Jason Li, Exercise Science BS, USAW LVL2, Catalyst Athletics LVL1, NSCA-CPT
Mobility is something that many beginners looking to get into Olympic Weightlifting struggle with. The lifts themselves require not only mobility but also stability in the extreme joint ranges of motion. It’s important that coaches take the time to allow the athlete to get accustomed to the extreme positions and not rush them beyond what their joints can tolerate.
When introducing the lifts, both the coach and the athlete need to understand that there will be little training effect since mostly light weights will be used. The majority of the efforts in the initial period will be dedicated to building strength in the rotator cuff, hips, postural spine muscles, and familiarizing themselves with positions for eventual heavy lifting.
Here are my 5 go-to drills along with tips on how to perform them to help establish a comfortable front rack position for all clean and jerk movements:
1)PVC T-spine Rock- This drill helps to teach proper shoulder movement as well as dissociation of the lumbar spine and thoracic spine. Athletes should focus on keeping their trunk engaged as they rock the hips back to help hold the spine in either neutral or slight extension. In order to have a good front rack position the shoulder blades need to be able to rock forward and wrap around the rib cage from their more posterior orientation. This motion allows the arms to come forward and up which is what the elbows need to do to secure the barbell in the rack position.
Perform 2-3 sets of 6 rocks. Hold each rep and breath while trying to maintain posture.
2)Deadbug with Pullover- The deadbug with pullover helps to further train trunk control while encouraging proper shoulder movement. This will help the trunk remain rigid throughout the front squat or clean while the shoulders orient themselves around the barbell. Heavy weight is not required for this movement. The goal is to keep the spine from arching as the weight is lowered to overhead.
Hold the weight for 5 seconds overhead to place more demand on the muscles.
3)Crossface Front Squat- Many times, issues with the front rack has less to do with a lack of shoulder mobility but rather a lack of control of the thoracic spine. Without good control of the thoracic spine, the shoulders and elbows will never be able to orient themselves to create a stable front rack position. The crossface front squat is a good variation to help strengthen the thoracic extensor muscles. Without the use of the arms to anchor against the lifter has to maintain extension throughout the lift in order to be successful in this lift. This can also be a useful accessory movement for more advanced athletes that have a tendency to round their back when recovering from cleans or standing up from front squats.
4)Pushup and Inchworm Endurance tests- The front rack position can be tough on the wrist as it is held in extension under heavy weights. The rate of loading is also very high during the clean. A lot of force is passing through one of the smallest joints of the body. It’s important that athletes take the time to build up wrist strength and flexibility. Doing pushups and Inchworms over time are a great way to build up the strength in the wrist to eventually make the front rack more comfortable on the wrist. Start by doing 30 second rounds and over a few weeks build up to 2 min rounds.
5)Pause Front Squat- A lifter’s form is most likely to breakdown at the bottom of the squat. Adding a pause in the front squat can really help to strengthen the front rack position to better handle heavy weights. I recommend using this often for beginners as the weights are not significant but there is a huge demand for quality of movement. For more advanced athletes using this 1-2 times a year for a preparatory cycle can be helpful to reintroduce the front rack or help prepare the tissues for more demanding cycles afterwards.