When Jeff first shared the concept of the Outlaw Rack with me, I thought we were on the verge of coming up with a new drill that would have a positive impact with several people.  Now, after several weeks of playing around with it, several discussions where we bounced ideas and concepts off of each other and teaching a workshop that was focused entirely on this, I realized something.  I was wrong.  Not only was I wrong.  I was WAY wrong.

Over the years, we have come up with some pretty good drills that have become popular:

  • The reverse rib pull, aka the Brettzel 3.0, that we taught at the 2012 CK-FMS to address thoracic mobility a little differently.
Brandon sharing the Reverse Rib Pull for the first time in Minneapolis.
  • Instead of windshield wipering the down knee in half kneeling of the get-up, we introduced picking up the front foot and realigning the hips back in the RKC days (Pre-StrongFirst).
  • Jeff introducing teaching the Bent press from half kneeling at one of the Summit of Strength workshops.
  • Creating The Movement Restoration Project in 2009, and then having the term “movement restoration” tak off (you can now become a movement restoration specialist by an organization that REALLY liked our name).
  • The Static Get up – see the article and videos from May.

All of those have helped many people and, I thought we were going to add the Outlaw Rack to that growing list.

I was wrong. 

Instead, what we found is more significant than anything that list. Why?  Those were all individual drills.  The Outlaw Rack has developed like digging a hole on the beach develops; just when I think I’ve hit the bottom of what can be done with this the hole fills up with water and sand again, which puts me right back into the middle of something I didn’t see before.  By itself, it is a great mobility drill.  However, it turns into a shape that honors the principles of the Neurodevelopmental Continuum -the NDC-  (what everyone is using the buzz-word developmental sequence for).  A little deeper and it becomes the keystone to a lifting series that smokes anyone, AND addresses some things that are kind of hard to address in any other manner.

The outlaw rack requires full shoulder flexion and abduction, as well as varying degrees of rotation (depending on the implement used or whether it is one arm or two there can be either internal or external rotation). At the elbow maximal elbow flexion will be needed as well as supination; the closer to midline the elbow is, the more supination there will be. Because the shoulder is bearing the load instead of the upper shoulders, spine extension will be present. Done right, this extension will come from the t-spine; being lazy will allow it to come from the lumbar spine.

Before we go any further, I’m going to defuse some concerns.  The first time Jeff showed me the Outlaw Rack, one of my initial thoughts was around safety.  I could see the shoulder issues mounting up.  However, then I went beyond what I saw on the surface and dove a little deeper.  First, the closed pack position of the shoulder (the position which there is maximum congruency of the articular surfaces and joint stability is derived from the alignment of bones) happens to be maximal ABDuction and External Rotation.  So, inherently, it is a stable position for the shoulder.  Second, research shows that the typical weight room lifts that cause the most shoulder injuries are the bench press, dumbbell chest fly, and the seated lat pulldown.  Nowhere in the research are there any documented cases of dislocations being the result of the French press (the closest exercise to this new shape).  In some of the martial arts, some arm locks resemble the Outlaw Rack, but, the direction of the force and the torque of those submission holds are quite different than what is present in the Outlaw Rack.  

The Outlaw Rack is just a new rack position.  It works the best with kettlebells but, a barbell, dumbbells, or a sandbag can be utilized as well.  This new rack position provides a unique sensory experience.  Because of where the load is resting, the Center of mass is moved up and back from its normal position – which is quite similar to what happens with a bar racked across the upper shoulders (like in a high bar or low bar back squat).  What is unique to the outlaw rack though is that the load passes from the arm(s) through the shoulder into the t-spine.  Unlike the barbell back squat or a barbell good morning, the weight isn’t resting on the shoulders/upper back; it is being supported 100% by the arms, which has a very unique effect on thoracic positioning (kyphosis of the T-spine becomes very, very difficult). What this means is that you can get all the benefits of the overhead position without actually being in overhead – which creates a very long lever arm.  The shortened lever arm of the Outlaw Rack opens the door to many activities that most people cannot do with the long-lever arm overhead position.  In essence, the Outlaw Rack can serve as a progression to the overhead position (or a regression from it).

The added benefit of this new rack position is in what it does to the lateral line and the ipsilateral functional line.  It serves as a great way to integrate the upper body to the trunk and lower body via the fascial lines in a way that the traditional kettlebell front rack, the barbell front back, the barbell back rack or the overhead position do not do.  Because of this, the benefits that are possible for any throwing athlete (maximal elbow flexion, maximal wrist extension then pronation/supination under load) or any runner (when the Outlaw rack is mixed into any half kneeling posture) are pretty substantial.

