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How to Do Rack Pulls: Videos & Benefits (2019)

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What Are Rack Pulls?

Rack pulls are a pulling variation of the traditional deadlift. The range of motion of a rack pull is shorter than that of a deadlift as the weight is lifted from knee height rather than from the ground. Because of this, a lot of people refer to this exercise as a partial deadlift.

A rack pull is a compound movement, the lift recruits multiple joints and muscle groups and the exercise has benefits for muscle hypertrophy and strength. Whilst this is an exercise in itself, one of its main functions is to improve deadlift form and help lifters to lift heavier weight when they’re doing a pulling exercise.

Keep reading if you want to know more about the benefits of rack pulls, why you should do them, and how this exercise differs from a traditional deadlift. Check out our exercise demo that will show you exactly how to do rack pulls.

 

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Why You Should Do Rack Pulls 

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By calling rack pulls a ‘partial deadlift’, we’re not saying that they’re a cop-out exercise compared to the regular deadlift, in fact, they’re far from it. The rack pull does more than make you feel good about being able to lift heavier than you can for the standard deadlift. The movement is useful for perfecting your deadlift form and it has some benefits of its own (which will be discussed a little further on in this post).

The rack pull is a deadlift variation that is mainly used as an assistance movement to work on deadlift form. More specifically, a lot of people use rack pulls as a way of perfecting the lockout part of a deadlift. Obviously, the best way to work on your deadlift is to do deadlifts, but if you’re struggling with your form, see if you find it more comfortable to do a rack pull instead. It’s surprising how many powerlifters actually struggle with the lockout of a deadlift, if you’re one of these people, you need to keep reading for how to do rack pulls.  

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Even if you don’t have any real issues with executing a deadlift, you’d still benefit from adding rack pulls into your workout. Generally speaking, the rack pull is a great movement for building muscle strength and size, but more on that shortly! First, let us explain how to choose the right pin height and check out our exercise video demo for how to do rack pulls before we compare rack pulls vs deadlifts and then we’ll get onto the benefits.

Rack Pulls Pin Height 

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When it comes to setting up the barbell on the pins of a power rack, there are three heights that you can choose from. You can start rack pulls below knee, just above the knee or a little higher so that the bar starts around two inches above your knee.

When it comes to choosing the height of the barbell, there is no ‘right’ choice. It all depends on what you want to get out of the lift. Generally speaking, the higher the starting position, the easier it will be to execute the lift. For those who aren’t experienced with deadlifting, start with rack pulls above the knee and then, if your goal is to improve your deadlift form, progress by lowering the height. Working towards the lower barbell height will help with the transition from rack pulls to regular deadlifts.

For the more experienced powerlifter, if there’s a specific part of your regular deadlift form that you want to improve, set the power rack to the height that will train the part of the movement you need to work on. For example, if you notice that your lift is weak at knee level, set up the barbell so that you start rack pulls below knee level.

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A lot of powerlifters see that their form starts to slip towards the top end of a deadlift, most find lockout the hardest part of the movement to perfect. You’re definitely not alone if you find that you start to struggle once the bar passes your knee. If this is the case, you can benefit from rack pulls. Starting rack pulls above the knee will better isolate the lockout part of a deadlift. Training this movement will improve your ability to execute this part of the deadlift properly.  

The pin height of the barbell also affects the main muscles that rack pulls recruit. We’ll get to that shortly when we discuss the rack pulls muscles worked, but first, here’s our exercise demo so that you can perfect your rack pull form.

How to Do Rack Pulls

Set-up and Equipment:

You’ll need to grab a barbell and set-up a power rack for this exercise. Because the range of motion of a rack pull is shorter than that of a regular deadlift, grab a heavier weight than what you would use for a deadlift.

Starting Position: 

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  • Stand with a slight bend in your knee and position your feet hip-width apart.
  • Push your hips back slightly and lean your torso forward towards the barbell.
  • Brace your core muscles to keep your back straight.
  • Look straight-ahead.
  • Grip the bar with an overhand grip, placing your hands shoulder-width apart.

Execution:

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  • Lift the bar by driving your hips forward and extending your legs to straighten your knees.
  • As you lift the barbell, pull your shoulders back.
  • Once you reach the top of the movement, hold the lift for a second.
  • Lower the barbell back on to the rack by reversing the movement.
  • Repeat 

How Many Reps for Rack Pulls?

