I love watching really good weightlifters in action. I am in awe of the power, speed and effortlessness that they possess. Contrast that with what most people look like when performing the same exercises in a gym or a box setting – it’s not too pretty. Choppy movement, lack of fluidity and lower backs that resemble an upside-down U are all common place. And that’s OK! The lifts are not easy – professionals spend hours of day trying to cure the slightest imperfection. In my opinion, all that matters is that progress is being made. A good coach should identify the most problematic issues and correct them as soon as possible. And one of the most devastating flaw holding many weightlifters back is a poor rack position – more specifically, the inability for the lifter to deliver the barbell to the shoulders during the pull under without a violent crashing on the shoulders.
Bar crashing is bad because:
- it leads to inaccurate placing of the barbell on the shoulders – leading to missed lifts (usually forward)
- it can cause damage to the bones of your upper chest – try dropping a loaded barbell on your clavicle and tell me how that feels
- it can make the recovery (squatting) portion of the lift more difficult because you have to stabilize in a weak position – it’s easier to control a weight that isn’t free-falling
Of course the solution to this problem is not some magic potion – you need focused practice and some smart progressions.
Rack Position Mobility
A good rack position has several characteristics:
- Elbows high – upper arms close to parallel with the ground
- Barbell sits deep, close to the throat
- Elbows pointing in
- Most of your fingers should be on the barbell
The rack position demands a large degree of mobility. If you don’t possess what is required in the wrists, shoulders and elbows, you will never be able to get into the positions that will allow you to clean well. Let’s do a few quick screens to make sure that you are have the potential for a good rack position.
Test – Shoulder External/Flexion Rotation
While keeping your arms straight, raise them the chest level. Then rotate your thumbs outward. A passing grade would be if you can get your palms and elbows completely facing the ceiling, while having your upper arm parallel to the floor.
Test – Wrist Flexibility
Go to a quadruped (all fours) position and put your hands in a push up position. Next, turn your thumbs out so that your fingers are now pointing towards your feet. Kick your feet back and hold this position. You pass if you can get your entire palm on the floor.
If you were able to pass those tests, you are now cleared to work on the front rack with some speed and weight. If you didn’t, I recommend doing the following drills to loosen up:
1. Bench Thoracic Spine Mobilization
Start with the barbell behind your back like you are about to back squat. While keeping your entire hand on the barbell AND while keeping your rib-cage locked down, raise one elbow up at a time. Alternate between sides. Try to get each elbow a little higher on each rep.
Many people have insanely tight forearms. Sitting at a PC all day typing is a poor pre-workout routine. Stretch your forearms by gently bending back your fingertips.
4. Soft tissue work on lats, forearm and upper back
Use whatever tool makes you happy – a foam roller, PVC pipe, barbell, softball or a lax ball all can do the trick.
The goal of the following drills is to improve the lifter’s connection with the barbell. During the clean, it is important to always have pressure on the barbell – even after you launch the barbell in the air – this is the most common part of the lift where the connection to the barbell is lost. Your job as a lifter is to never stop pulling against the barbell – you are either pulling the bar up, or you are pulling yourself under the bar.
This drill reinforces the transition between the pull under (third pull) and the receiving position (the catch). Start by getting into the “scarecrow” position – elbows high and out, with the barbell in close proximity to your chest. Rotate your elbows around the bar, while at the same time push your shoulders up and out to create a muscular shelf to rest the barbell on. This drill can be included during a warm-up to gradually loosen up the shoulders too. Star the first few reps nice and slow, and once confidence is gained, start to accelerate your elbows faster and faster with each additional rep.
The next progression from the rack delivery is to add some speed and foot movement. Start in the “scarecrow” position from the last drill. Pull violently under the bar while at the same time moving your feet from a pulling width to a squat width. Land in a power position first, while gradually progressing to a full clean. This is a great drill to introduce some dynamic movement while still emphasizing precision.
Power cleans aren’t just for high school football players to perform poorly. They shouldn’t resemble a reverse curl when done properly! The exercise is teaches a powerful hip explosion, while forcing the athlete to catch the bar higher. The higher the bar is caught, the less likely the bar will crash down – the bar simply hasn’t gained much downward momentum. Try to make the transition between pulling and receiving as smooth as possible.
Every drill done to improve tchnique needs to eventually be tied back to the full version of the lift. We will now do a complex that will emphasize a powerful and smooth lift (power clean) and immediately do a rep of the full lift – catch the bar just as high as you did in the power clean, and then ride the bar down into a squat. This will teach awareness and a better feel for the barbell.
Walk before you run. Rack delivery before you receive. Eh not exactly what I was going for, but you get the point 😉 Learn the proper rack progression and the time you invest will pay divdends in the future!
Mulligan Fitness and Hylete.com
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