The real benefit of the Outlaw Rack is in how it falls into the NDC, well, actually how it falls OUT of the NDC.  The Outlaw Rack isn’t anything that a baby does, nor is it a position that babies utilize when they develop.  If that is all you think the developmental sequence is, please stop reading/listening to everyone else – you are being misled with their repackaging of decades-old information.  Yes, the NDC is about what humans go through to develop, but in the regifted information you are being spoon-fed, the developmental sequence ends with walking.  The NDC doesn’t end at walking, and is vital for both the physical and mental development of all humans, and it is our guideline for how movement develops universally. We all know that a lot happens and a lot continues to develop AFTER babies end up on their feet.  That is where the Shapes of Movement come into play.  The Shapes of Movement (SoM) are the different static shapes that we get our lower body and our upper body into which go on to serve as the beginning and end of dynamic movements.  If you want an entry-level explanation of this, refer to Dr. Kelly Starrett’s work on Archetypes in Supple Leopard.  

When we look at the Outlaw Rack as a new addition to the SoM, it opens the door to integrating it with the other SoM.  

  • The Outlaw Rack can be integrated with the Overhead Shape and the Short Front Rack Shape.  Those 3 in combination create a nice twist to your overhead pressing.
  • The Outlaw rack integrated with the Bottom of the Squat Shape and the Standing Shape results in a whole new squatting experience.
  • The Outlaw Rack mixed with the Bottom of the Deadlift Shape and the Standing Shape will give you a deadlift experience where a rounded back is not an option.
  • The Outlaw Rack blended with the Bottom of the Lunge, and the Standing Lunge Shape will change what you thought a lunge or split squat was.
  • The Outlaw Rack, the Bottom of the Cossack Shape, and the Open Standing Shape result in a Cossack squat that will make you wonder which body part the Cossack squat targets.
  • The Outlaw Rack, the Bottom of the Pistol Shape, and the Standing Cheng Shape will serve as a progression into the Pistol that many people will claim as their own.

Don’t recognize any of those terms or don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to the Shapes of Movement? That’s okay, we are in the process of fixing that with some new learning opportunities and some new resources….

That is why we believe that the Outlaw Rack is much more than just a simple exercise that we are going to hear good things about.  The Outlaw Rack can be integrated into many different movement strategies, which creates an entirely new training effect for each of the strategies it is applied.  

After we had played around with the drill for quite a while and shared it with a few people to get feedback on, I had a question that I felt I needed to answer before feeling comfortable sharing it on a larger scale: “Why?”  What is the underlying “why” to the Outlaw Rack?  The last thing we wanted to do was just put out something different just to be different and create social media buzz that meant nothing.  The best answer I got from someone was: “Because it clears up A LOT of stuff!”  (But they didn’t say stuff.)  At the end of the day, what they said was spot on.  Because of how this shape winds up the fascial lines, there is the potential for widespread adaptations from the Outlaw Rack.  The fact that we can get all the benefits of being overhead, without being overhead opens the door to many loading options that many people don’t have.  Just watch the video of me attempting an overhead squat versus an Outlaw Rack squat followed by an overhead cossack versus an Outlaw Rack cossack. 

Given, it is just me – but I suspect many people will experience something similar.  However, the most significant why relates to the entirely new sensory experience it creates for the CNS.

If you are going to give the Outlaw Rack a try, make sure to spend a little time before addressing some soft tissue.  If you are going to bypass this info and go straight into the Outlaw Rack, start with a light bell – that’s why they make the 10lb and 14lb bell.  The likely areas to help you get into the Outlaw Rack:

  • Lats
  • Triceps – they will ALL want some attention
  • Long head of the biceps
  • Common Wrist Flexors
  • External Obliques
  • Rhomboids
  • Rectus Abdominis (yes, you’ll need to address this are so that you don’t cheat into the Outlaw Rack by creating more lumbar extension)

Clean those up however you want – foam roll, active release, old-school stretch, cupping, Graston, massage, the Stick, or whatever works for you.

After you hit the soft tissue a little, make sure to prep your trunk/shoulder for being overhead.  Whatever works for you will suffice.  Make sure though, that you are prepping the area to be overhead and loaded.  If you are unsure what to do, knock out an arm-bar or two on each arm. 

Alternatively, jump up and actively hang from a pull-up bar; actively means keeping those shoulders sucked down and back.  While you are there, shift your weight from one arm to the other, and don’t be afraid to shift so much weight that you are hanging by one arm.  One of our favorites is our Pump and Pry Series.  Not familiar with that?  Think about transitioning from a downward dog yoga position to the cobra position (keep your hips off the ground).  Keep those shoulders low to the ground in the downward dog, and then get them as high as possible in the Cobra (without getting all shruggy.)  The final option to prep the area is to get into the Outlaw Rack shape – grab a 1/2” or a 1” Rogue band and anchor it at ground level (or stand on it).  Go follow along with this video or jump right to the 1:30 mark to see this banded mobility drill. 

There you have it – the Outlaw Rack:it just cleans up a lot of……stuff!”  Try squatting, deadlifting, pressing, lunging, cossacking, and pistoling out of it.  You will find that the Outlaw Rack is an amalgam of intangibles. For your fun, I’ve included a short video of a quick chain Jeff hit our workshop attendees with to give you a jumping off point, but feel free to express your creativity.  We will follow up with some more videos of our favorite chains.


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