When it comes to us advising how many reps we recommend for rack pulls, it all depends on individual exercise goals. So, you need to think about whether you’re training for hypertrophy, strength, or endurance.

To use this exercise to gain strength, do 4-6 reps of rack pulls per set. If your focus is hypertrophy, higher reps per set are recommended. We advise 6-10 reps if your goal is to build muscle size.

Rack Pulls Muscles Worked

The rack pull muscles worked are very similar to those of a deadlift. Keep reading because we’re about to discuss rack pulls vs deadlifts in more detail soon. 

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Back to the rack pull muscles worked, the main muscles worked by this move are the lower back muscles, specifically, the erector spinae. Rack pulls also recruit the glutes, quads, hamstrings, traps and the muscles in your upper back.

As we mentioned earlier, the height that you start the movement at will affect the main muscles recruited by the rack pull. To really focus on working the muscles in your back, stick to rack pulls above the knee and increase the weight as a progression rather than lowering the height of the barbell on the power rack. If you want to better recruit the glutes and the hamstrings with this movement, go for rack pulls that start below the knee.

Rack Pulls VS Deadlifts

Deadlifts are a classic but really simple exercise. They’re one of the big 3 lifts, alongside squats and the bench press. The deadlift is a compound movement that works all of the posterior chain muscles. Deadlifts work more muscles than rack pulls, or any other exercise for that matter. If you could only pick one lift to do for the rest of your lift (or in the more likely event that you’re just short on time), it would make sense to pick a deadlift. 

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Unlike rack pulls, deadlifts are a part of competitive powerlifting competitions. So, in addition to the more general benefits, practicing deadlifts is a lot more useful, pretty much essential in fact, for competitive lifters.

So why would we even bother doing a rack pull vs deadlift comparison? Well, it isn’t a total landslide when it comes to discussing which exercise is best. There are a few other similarities and differences that are worth considering. 

For both exercises, the barbell starts with a dead momentum. The dead stop at the start of every rep is one of the main reasons that both of these exercises have huge benefits for increasing muscle strength and size. 

A difference between the rack pull vs deadlift is the amount of weight that can be managed for each lift. You’ll be able to manage more weight when lifting from the rack compared to lifting from the floor. Lifting more weight means that the rack pull benefits are more significant for increasing the strength and hypertrophy of your back muscles. 

Rack pulls vs deadlift

The most obvious difference in the rack pulls vs deadlift comparison is the range of motion of the movements. The top of the deadlift movement is the same as the of motion a rack pull, but the regular deadlift starts at the floor whereas rack pulls start on, well a rack. Starting the movement on a rack shortens the range of motion of the rack pull, essentially the range of motion of a rack pull is the top half a regular deadlift, hence they’re often known as partial deadlifts. 

Although the greater range of motion limits the amount of weight that you can manage, this means that the deadlift is better for improving functional strength than the partial deadlift variation.

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Rack pulls are great as a way of correcting errors in deadlift form but obviously, deadlifts are the best way to train the deadlift motion. We mentioned above that there are different heights that you can start a rack pull from to train specific parts of the deadlift motion, but if you just want to get better at deadlifts in general, and increase the amount of weight that you can deadlift, then doing a deadlift is your best bet.

If you’re not a competitive powerlifter, and you have a more general goal which centres around building strength and muscle size, then rotating rack pulls and deadlifts within your workout will give you the best of both worlds.

How to Do Deadlifts

Set-up and Equipment:

Grab a barbell load it with weight plates. If you’ve never deadlifted before, start with a light weight and focus on perfecting your form first.

Starting Position:

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  • Stand behind the barbell with your feet underneath the bar.
  • Position your feet hip-width apart.
  • Bend your knees into a squat until your shins are almost touching the bar.
  • Lean forwards to grab the bar with a mixed grip
  • Place your hands shoulder-width apart. 

Execution:

rack pulls vs deadlifts

The execution of this lift is pretty straight forward, essentially you lift the barbell off the ground and then return it so that it’s dead on the ground. Here’s how to do the lift in a little more detail:

  • It can help if you squeeze the bar just before you lift the barbell.
  • Once you’ve grabbed the barbell, push your heels into the floor to start the lift.
  • You can use your legs and your glutes to drive the lift, extending your legs at the knee to rise up from the squat position.
  • Once the barbell passes your knee height, push your hips forward to stand upright.
  • At the top of the lift, pull your shoulders back.
  • Carefully lower the bar back down so that it ends dead on the ground.

