The rack position: Getting real damn strong overhead

Following on from last week's article on the kettlebell clean this week we are discussing “The rack position”. This is the top of the clean. Learning how to properly grip, position and build tension with the bell in the rack position will make whatever movement comes after it, infinitely better. Whether you're squatting, carrying, pressing, lunging or otherwise, understanding how to correctly hold the bell and build tension here is essential.

Why do we need to make the rack position more effective?


  1. It's the foundation of so many other movements. Just as we spent hard earned hours learning the deadlift before the swing and then clean, the rack position comes before the press, squat and racked lunge. Lay the groundwork and earn your press with a strong and tense rack first. Attempting to press heavy (or light for that matter) without a correct wrist position will result in fatigue at the least.

  2. Safety comes next. Reduced pressure on the wrist and subsequently shoulder will keep your joints healthy for longer. Maintaining a good position with the bell over the base of support will also stop you from fatiguing in the back and collapsing forward.

  3. The meat of the forearm and bicep make a “hammock sling`” for the bell to rest in. Getting this right with a smaller bell will give you a lot more confidence with the bigger bells and reduced pressure on the wrist too.

  4. Strong. Strong. Strong some more. Holding that bell tight to your body like you've got it in a headlock recruits muscles fibers from all over. This is always going to be a good thing.

  5. Functional crossover. Learning how to support load accurately in this position crosses over into day to day life. From carrying a bag of laundry over your shoulder to opening the lid on a jam jar, packing the elbows down to the ribs and bracing the weight close to the body will leave your back strong and your toast with jam on it.

  6. Have some fun, learn some strength. Once you are able to own the rack position, you can start experimenting with sequencing other drills together to build strength, workload capacity and burn body fat (the holy grail of the kettlebell).

How do we perform and develop the rack position then?


  1. Look for a vertical forearm. As I mention in the video, “power moves in straight lines”. It is the reason our houses and skyscrapers are both built on vertical foundations that innervate the ground so as to transfer weight and power to the earth most effectively. The military press then, a common movement performed from the rack, is no different.

  2. Similarly, keeping the weight of the bell over the base of support (your feet) is essential for effective maneuvering of the bell as well as safety. You don't need to make your body work over time to load weight poorly, extending levers and risking injury through something as simple to practice as the rack position.

  3. Gripping the bell in the fat pad of the hand is essential. Extending or flexing the wrist leads to a leak in power (like the kink in the hose pipe) and the flopping of the bell down onto the wrist. The bell does not flip end over end (see last week's clean article). Driving your hand deep into the bell, so that the handle sits on the fat pad of the palm, the weight itself then becomes an extension of the arm and a lot more stable. From there we develop the “overhead press” where we are looking for the shortest possible path from A (the rack) to B (locked out overhead). A tilted arm or extended/flexed wrist compromises this lift immensely. So straighten up.

  4. Remember that in the swing/clean transition, the bell will sit in the fingers of the hand. Only at the top of the clean/rack will you drive your hand in to decelerate the bell and create the tension needed to press.

Below, Jess shows us an example of an effective rack position, and how a sequence of other drills chained together (clean, squat, press and snatch) offer a challenging and effective strength and conditioning training structure.

So use the points above work on developing the clean and now rack. Whether you are just learning the clean or are working towards pressing the beast (48kg) make sure that learning and refining the rack position is an essential part of your training.

Check back next week to discuss the the perfect accompaniment to a good rack….the military press.

Thanks and happy Thanksgiving everyone!