches. You can use any firm ball for this. Even a tennis ball is good enough to start with but will eventually be too soft once you get used to this.
Place your ball on an elevated surface and your triceps on top. Roll up and down your arm with your arm straight and flexed. When you find a very tender spot (usually close to your elbow), stay on that spot while applying pressure and flexing, and extending your arm.
Overhead Band Triceps Stretch
This is the most wicked stretch you’ll ever get for your triceps. It’s the perfect one to do before your clean or front squat sessions as you’ll feel an instant improvement in your front rack position. Tie a resistance band to something sturdy below your knees.
Loop the band around your wrist and turn away from the band with your elbow pointing to the ceiling and your hand towards the floor.
If you’ve addressed the thoracic spine, shoulder, and elbow mobility, you generally won’t need to do much for the wrist. However, it’s good to perform some wrist mobility maintenance for general health.
Lacrosse Ball Forearm Smash
Another ball smash. This time, for your forearms. You want to focus on the bottom of your forearms known as the wrist flexors. This is your palm side.
Place a ball on an elevated surface and your forearm on top. Place your other hand on top of your forearm to apply more pressure. Roll the ball up and down your forearm and stop on tender spots. You can open and close your hand and move your wrist up and down to try to loosen these areas.
Wrist Extension On Box
This is a simple stretch you likely already perform. Turn your hands so your palms are facing away from you. Put your fingertips on a box in front of you and try to flatten your hands while keeping your arms straight.
Your Personal Mobility Coach
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Performing the above mobility exercises is great. But if you want to address your specific needs for Weightlifting, I would highly recommend you get your personal coach that can guide your mobility process and Primal Mobility have my highest recommendation.
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