We will be addressing 3 commonly overlooked front rack mobility constraints and more importantly, 3 ways to fix them. Yes, thoracic extension and shoulder flexion limitations are often times the biggest culprits, but let’s not forgot to address wrist, elbow, and transverse plane shoulder mobility as well.
Self Mobilization for Wrist Extension
In order to get into a proper front rack position, you need good wrist extension mobility. ENOUGH WITH ALL THESE BANDED MOBILIZATIONS FOR WRIST EXTENSION! All you need is your other hand! It’s more specific, you get better joint play, and you can find YOUR specific joint restriction.
If a specific motion (in this case wrist extension) is limited, it can be caused by one of 3 things: soft tissue restrictions like muscles, joint restrictions like the joint capsule, and/or bone. Soft tissue restrictions can be treated by a physical therapist with techniques like soft tissue mobilizations (STM) via strumming, rolfing, tac-and-go, active release, or instrument-assisted STM (i.e. graston method). Similarly, joint capsule restrictions can be treated by a physical therapist via joint mobilizations. Specifically for the wrist, the proximal row of carpal bones in your hand is comprised of the scaphoid, lunate, triquetrum, and pisiform. When you move your wrist into extension, these bones GLIDE relatively in the PALMAR direction, or towards your palm. In order to increase wrist extension, you want to mobilize these bones in the PALMAR direction (towards the ground in this example)
HOW TO: Rest your arm on your lap to relax the muscles. Make sure you aren’t mobilizing directly downwards, the joint line is angled ~10 degrees palmarly (ie towards your elbow) so you must be mobilizing in that direction. I drew a line on my wrist for easy identification. Happy mobilizing!
Tricep and Lat Stretching
The lats are often the culprit of decreased shoulder mobility for many people so ADDRESSING THE EXTENSIBILITY OF THE LATS IS KEY. What is often overlooked, however, is the importance of also gaining range in the TRICEPS. In the front rack position, your elbows are in a FLEXED position, meaning the triceps are maximally lengthened distally, or closer to the elbow. While the triceps still aren’t in their fully lengthened position proximally – at the shoulder – in the front rack, someone with restriction in their triceps range may still exhibit limited shoulder flexion range of motion. So get your triceps and lats stretched out to achieve optimal front rack mobility!
So while addressing the lats is key, make sure to also address the triceps. Here is a great way to stretch both the lats and the triceps simultaneously. Using a dowel behind your back, slowly pull down on the dowel until you feel a stretch. With the shoulder in flexion, you are getting a great stretch distally. You can also add some trunk flexion, side bend to the opposite side, and posterior pelvic tilt to further increase the stretch of the lats proximally. Now with the elbow flexed, we are further lengthening the triceps distally (in addition to lengthening the triceps proximally with shoulder flexion).
Active Lat Mobility
Unlock Your Lats
Increasing Shoulder External Rotation
External rotation at the glenohumeral joint is vital for proper front rack mobility for two simple reasons. First, externally rotating the shoulders allows you to bring your hands CLOSER to the bar. Therefore if shoulder flexion continues to be limited and your hand can’t reach the bar, you can get some extra range by ‘cheating’ and externally rotating your shoulders. Second, in terms of [P]Rehab, external rotation of the glenohumeral joint opens up the subacromial space. This is the space that is commonly narrowed in shoulder impingement, so increasing your shoulder external rotation range of motion will allow for more clearance in the subacromial space and less chance for impingement.
To perform, simply use a dowel or stick as demonstrated. Place the stick BEHIND your elbow. Relax your shoulder and with your other arm, PULL the bottom of the stick towards midline. What’s best about this particular stretch too is that you’re gaining range in the exact same shoulder position necessary for the front rack (>90 degrees of shoulder flexion). Shout out to @unchainedphysio for this one!