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How to do the Face Pull: Alternatives, Benefits and Videos (2020)

Banner image for Face Pull Exercise 

The face pull exercise is a great way to build strong and balanced shoulders. It’s one of the best exercises to target the rear deltoids as many exercises do not target that specific muscle.

OriGym have created an in-depth guide on how to do the face pull to ensure you get the technique right and get the perfect balanced shoulders! From the regular cable face pull to a Single arm bent over row, OriGym have you covered. 

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What is a face pull?

The face pull is an exercise which helps not just your shoulder muscles but also your back. It’s an underrated exercise that many people however it’s very effective and simple to do for anyone who wants to build muscle.

At the gym, a lot of people decide the main focus of working the shoulder muscles would mainly be a push day. The face pull is an isolation exercise designed to strengthen. 

Exercises like the shoulder press or lateral raise, if the weights are too heavy then shoulder injuries are likely to happen.

The face pull exercise may not be well known but the benefits are fantastic! In fact is a great pull exercise in comparison to the other push exercises and is a great way to balance the shoulder day. 

As said by Jones

When using dumbbells to perform this exercise, the pulling movement is rather jerky and, in some cases, may cause injury to the exerciser, particularly if the exerciser is trying to lift too much weight. Optimally, to maximize muscular benefit to the rear deltoid muscle group, a steady shoulder adductive movement through a large range of motion is desirable.

How to do the face pull

We suggest to start at a lighter weight to ensure that you will get that technique right. The face pull form is explained below.

Here’s how to do the face pull: 

  • Find an appropriate cable pulley machine, there are plenty at your local gym
  • Equip the rope attachment to the pulley machine in order to do the cable face pull.
  • Adjust the pulley to it is slightly above head height. As the exercise is angled adjust the height accordingly.
  • Use the pin to put at an appropriate weight, ensure that you get the technique right so we suggest to choose a lighter weight.
  • Hold the rope with an overhand grip and take a few steps back until you feel tension in the rope
  • Ensure you are shoulder width apart and pull the rope towards you.
  • As you pull the rope squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 2 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position slowly and always ensure to keep your shoulders up.
  • We suggest to do 10 – 12 repetitions per set. 

Advantages and disadvantages of the Face Pull Exercise:

It’s important to be aware that all exercises have its pros and cons. The face pull muscles are worked in a way that there are not many negatives however it is important to mention those.

Checklist for face pulls

Advantages of the face pull:

  • You can improve posture by doing this exercise, the rounded shoulders when you are frequently pressing/pushing barbells means that it will affect your posture. This will be later explained in the benefits section.
  • Not many exercises does actually target the rear deltoid muscle or the posterior deltoid as it’s sometimes called.

Disadvantages of the face pull:

  • Chances of shoulder impingement if you are lifting or pulling excessively. This causes your shoulder to ache and the way the face pull exercise is done, the position of your shoulders is not far from an overhead press.

As Ludewig said:  

Shoulder impingement has been defined as compression and mechanical abrasion of the rotator cuff structures as they pass beneath the coracoacromial arch during elevation of the arm. 

  • Isolation exercises like the face pull sometimes may cause a negative affect as your body can take a lot of weight. If you solely concentrated on your rear deltoids, this will reduce strength in other areas which could cause injury. 

  However, it is good to know that if you are doing the way the face pull muscles worked will      ensure that your rear deltoids are targeted in every session.

  • Compound exercises like the row also works the rear deltoids. The face pull muscles worked are targeted from this compound exercise does mean often than not, the face pull is disregarded as the row is so effective when it comes to working out the rear deltoid.

Face Pull Benefits

If you’re looking for the face pull muscles worked, the exercise will help you improve rear deltoid, traps, rhomboids and rotator cuff muscles. Once you get your face pull form right, we know you’ll get all the benefits!

Here are the benefits of the face pull and why you should include this in your everyday routine:

Strong shoulders

Face Pull for Strong shoulders

Strong shoulders are important for every day activities. From pressing, pulling and rotating your arms 

If you are wanting to lift anything above your head, you are essentially doing a press and working your posterior deltoid ensures you are working all your shoulder muscles. 

As said by Povilaitis

For instance, particularly difficult muscles to develop are the deltoid muscles on the tops of the shoulders wherein, in the case of "free weights," such muscles are conventionally exercised by grasping dumbbells in each hand and laterally raising them upwardly through a lateral shoulder abduction movement with the arms bent or extended at the elbows.  

Prevents Rounded Shoulders 

Posture for well balanced shoulders

As mentioned earlier, the push exercises mean that you will end up with more rounded shoulders. Using the face pull as an exercise will ensure that you will have balanced shoulders and prevents your posture from being hunched.

Great for beginners!

Tricep Ropes easy to use

Anyone can use this exercise! This exercise enables even beginners at the gym to train shoulders and it’s a great way to target your rear deltoids. 

Even if you start off at a lighter weight than usual, as long as you get the correct technique right, you’ll still feel the muscle being worked. It is vital to work all of the shoulder muscles and the face pull is a great way to target it. 

A great warm up or finisher!

