Front rack compensations
In part 2 of this series on optimizing mobility for Olympic lifting, we are taking a look at a good front rack position during the catch of the clean and the dip of the jerk, and some of the limitations that can be at play.
The goal of the front rack position is to create a platform for the bar to rest upon while stabilizing the body after the catch of a clean and/or allowing the most efficient transfer of energy from the legs to the bar during the jerk. To achieve this, the front rack position has the elbows at an angle of at least 40 degrees relative to the torso, with the trunk holding a neutral, relatively upright position, and the bar resting “comfortably” on the shoulders. The bar should be aligned with the heels in the sagittal plane.
Problems arise when there is too much tension in the soft tissues of and around the arms (biceps, triceps, forearms), shoulders, pectoral muscles, the lats and the erectors, among other culprits. These tensions limit how high we are able to bring the elbows up in front of us, how much we can flex at the elbow, how well we can extend our wrists, and how far we can externally rotate our shoulders, all of which are key to the proper execution of a front rack hold.
Let’s break that down.
Excessive extension at the wrists: Be it an overhead position or a front rack, the wrists will tend to take a beating. As with the overhead position discussed in part 1, the wrists will be extended to a certain degree, and even more so in the front rack, since you don’t need a full grasp on the bar. However, this should not be used as a means to allow the bar to come into a proper position and rest on the shoulders, instead of around the collarbone. Doing so will lead to sore wrists due to the fact that the wrists have to bear a load in a high degree of extension. This is a very common way athletes compensate for a lack of upper body mobility, since it is the most “comfortable” and natural position to make up for limited movement.
Back extension: It’s common to see athletes executing the front rack position with excessive back extension, the hips pushing forward over or past the toes and the torso leaning back. The major problem with compensating this way is that by leaning back during the catch of the clean and the dip of the jerk, the athlete shuts off a part of their anterior core muscles and overloads the lower back. This creates an opportunity for a lot of lower back problems, not to mention a herniated disk. Although the back extension will often straighten out during the descent of the squat clean or front squat, easing the pressure on the back, it then transfers extra undesired strain the wrists.
Excessive back extensions will also lead to a tendency to lose balance and come on the toes, allowing the heels come off the ground. This will limit the potential to generate and transfer power from the ground to the bar in the jerk, and the overall stability in this position. People with this kind of compensation pattern will have great difficulty completing a squat clean fluidly due to a longer transition period between the catch of the barbell and the descent into the squat. This explains why someone who lacks mobility will often power clean as much as they squat clean. If the lifter employs this position during the dip of the jerk, failing to push their hips back while loading the legs, they disconnect from the posterior chain, including some of the strongest muscles that drive this portion of the lift. The main consequences of this compensation is lower back pain and a major increase in the risk of injury to the same area.
The overhead and the front rack positions are achievable by compensating within similar areas. An athlete with a lack of mobility inhibiting a snatch most probably suffers similar compensation patterns in the clean and jerk as well. These compensations should be addressed as soon as they are identified to reduce the risk of injury and to improve performance.
Adaptive Bodywork is a great tool to resolve the tensions that create this or similar compensation patterns in a short amount of time. If you are a lifter who experiences aches or pains in the lower back or the wrist, contact an Adaptive Bodywork practitioner who can assess your movement compensations, and actively create the space for pain-free movement and optimal performance.