Face Pulls – Muscles Worked, Benefits, Technique and Variations

Build stronger, healthier shoulders now.

This guide to Face Pulls will help you learn how to do them properly, alongside their benefits, variations, form, muscles worked and training tips.

Table of Contents

  • What are Face Pulls
  • Benefits
  • Muscles Worked
  • Form
  • Training Tips
  • Variations
  • FAQs

What are Face Pulls?

Face Pulls are an isolation cable (or banded) exercise that activates and improves your back and shoulders.

They are highly effective both as a warm up and as a strength and muscle building exercise in their own right.

Benefits of Face Pulls

Face Pulls have many benefits and are a useful tool when you know how and why to program them into your training.

Face Pulls Improve Shoulder Strength

The shoulder is a complex, multi-faceted joint and should be strengthened and trained carefully. Face Pulls are a highly effective way to do this as they move the shoulder through a long range of motion and recruit many smaller muscles.

They also increase the strength of tendons and ligaments which also contribute to healthier, more injury resistant shoulders.

3 Day Split Method build muscle face pullsSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.
Build strong shoulders

Face Pulls Will Enhance Good Posture

Face pull exercises can help your posture. They work your upper back and reinforce the mind muscle connection. Increased activation will lead to a better feeling for your own body and a stronger upper back.

This will help to combat and prevent poor posture.

Face Pulls are a Great Finishing Exercise

Once your main compound lifts are out of the way and you already feel tired during a workout this exercise can be a great selection if you want to completely exhaust yourself and maximise your gains.

Face Pulls Target your Body in a Unique Way

The angle of the cable provides a certain type of stimulus that you will not achieve with other pulling or rowing style movements. This is positive because it will ensure that your back and shoulders are worked hard from all angles.

As a result, you will have less weaknesses.

Face Pulls Improve Performance in Other Areas

This exercise leads to stronger shoulders and upper back. This has extensive carry over for other exercises such as Pull Ups, Rows, and Sled Pulls amongst many others.

Muscles Worked by Face Pulls

Face Pulls mainly target the rear deltoids, rhomboids and middle trapezius (traps).

The rhomboids are worked as you pinch your shoulders together.

The exercise also improves the shoulders in general and the rotator cuff muscles such as the infraspinatus. The rotator cuff is an area of weakness for many athletes.

Face Pulls Form

It is best to start light if you are new to the exercise.

Build up your strength and confidence over time, that will lead to the best results and gains.

  1. First, set the cable pulley system to the highest setting. Use the rope attachment
  2. Stand facing the cable with your feet shoulder width apart
  3. Grip the rope with both hands. Step backwards so that the stack of weight plates rises up
  4. Bring your hands upwards to the starting position
  5. Inhale and brace your core, grip shoulders, back and glutes
  6. Back straight with knees slightly bent
  7. Initiate the movement by squeezing the upper back and try to pinch your shoulder blades together.
  8. Bring the cable towards your face. At the end of the movement your forearms and upper arms should form a 90-degree angle
  9. Pause then slowly return to the starting position, exhale at the end of this part of the movement
  10. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Face Pulls Training Tips

Maintain a neutral neck position. If you need a training cue, imagine you were holding an egg under your chin during the movement.

Tempo is important.

Stay slow and controlled at all times to maximise time under tension (and therefore muscle growth).

Try to squeeze your shoulder blades in order to help control the movement.

Don’t Load the Weight too Heavy

The point of Face Pulls is to target the rear delts and improve your shoulders and upper back. If you load the weight too much then your body may have to overcompensate, your form breaks down, and the weight is lurched forwards and backwards without being effective.

Don’t let your ego get in the way and if in doubt, start lighter and work up to a heavier weight.

Face Pulls Variations

These variations are all useful to add into your training:

  • Lat pulldown
  • Dumbbell row
  • Rear cable fly
  • Rear delt dumbbell fly
  • Pull ups
Strong shoulders = a better athlete


Learn more about the exercise.

Do Face Pulls Build Muscle?

Yes. They are a great accessory exercise to other compound lifts such as the Bench Press or Overhead Press.

What are Face Pulls Best for?

Face pull are best for targeting the muscle groups around your shoulder joints.

They will significantly develop the posterior deltoids (rear delts) and rotator cuff muscles (such as the infraspinatus). This will enhance scapular stability and strength.

Which Muscles do Face Pulls Work?

Face Pulls develop and test the upper back and shoulder muscles such as the rear deltoids, rhomboids, middle trapezius and rotator cuff muscles.

Do Face Pulls Help Pull Ups?

Yes. They develop many of the same muscles that are important for Pull Ups as well.

Try the Cable Crossover or Spider Curl.

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