Face pull - Great warm up and finisher

This exercise is fantastic whether if you are doing a band face pull or a cable one, the face pull is great for warming those muscles up for a heavy shoulder day.

If you wanted to do a tough finisher and really get the rear deltoids tired, attempt as many reps as possible on a lighter weight in order to feel the burn and get the best benefits.

However, always make sure you have constant tension when you do the exercise, a lot of people who do not set a number of reps will often use momentum to complete the repetition so always ensure your face pull form is correct.

Face Pull Common mistakes

The face pull is a fantastic exercise however there are some instances where mistakes can often occur.

Here are the common mistakes for the Face Pull:

Too much weight on the machine

Mistakes for face pull - too much weight

  • Like most other exercises, adding too much weight to the machine means that you would not be able to perform the manoeuvre correctly.
  • The rear deltoids are a smaller muscle group, therefore you will need to go lighter than you would with other shoulder exercises.
  • If you cannot control the weight when you are return it to the stack, using your own momentum to pull the weight towards you or even it pulling you forward then it’s likely you should reduce the amount that’s on the machine.
  • When you do perform the face pull ensure that you are not focusing other muscles whilst executing the exercise as you want to target your rear deltoids as much as possible.

Poor Face Pull Form

Poor form for face pull

  • This is the most common problem when it comes to do a face pull incorrectly. This is a rear deltoid exercise so in theory, this exercise should be working in between your shoulder blades.
  • Always ensure your elbows do not point downwards when you start or if you pull the rope toward your chin or neck… You will most likely feel that it will work more in your back or even in your biceps. Ensure that you check your form when you perform the right exercise. 

Standing too square

Standing too square for the face pull

  • Although not wrong, in terms of doing the face pull, using a square stance means there could be more movement in the lumber spine whilst performing the manoeuvre.
  • What’s also key to note is to not extend your neck whilst performing the exercise as you will not complete the manoeuvre.
  • We advise to complete the exercise in a staggered stance or even kneeling so this prevents any further movement from your back muscles. 

Face pull alternatives

The exercise as mentioned earlier is a great way for targeting the rear deltoids, here are some face pull alternatives to the exercise for you to try out:

1.Resistance band face pulls

Resistance band and rope attachment

Like the regular face pull, the resistance band is a fantastic way of working the rear deltoid. The bands provide a great option if any of the cable pulley are busy at the time.

This exercise ensures for any beginner to get a feel for knowing how to do the face pull on the machine.

Here’s how to do the resistance band face pull: 

  • Ensure you have a stable point where you can connect a large looped resistance band.
  • Like the cable face pull, hold the resistance band and walk back slowly until you reach tension in the band.
  • Make sure you are shoulder width apart or in a staggered stance.
  • Pull back the bands ensuring there’s tension throughout your repetitions.
  • If you do the pull apart method, you’re ensuring that you will be hitting multiple muscles at the same time.
  • This exercise is a great manoeuvre to warm up the upper body before you do any free weights.  
  • We suggest to do 10 – 12 repetitions per set to ensure that this exercise will have your rear deltoids worked!

2. Seated Cable Face Pull

This exercise is also very similar to both the resistance band face pull and the regular face pull however, this exercise more horizontal abduction which means you can rotate your shoulders a lot more.

Of course with the benefits of having a better range of motion with the exercise, you can load the weights however always make sure you’ve got the technique correct and to not overload the machine to prevent any injuries from happening.

Here’s how to do the exercise: 

  • Attach a rope which is used for the triceps extension to a seated cable area. An alternative to this would be to attach it to any other cable pulley machine.
  • Ensure your back is straight and have your knees slightly bent.
  • Hold the rope tightly with your palms facing each other, ensure it’s in an overhand position.
  • Drive the arms back and pull the rope towards your forehead whilst making sure your arms are above shoulder level.
  • Rotate your shoulders externally at the end of the movement.
  • Squeeze the upper back muscles once fully extended, hold the position for 1-2 seconds and return the rope back to neutral always making sure there is tension in the ropes.
  • We suggest to start the weight light in order to get the technique right for 10 – 12 repetitions.

3. Dumbbell Bent Over Reverse Fly

This exercise is fantastic for building muscle on the rear deltoids as it is a great angle to target those muscles. 

It’s essential that this exercise you do not go too heavy as you could use momentum of swinging the weights instead of holding tension throughout.

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  • Pick a suitable weight for the dumbbells and hold them tightly.
  • Stand shoulder width apart in a squat stance.
  • Bend your back ensuring that your neck is in a neutral position, make sure the dumbbells are under the chest and your elbows are slightly bent.
  • Raise your arms out until they are parallel to the ground. Always make sure that you are only moving your shoulders.
  • Squeeze your upper back muscles once you’ve extended for 1 – 2 seconds.
  • With constant tension, lower the dumbbells back to the original position.
  • We suggest to do 10 – 12 repetitions.

 4. High Cable Pulley Lat Extension

This is a great exercise to warm up your muscles for a heavy back session or shoulder session. This face pull alternative targets a various amount of muscles like the rear deltoids, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and traps! 

