The Low Outlaw Rack

In July, we introduced the Outlaw Rack. But, like all things Jeff, that was just a scratch of the surface. The benefits of the Outlaw Rack are extensive, but one of the things a few people struggle with when beginning to implement the outlaw rack is shoulder issues. That should come as no big surprise in today’s world.  A few people experience a “pinch” in the posterior shoulder when first beginning the Outlaw Rack.

Is this pinch a mobility issue? Is it a stability issue? I don’t know. I can think of several causes of this “pinch” that range from a trigger point in the thumb to issues in the quadratus lumborum. See me, and I can find your problem – short of coming to see me, I don’t know what your cause is. So we don’t know what the exact cause is, we can still work on fixing it. Mobility precede stability, always – that is one of the Movement Orders. It doesn’t come before stability – because they develop together – but mobility does need to be winning its race with stability for things to be okay. ‘Before’ isn’t the best descriptor.

But, I digress…we know we can safely start with mobility. You can do some mobility work for your shoulder.  But, to get all the benefits of the Outlaw Rack, you will need to address your t-spine restrictions.  (hint – if you have a shoulder restriction, assume you have a t-spine limitation as well, odds are you do).  Then, following other models, you need to layer on stability – shoulder stability and spinal stability. To steal a line from a 2016 social media star: “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” The outlaw rack is good, but not so good that you should have to spend 30 minutes prepping for it.

So, in typical Outlaw Movement fashion, we blended it all. We put together a drill that improves mobility and stability – together – of both the t-spine and the shoulder. And we did it in a manner where mobility is just barely out in front of stability. We call it the low outlaw rack.

Set up for the Low-Outlaw Rack

In the set-up picture above, you will pretty much feel nothing. This set up position of the arm needs to be couple with trunk rotation in either standing, quadruped, or kneleingPersonally, my lat feels violated after this drill but, talking to Jeff, his pecs are obliterated by it. Guess which one of us has some tissue tightness and which one of us has a stability issue? (I’m the stability guy, Jeff is the one with the tightness.) Where and what you feel with this will be determined by what your underlying cause is.

Like a lot of things, we stumbled into the low outlaw rack. Other have shared banded mobility drills with the arm in a similar position. But, loading this position up with a kettlebell and then adding trunk rotation is quite a different experience than working on banded shoulder mobility. The significant benefit is similar to the Outlaw Rack – the training effects of the overhead position without being in the overhead position. The trunk rotation is key to this.

Anyone that has done a windmill,  bent press,  2-hands-anyhow, or a side-press have felt the “unique” loading of the top arm and spine. Having the spine in some degree of lateral flexion and rotation and then adding load to it is a position that we no longer load too often.  While in that position, we load the abducted shoulder; unless there is a mobility issue, then we load the static stabilizers of the shoulder joint (the capsule and ligaments – not okay).

In the low outlaw rack, we are loading the top arm, so the CNS has to generate stability and motor control just like it would for a windmill or a bent press. But, since we aren’t overhead, the shoulder is in a very different position that still requires significant spinal rotation. The difference is the joint is not ABDucted; it is extended and ADDucted behind the back. This positioning affords a little more wiggle room if things go wrong. First, the bell is a lot closer to the ground in this position, and more importantly, you are not between the bell and the ground. Second, you are not compressing the head of the humerus into the glenoid (under a load) in a position that stresses the anterior joint capsule. The other nice thing about this position is that gravity kicks in and helps drive the trunk rotation – this is more of a thoracic rotation drill than a shoulder drill.

Since the top arm is loaded, there are more direct benefits than doing a low windmill variation (in which the CNS generates stability completely different since the loading is entirely different). In the low outlaw rack, we have kept it the same but made it slightly different, its all the benefits of the windmill or bent press without the need for the overhead portion. To be clear – the outlaw rack is a great variation drill of these lifts to improve the lifts. Especially if someone is struggling with the required mobility to get into these lifts (pretty much everyone that is just learning).  

What about being in a rear wrist-lock position with a kettlebell – won’t I put myself in a position to tap out?” The low outlaw rack does resemble a rear wrist lock or rear arm lock position. But, “resembles” is different than actually being in a submission hold. Here’s the other thing – start light. A 16kg bell is enough for me to get useful sensory input and have a new experience in thoracic rotation (and trunk/pelvic stability). Have I gone heavier? Yes, but I’ve also spent a lot of time working with the 10-16kg bells first.  

What’s the best way to begin with the low outlaw rack?” For years, Jeff has played around with this drill out of half-kneeling. At one point, it was in his teaching progression of the bent press and windmill.  Getting in and out of the low outlaw rack is pretty low key out of half-kneeling. Whichever leg is forward is the arm that is loaded in the low outlaw rack. From half kneeling, putting the second knee on the ground and going into a tri-ped hybrid posture is the next progression. Locking the hips into a symmetrical position requires more spinal rotation than when the pelvis is open in an asymmetrical position. Just keep in mind – dissociation is coupled with asymmetry.   If you are focusing on dissociating the shoulders from the hips, the body and the CNS are best equipped to do this in an asymmetrical set up of the lower body (read the NLMS V3 for a deeper dive into this concept).  But, the greatest carryover comes when you are able to progress this into a standing posture, either in a symmetrical stance or an asymmetrical stance.

There you have it – give the low outlaw rack a try, especially if you have been struggling with your windmills or bent press. It is a great sensory experience for the CNS that drives both mobility and motor control in a loaded manner at the point of some common restrictions.  

Enjoy!

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