One of the most common complaints barbell athletes experience is elbow or wrist pain in the front rack position. Whether this is during front squats, cleans, or jerks/pressing, the mobility requirements of this position often result in front rack wrist pain that can be hard to alleviate. In this article, we’ll discuss the most common causes of elbow & wrist pain in the front rack position and a few exercises to eliminate it.
The Front Rack Position
Eliminating wrist or elbow pain in the front rack position starts with understanding what a good front rack position looks like. On the left, notice how this athlete’s upper arm is parallel to the ground with the barbell resting across the collar bone and deltoids with the hands adding a bit of support. This position optimally spreads the load of the barbell across the shoulders and wrist.
On the right, we’ll see a poor front rack position with low elbows. In this position, less of the weight will be unloaded onto the chest and shoulders. Instead, the wrist will take most of the barbell’s weight while jamming into end-range, as you see in the zoomed-in circle. This is the most common fault that leads to elbow and wrist pain in the front rack position.
We tend to see this low elbow front rack when athletes either (1) don’t know they should try and keep their elbows higher or (2) lack the mobility to get into better positions. Athletes need great upper back, shoulder, elbow, and wrist mobility to achieve a great front rack position.
Front Rack Mobility Drills
To improve mobility for the front rack, we tend to program these three exercises most frequently:
Upper Back Extensions Over a Foam Roller
Upper back (thoracic spine) stiffness is not commonly considered with the front rack. But if your upper back is stiff and can’t extend well, your elbows will drop in the front rack, often leading to elbow pain in the front rack position. This foam roller drill is great for improving thoracic mobility.
The next mobility drill focuses on your shoulder’s external rotation. Opening this up will help you grab the bar with a slightly wider grip which often helps athletes get into better positions. Grab a PVC pipe and use that to gently stretch your shoulder rotation.
Banded Wrist Extension Mobilization
Finally, we can address any wrist stiffness or pain with the following band mobilization. Don’t go aggressive on this one if it causes wrist pain as you perform the movement.
When Should I Seek Help for Pain in the Front Rack Position?
If you’ve been dealing with elbow or wrist pain in the front rack for longer than two weeks, or you know that your pain is more than just a small “tweak” that needs a few days of rest, then it is time to seek help. Find a barbell-knowledgeable physical therapist like the entire team at Onward Physical Therapy and let us guide you through calming down the pain so you can get back to crushing PRs!