This is one major topic I’m most confident about, not only because I perform the movement very well but also due to the fact that I have seen it done wrong so many times.

The conversation of a proper rack set up is a major area of focus in our facility. We highly encourage our new members to develop this skill from day one. Being that we use the barbell on a weekly basis it’s paramount that our athletes learn this setup as quickly as possible.

First and foremost, we help our clients understand this set-up by defining what a rack position is as well as its purpose.

In the traditional sense a rack is a general supporting structure that holds or maintains load. When we set the bar in a ‘rack’ position we are artificially creating a supporting structure on our body for the bar to rest.

It’s astonishing when you think about it, when it’s done properly athletes can hold rack positions with immense amount of load. Here’s Liao Hui performing front rack holds with over 880lbs.

But this has to be done in the right manner to provide application of force and velcoity for squatting or from shoulder-to-overhead positions. There are various factors in this process that limit a proper rack postion.

  1. Spatial Awareness
  2. Wrist Dependency
  3. Lack of Practice

Spatial Awareness

Most beginner lifters don’t have the spatial awareness to manipulate their bodies in order to be able to support heavy loads on the shoulder. It’s very common for beginners to rest the bar solely on their collar bone while neglecting to rest the bar onto the actual shoulders. This is a mistake that must be addressed early and often.

“Spatial awareness is the ability to be aware of oneself in space. It is an organised knowledge of objects in relation to oneself in that given space.  Spatial awareness also involves understanding the relationship of these objects when there is a change of position.”

As a coach you want to see as much contact of the bar with the shoulder as possible. A great way to cue the athlete to do this is by “puffing” the shoulder. It’s a term that I use, which gives my athletes a clearer picture of what the shoulders are actually doing. A conscious effort must be made to elevate the shoulder in order to take pressure off the wrist and off the collar bone, which not surprising is the major complaint for beginners. Just as effective I usually give a tactile cue by touching the point of the shoulder that I want the athlete making contact with the bar. Stay vigilant to ensure the athlete brings the bar to the rack on repeated repetitions.

Wrist Dependency

The common misconception is that it’s okay for the bar to set off the fingertips as long as it’s resting on the shoulder. Though this is a short term fix, long term, setting that bar on your finger tips, and allowing it to sit on your shoulders, is a bad idea. We’re talking major wrist and forearm pain, carpel tunnel at it’s worst. It doesn’t look comfortable becuase it’s not. You can see from a mile away which athletes are setting the bar on their fingertips.

From the side, this is what this looks like. The amount of wrist extension is dangerous and painful. There is very little transfer in this postion to the overhead movements like the press, push press and push jerk.

Ideally, in a perfect world, the athlete is able to death grip the bar while setting the bar entirely across the shoulders. In this postion the bar is rested on the shoulders, thus the load becomes part of the body. You’re going to have issues with athletes that either death grip the bar too while giving up shoulder contact with the bar, or the opposite, they get the bar across the shoulder but rest the bar on the finger tips in the process. Both positions need improvement.

Lack of Practice

With tremendous practice of this position you will indirectly improve your flexibility. I’ve been doing CrossFit for 8 years and still feel like I can improve on these lifts that require a solid rack. Keep the loads light until this position is fully developed.

“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice reduces the imperfection.”

We love CrossFit training because it’s always changing, that’s also what makes it the most difficult part of the program; It takes a very long time to master any one movement. If you don’t dedicate to improving the rack postion it can take a very long time to perfect. There are many Olympic weightlifting exercises that piggy back off this movement that will give you more practice with this postion without getting bored of the same style of lifts.

Being able to press heavy loads is an amazing feat but to do it well long term will require greater spatial awareness, less wrist dependency, and lots and lots of practice.

About Mario Ashley

Mario Ashley is the owner of Naples Strength & Conditioning. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Florida. He has certifications in the following CrossFit Courses: Mobility, Gymnastics, Football, Kids, Goal Setting, Endurance and Level 2 Certificate. He is also the creator of where he helps gym owners professionalize the warehouse gym one lesson at a time. He also has created an Ebook that fitness professionals can use to help improve their clients flexibility and reduce the likelihood of injury called