A Face Pull Exercise Variation That Builds a Strong Back and Healthy Shoulders

STACK Expert Kelvin King Jr. prescribes a Face Pull variation to help you build a strong back and shoulders.

We all love to perform pressing exercises, no doubt. Just try to get on a gym bench on Monday, and you will see this in action. People put a priority on building a big chest.

But this causes a number of problems. One involves building an overdeveloped chest and frontside of the shoulders and an underdeveloped upper back. This leads to poor posture, shoulder dysfunction and a limit on how much you can press.

The solution? Face Pull exercise variations.

Face Pulls are typically performed with a cable machine. You row a relatively light weight, finishing with your hands by your face and your elbows high. The exercise develops the rear deltoids, traps, rhomboids and rotator cuff muscles. Performing Face Pull exercise variations on a consistent basis adds muscle size and strength to your upper back, and, if done the right way, also helps externally rotate your shoulders and pull them back into the proper position for better posture and decreased injury risk.

How to Perform Cable Face Pulls

Cable Face Pull

  • Grab a rope or dual handles attached to a cable machine.
  • Tighten your core.
  • Be careful not to extend through your back during the movement.
  • Pull the weight directly toward your face, separating your hands, keeping your upper arms parallel to the ground and your elbows above your shoulders.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together to finish the Pull.
  • Banded Face Pulls are done nearly the exact same way. Simply pull a band toward your face.

Face Pull exercises should not be performed using the traditional progressive overload strategy. Performing with a heavy weight for a few reps is not optimal. Instead, opt for lighter weight and perform a high number of reps. You can even do as much as 2 sets of 50 reps.

In addition to traditional Face Pulls, I created a dynamic variation that offers more benefits for sports performance. With Sled Face Pulls, you get the same benefit as traditional Face Pulls, but you engage more muscle groups, because you are forced into a counterbalanced pulling motion, which requires you to extend while trying to balance your body, use grip strength in pulling the rope and pressing into the ground using your flexor and extensor muscles for stability.

How to Perform Sled Face Pulls

Sled Face Pull

(shown in video above)

  • Set up a sled with a pulling attachment.
  • Start with no weight on the sled, and gradually add weight as you get stronger.
  • Assume an extended plank position. Try to keep your body level throughout the movement.
  • Use one arm to pull. Do not dip your head to meet the rope. Let the rope touch your forehead in a fluid movement.

Sets/Reps: 3-4x10 each side

Whether you opt for traditional Face Pulls or the advanced variation, this is a great exercise to perform at the end of a press-dominant workout. Incorporate it as soon as possible to enjoy the benefits.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: BACK | UPPER BODY | SHOULDERS | PULLS | CABLE MACHINE