Tips:

It’s important that you keep your head in a neutral position throughout the entire deadlift. Keep your chin up and find a fixed spot to look at as you execute the movement.

Keep your back straight from the starting position and throughout the lift. Brace your core muscles – this will make it easier to avoid rounding your back.

Rack Pulls Benefits 

#1 Rack Pull Benefits for Bulking Your Back

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Training rack pulls will have benefits for bulking up your back muscles. The movement works your lower back, traps and upper back muscles. On the other hand, the muscles worked by regular deadlifts are a lot broader. Better focusing on the muscles in your back and being able to lift more weight to do so means that the muscle hypertrophy is more significant from a rack pull vs deadlift.

#2 Less Stress on Your Back

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Lifting the barbell from any of the three height options on the power rack puts less stress on the lumbar muscles and the spine compared to the movement of a full deadlift. Rack pulls are a really effective exercise for working on your back muscles without putting them through as much strain.

Thanks to the reduced stress on your back, the back muscles will be less fatigued after a routine that involves rack pulls compared to one that features a set of deadlifts. Less muscle fatigue has its own benefits for building muscle because you’ll be able to manage more sets of rack pulls, more frequently.

Another deadlift variation that reduces strain on the lower back is the trap bar deadlift. If you’re recovering from a lower back injury, or if you’d just like to do your best to avoid one, check out our guide to the trap bar deadlift here.

#3 Rack Pulls Benefits for Deadlifts

Rack pulls benefits

Using rack pulls to work on your deadlift will allow you to perfect your form. The range of motion of the rack pull is just the top part of the deadlift, so it skips the hardest part of the lift but still allows you to focus on the part of the form that a lot of people find hard to master.

By perfecting your form, another benefit of rack pulls is that they increase how much weight you can deadlift. All of the rack pulls muscles worked are also worked in the deadlift, working these by doing rack pulls, they’re made stronger for when they’re recruited for the deadlift.

This has further benefits because the more you deadlift (properly) the more you’ll reap the rewards of deadlifting. And even though we did say that rack pulls aren’t an effective way to prepare for a powerlifting competition, being able to deadlift more thanks to rack pulls means that maybe they do deserve a place in your powerlifting preparation. 

#4 Rack Pulls Benefits for Grip Strength  

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Because you can lift more weight with a rack pull, it’s a great exercise for increasing grip strength. This is another way that rack pulls benefit deadlifts and pulling exercises like pull-ups. Grip strength is something that’s often overlooked until people get serious about powerlifting, and then people realise that grip strength is actually a pretty important part of lifting. With a stronger grip, you’ll be able to lift heavier weights, bulk up more, and you know the rest…  

#5 Isolate Different Muscles

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When discussing the rack pulls muscles worked, we explained that changing the height that the pull starts from, for example, a rack pull above the knee compared to starting rack pulls below knee height, changes the main muscles that are emphasised by the movement.

Starting above the knee is probably the most common rack pull form, this height will put the most emphasis on your back muscles. On the other hand, rack pulls below knee recruit the glutes, quads, and hamstrings more than the higher variations.

Whilst its great that rack pulls recruit a range of muscles, they are best for working on your lower back. So, whilst the added benefit of them recruiting some lower body muscles is nice, using this exercise over a more appropriate movement like a squat, is pretty ineffective. Realistically, there’s no one type of lift that has all the answers. Rack pulls are great, and so are squats, so do them both, alongside deadlifts and definitely don’t forget about the bench press! 

Before you go!

We hope that you enjoyed our guide on how to do rack pulls, what are your thoughts on the rack pulls vs deadlift debate? Give us a shout on Facebook or Twitter to let us know!

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Why Not Try These Exercises?

If you enjoyed our guide to how to do rack pulls, have a look at some of our other exercise demos, including:

 

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Written by Abbie Watkins

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

Join Abbie on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Holding an MA Marketing Communications and Branding as well as a BSc Psychology from the University of Liverpool, Abbie’s experience encompasses the retail, hospitality and fitness industries. Since joining OriGym, she has become a qualified Personal Trainer and gone on to complete a specialist qualification in advanced Sports Nutrition. Abbie’s main focuses cover staying up to speed with YouTube fitness influencers, identifying successful and innovative content formats. She has contributed to various publications, including the Daily Express. Beyond OriGym, she describes herself as a ‘work-hard, play-hard’ type going on scenic runs and upbeat exercise classes, and often found on the front row of a Saturday morning spin class. 

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