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Rack Pulls Guide – Muscles Worked, Benefits, Technique and Variations

Learn how to add this highly effective exercise into your training arsenal.

This definitive guide will show you how to do Rack Pulls, alongside their benefits, muscles worked, variations, alternatives and technique.

What are Rack Pulls?

Rack Pulls are a Barbell exercise that isolates a specific part of the Deadlift range of motion and are performed in a Squat rack, hence the name.

Muscles Worked by Rack Pulls

Rack Pulls work the:

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Trapezius and Back Muscles
  • Erector Spinae (Lower Back)
tricep with dumbbells Source: CrossFit Inc.
Build a strong back

Benefits of Rack Pulls

There are many benefits of Rack Pulls

Less Stress on the Back and Spine

The Rack Pull forces you to work from a more vertical position. This pulling motion makes it easier on your lower back. The reduced range of motion places less stress on your lower back.

Of course, when it comes to building a strong back, Deadlift and Squat you must train the full range of motion however the Rack Pull can be tremendously useful if you need to train hard whilst limiting the amount of stress placed on the back.

Rack Pulls Build Massive Pulling Strength

If you want to have a stronger Deadlift or Clean, add Rack Pulls into your training. The higher starting position will help to improve this section within the Clean or Deadlift range of motion.

You Can Load Up More Weight

The combination of the starting position and reduced range of also allows you to go heavier than usual, building strength and muscle accordingly.

Enhance Hip Drive

R Pulls are an excellent way to augment hip drive for the Deadlift

Better Grip Strength

Similar to Barbell Shrugs, R Pulls build grip strength because the bar is heavy and you don’t shift it a long way. This means you can test, challenge and improve your grip strength with very heavy weights.

Ring Muscle Up grip rack pullsSource: Photo Courtesy of CrossFit Inc
Improve your grip for all round strength on many different exercises

How to do Rack Pulls

Set up the rack so that the Barbell will rest on the supports around your knee height.

You can alter the height of the starting position depending on your own personal sticking points. Have trouble above the knee on the Deadlift? Start the Rack Pull from that height.

Struggling to fully extend at the top? Set the R Pull to start from above the knee.

  • Load the Barbell
  • Grip the Barbell and adopt your usual Deadlift stance. Back neutral, head straight, knees bent.
  • Brace the back and then pull the bar close to the body with the lats
  • Inhale and tense your grip, glutes and core
  • Drive the feet through the floor and extend until your hips are fully locked out
  • Pause and hold
  • Slowly lower the Barbell back onto the supports in the Squat rack and exhale
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Rack Pulls Training Tips

You can grip the bar with any type of grip you like. Pronated, alternating or even with straps.

Don’t use straps if your goal is to increase your grip strength.

Rack Pulls Variations

Rack Pulls Alternatives

The Trap Bar Deadlift and Sumo Deadlift are both excellent alternatives for the Rack Pull.

Training Rack Pulls for Different goals

Build Strength

Program 4 – 5 sets of 3 – 6 reps. Rest as needed between sets.

Build Muscle

Program 3 – 5 sets of 8 – 12 reps. Rest for 45 seconds max between sets.

Enhance Technique

3 – 4 sets of 5 – 8 reps. Concentrate on form and technique. Rest as needed between sets. Your primary goal here is quality.

Should I do rack pulls above or below the knee?

This is entirely dependent on you as a lifter. Most of the time R Pulls are performed from slightly below the knee.

More Exercises

Try the T Bar Row, Landmine Press, Jefferson Squat or Face Pulls.

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