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  • Find a pulley machine which has weights on either side, ensure you remove all attachments of the pulley machine. This includes the metal hooks.
  • Adjust the pulley and set the pulley to its highest setting.
  • Grab the ends of the cable with your palms facing in, grab the opposite sides so your left arm with the right pulley and right arm with the left pulley.
  • Stand shoulder width apart and be in a square stance.
  • Extend both arms at the same time in a diagonal direction until your arms are beside you.
  • Hold the position for 1-2 seconds once your arms are fully extended and squeeze your upper back muscles, return to your starting position whilst having tension in the cables.
  • We suggest to do 10 – 12 repetitions per set.

5. Wide Grip Inverted Row 

This exercise is fantastic for any pull days you intend to do, if you include this in your row in any of your routines, you’ll definitely notice the difference to your workouts.

This specific exercise really targets your rear deltoids along with the rest of your upper back muscles as well.  

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  • Find a barbell and rack the bar just under waist height. A great alternative if you can’t find a regular squat rack would be a smith squat rack.
  • Lie face up with the barbell directly above your chest, make sure your heels are together before you perform the exercise.
  • Grip the barbell wide enough to ensure when you have finished the movement, your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle.
  • Ensure your elbows are at your shoulder level, pull yourself up until the barbell has almost reached your sternum. When you perform the movement, try to make sure that your head is in a straight line with your ankles.
  • Drop slowly and always have tension when your elbows are fully extended.
  • We suggest if you are brand new to the exercise, attempt to do 6-8 repetitions to build the strength and once you are more confident, attempt to do 10-12 repetitions per set.

6. Single Arm Bent Over Rows

This exercise is a great way to work your shoulder muscles and back muscles. This face pull alternative is a fantastic way to target the rear deltoid and strengthen that shoulder muscle in general.

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  • Place either your right knee and right hand on the bench.
  • Extend the opposite leg very slightly behind you so you can be supported.
  • Pick a relatively heavy dumbbell, always ensure that you pick a dumbbell that will challenge you yet you can still get the technique right.
  • Hold the dumbbell on your left hand and ensure that your arm is extended towards the floor.
  • Pull the dumbbell upwards towards your ribcage.
  • As the dumbbell comes up squeeze your upper back muscles and hold for 1-2 seconds.
  • Lower the dumbbell with control and tension.
  • We suggest to do 10-12 repetitions and then switch.

7. Rear deltoid machine

This machine as it states is fantastic for targeting the rear deltoid muscles. This machine is great to isolate this muscle and work it safely yet make it challenging.

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  • Face and sit towards the pad. Adjust the seat accordingly so that the handles are in line with your shoulders.
  • Hold the handles, keep your arms straight and press them back.
  • Once your arms are fully extended, ensure that you squeeze those should blades together to get the full effect of doing this exercise.
  • Having constant tension and not releasing the position straight away, ensure that you slowly return to position with control.
  • We suggest to start off light in order to get the technique correct, from there, you can up the weight accordingly.

When should you do the face pull? 

Now you’ve got the benefits, variations. and how to do the face pull, the next step would be when to include this fantastic exercise.

This question is often asked as the muscle, the posterior deltoid is targeted. We suggest if you are a beginner, to include this when you are training shoulders or doing push days.

The variations are endless as you read earlier, you can modify the position to do a seated face pull or even a band face pull as well!

As always, start off at a lighter weight in order to get the form and technique correct before increasing the weight.

If you are more experience and often benching regularly, we suggest if you can, to do a face pull set for every bench set that you do.  

This ensures that your muscles are constantly working and because it’s the opposite muscles to your regular push muscles, this will not hamper your performance when it comes to your next set of push. 

This will actually in fact aid your shoulders for being healthy and injury free. This exercise will also assist you with time management as you do not need to do extra sets added on as you are doing everything in between.

Of course, if you feel like you want to concentrate on the push sets and then focus on the pull, this exercise is low impact and high benefit so it can easily be fitted in any upper body workout days.

Before you go!

We hope that you found this in-depth guide on how to do the face pull helpful. Why not check out our other upper body exercise guides below:

If you want to start a career in fitness, why not check out our Personal Trainer Diploma or even download a prospectus and one of the enrolment team will get back to you! 

References:

  1. PM Ludewig, TM Cook - Physical therapy, 2000 - academic.oup.com
  2. GA Jones - US Patent 5,125,881, 1992 - Google Patents
  3. DA Povilaitis - US Patent 5,540,640, 1996 - Google Patents

 

Enquire to Become a Personal Trainer

Looking for a new career in fitness? Enquire now! 

 

Written by Zac Yeo

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

With a BA (Hons) Politics and International Relations from Kingston University and previous experience working in the finance sector, Zac’s passion for fitness brought him to OriGym, and ultimately led him to become a qualified Personal Trainer. With a keen interest in developing consumer trends, Zac enjoys the creation of deep, insightful content catering to new trends and has contributed to various publications including the Daily Star. Outside of work, Zac can be found watching football, either in-person supporting Charlton Athletic or virtually on Fifa.