If you’re skipping front squats because the position hurts, I would love to tell you to stop being a baby and get comfortable with that discomfort because it goes away after time. But I won’t be that douche bag. Well, I kind of already was by typing that sentence I guess.

So, yea. Stop being a baby.

Front squats are a hundred times better than back squats. And I’ve covered what that’s the case before, here.

But the reason the front squat is hard for you is because you struggle to master the rack position. Now, it’s likely not entirely your fault. If you work at a desk all day, then you’re likely hunched over and internally rotated, so externally rotating your shoulders is no easy feat.

Adding in some more rear delt work will help open your shoulders up, but there are two other factors that affect your ability to hold the bar in the rack position.

What is The Front Rack?

The front rack is the position where the barbell sits while performing front squats or where you catch the bar during power cleans.

front rack
Front Rack: bar across clavicle, elbows pointed high to the sky, wrist bent backward with fingers slightly holding the bar.

Proper rack positioning places the bar across your collarbone and shoulders. Your elbows should be pointed towards the sky, (and if you have proper thoracic mobility) your chest should be high, back tight, with a couple of your fingers wrapped around the bar. When you first attempt front squats, this position may be painful and difficult to get into.

In today’s modern computerized world, you—and even fitness writers like myself—spend far too much time hunched over computers with rounded shoulders. This position causes your pec minor and major to become shortened and tight, while muscles like your traps, rhomboids, lats, and rear deltoids lengthen and weaken.

The reason the rack position hurts is you have:

  1. Poor thoracic mobility
  2. Weak upper back strength

Thoracic Mobility for a Better Front Rack

Thoracic mobility can be improved by adding these two stretches to your warm-up routine. What makes these even more awesome is that these stretches can be performed on a break at the office or during a Netflix binge at home.

Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

Begin this stretch by getting onto your hands and knees. Place one hand behind your head and without rotating from your hips, reach with your elbow underneath the stationary hand, then rotate back through the starting position and take your elbow to the sky—reaching as far as you comfortably can without pain (tip, follow your elbow with your eyes).

Thoracic Spine Opening on Foam Roller

Place a foam roller just under your shoulder blades. Lean back until your head touches the floor, bending your upper back without moving the rest of your body. If you lack the mobility this will be hard at first but don’t push yourself into pain, take it slow and each time work to get a little further.

Your Weak Back is Hurting Your Rack

Thoracic mobility can hurt your ability to get your elbows and wrists in the proper position. But the biggest set back to having a strong front rack is you have the back strength of wet ass tissue. A weak upper back leads to bailing and upper back rounding, which you don’t want either of those to happen.

Of course, the best way to build a stronger and more stable front rack is to train your back more than once a weak. Implement a 2:1 ratio with chest and back exercises. Meaning, for every chest exercise you perform you must do two back exercises. This will help you gain more muscle and strength in your upper back and lats.

Dumbbell based exercises like the 3-point row, incline chest supported dumbbell rows, Batwing rows, Pendlay rows, shrugs, or cable-based exercises like face-pulls, stiff-arm lat pulldowns, or rear delt flyes are great ways to strengthen the traps, rhomboids, and upper back muscles that will improve your posture.

There’s no reason to avoid the front squat. It develops total body strength, hits your glutes and quads and core more effectively than back squats, and it’s safer on your spine. But if you need to develop your front rack position, work on improving your thoracic mobility and upper back strength. If you can master the rack position and make it your friend, you’ll completely change the game of building muscle.

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