If you’ve seen someone doing rack pulls in your gym you might have made the mistake of dismissing them as a poor man’s deadlift. While it’s true that rack pulls have a shorter range of motion than a deadlift, they work the same muscles and by shortening the movement of the exercise, rack pulls allow you to lift a heavier weight. This will result in stronger back muscles, as well as helping to improve your form and power in the top half of a standard deadlift.
You will need some kit to do rack pulls, namely a barbell and a power rack. That, and the large amount of weight involved, means it’s definitely an exercise best performed in a gym rather than as part of a home workout, even if you have a barbell at home.
The lower back muscles are the primary target of rack pulls, but the movement also works your upper back, glutes and hamstrings, and you’ll also increase your grip strength. Rack pulls don’t work as many different muscles and joints as deadlifts, so if you’re short on time it’s probably wise to opt for the latter, but if you’re looking to improve your deadlift or focused on bulking up your back, adding rack pulls to your workouts is a no-brainer.
How To Do The Rack Pull
Start by setting up the height of your rack. The three most common positions are just below the knee, just above the knee or halfway up your thigh. If you are an experienced weightlifter you can pick the height in line with the part of the deadlift you think you can improve, or just work through a set of rack pulls at each height. The lower the height, the more you’ll involve your glutes and hamstrings in the exercise, while a higher starting point places greater focus on your back.
When the bar is in your favoured position, grasp it with your palms facing towards you and your hands shoulder-width apart. Engage your hamstrings by pushing your hips back. Keeping your back straight and looking forwards throughout the movement, lift the weight by driving your hips forwards and straightening your knees. Pull your shoulders back at the top of the movement, then slowly reverse the movement and lower the bar back into the power rack.
Rack Pull Variations
Resistance band rack pull
An easy way to increase the challenge of your rack pulls is to attach resistance bands to the rack’s feet and both ends of the bar. This will increase the overall resistance in the exercise and also progressively load that resistance to the top of the move, when the tension in the band is the greatest. If you’re doing rack pulls to improve the top half of your deadlifts, this is a canny way to make the exercise even more effective in that regard.
This variation on the standard deadlift eases the pressure on your back during the lift, making it a great option for those new to the exercise. Between rack pulls and the trap bar deadlift you’ll build all the strength required to nail full deadlifts and strengthen your back safely. The hexagonal or diamond-shaped trap bar is designed so you can stand inside it and hold the handles by your sides as you perform the lift, rather than leaning over to grab a standard barbell from the ground in front of you.
Stand in the middle of the bar and reach down to grab the handles. Sit your hips back, raise your torso and look up in front of you. Stand up by straightening your hips and knees, keeping your back flat. Lower the bar slowly back to the start.