Ultimate guide to face pulls

Face Pulls: The Ultimate Guide

Face Pull 4
Credit: Gym Junkies

We all know that you want to make some serious gains in the gym and minimise injury, right?

Well, perhaps you should stop trying to dead lift something that weighs more than a small car…

…at least for now.

Intersperse the warrior time with some great technical exercises that will make you stronger and less likely to injure yourself.

After all, building good technique is as important as your diet, your weight increment and how good your hair looks in the mirror.

“You can’t put a roof on a house without walls.”

And we’re going to start you off with a few bricks by dissecting the little gem that is the Face Pull exercise.

We’re going to cover:

  • What is a Face Pull?
  • Good vs Bad Technique
  • Warnings!
  • What Muscles are getting hit?
  • Other Benefits
  • Alternative Exercises

So, let’s get started, shall we…

What is a Face Pull?

The Face Pull is an isolation exercise perfectly designed for strengthening and powering up the posterior deltoids and rotator cuff muscles.

But not only that, but by leaving out your normal press weights and working along a different linear, the Face Pull can actually add a serious amount of JUICE to your lifting.

Poor posture plays havoc with your spine, shoulders, hips, and knees.

In fact, it leads to some big-time physical flaws that result in acute problems such as joint pain, reduced flexibility, compromised muscles and, in the end, arthritis; all of which can severely curb your chances of burning fat and building strength.

For the gym slouchers, posture has been left at home with the bottle of water and over-priced protein bar.

But it’s also a low priority for some advanced builders who spend most of their time building front muscle mass. Additionally, simply working on pecs and front deltoids can give you issues with your shoulders and arms.

So, let’s get some balance…

For the next few weeks, why not try taking some time out to get reacquainted with your temple body?

Be objective with yourself. And while you’re at it, ask a mate to say what he or she thinks of your overall shape (again, objectivity is key).

Check if you have an imbalance of muscle mass round your back and shoulders compared to your chest and front delts.

And if you’re running out of mates, why not set up to video yourself working out? Sometimes that’s an even better way to check your body-balanced growth.

No matter what you do, waste no time in getting a plan together for your next routines. Plan diet, plan muscle groups, plan rest days, plan aerobic.

AND make sure somewhere in all of that planning are included one or two worthwhile Face Pull sessions every week.

Face Pull 2
Credit: Breaking Muscle

Best practice:

Take a medium load for your Face Pulls. If you go too heavy you’ll start to punch the lower back and increase the chances of spinal or muscular (obliques, dorsi) injury.

Heads Up!

  • To begin, choose your preferred rep range (4-to-6, 6-to-8 or 8-to-10) and prepare to do three sets.
  • Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, move up in weight to suit.
  • Rest 3 minutes in between each 4-to-6 rep set, 2 minutes in between 6-to-8 rep sets, and 1 minute in between 8-to-10-rep sets.
  • Rest and recoup before moving onto another exercise

Good vs Bad Technique

Your average gym-goer probably won’t have an idea on correct Face Pull technique. Take a good look around next time you’re in the gym (without looking weird); if you see someone trying a set and they’re one pull away from a kablooey, show them this article right away.

Or better yet, let us teach you and you can spread the word.

The thing is, a Face Pull is not a “power” exercise; it’s way more subtle…

Perfecting the art of the Face Pull:

  • Set the cable at around chest height (maybe a little lower).
  • Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart, bend the knees slightly for a stable base and face the pulley.
  • Grip the rope using a pronated (overhand) grip. This allows for a wider arc of movement and far more shoulder rotation. Of course you can play around with the grip to suit you.
  • With your shoulders back and dropped (not shrugged), chest elevated and shoulder blades pinched, pull the rope back towards your face; imagine pulling the rope apart as you bring it towards the level of your chin.
  • Throughout the movement, make sure your elbows remain higher than your wrists. It’s easy to allow them to drop so really focus on this aspect.
  • Squeeze your upper back and rear deltoids for a full second before returning back to the start.

Sound easy?

Face Pull 1
Credit: Weight Training Guide


Err, yeah, but also easy to mess things up. We’ve also put together a little ‘Do Not’ list because we care…we’re good like that.

So try to remember this stuff next time you do face pulls because it will help you maximize results from the movement and reduce the chance of injury:

  • Keep your head still and don’t be tempted to bring your head forward to the rope; bring the rope to you otherwise you won’t manage the complete movement.
  • Keep your shoulders, elbows and wrists in a straight line; doing so will focus the load pressures only on the trapezius and scapulae muscles (upper back); if you drop your posture you bring the middle or lower back muscles into play. You can do those later.
  • Keep the tempo of each rep slow and controlled; you don’t need to speed through a set – to be honest, that goes for most other exercises. After all, control is what brings positive tension to the muscle group and prevents injury.

RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation

  • First, if you feel pain, STOP whatever it is you’re in the middle of doing; don’t be tempted to work through it like some macho martyr; you’re not going to impress anyone. Also rest up in the gym before you drive yourself anywhere; just try not to move too much.
  • When you get home reach for some ice and apply it to the area in question, compressing it via a bandage or elastic band, if possible. Or better still, get someone to do this for you while you lie on your back like a brave, wounded solider (No? Ah, just us then).
  • If you can keep the injured area elevated, even better; keeping the tear or sprain above the level of your heart will prevent too much inflammation (yes, this is counterintuitive because the muscles need blood for healing, but we’re talking immediate care).

What Muscles are getting hit?

Face Pulls are an underrated exercise that focus upon the growth of traps, rear deltoids, rotator cuffs and the smaller muscles of the mid-back.

Face Pull 3
Credit: T-Nation

For ladies and gents hoping to progress their routines, this small but massively effective exercise should be as much a staple ingredient of body building as chicken and chickpeas.

And of course, as well as being an effective laser-point workout, the longer term benefits of the Face Pull include the improvement of posture and body shape.

Don’t believe us? Ever heard of “rounded shoulders”? A fairly common bi-product of the gym-warrior’s advanced work on chest and anterior muscle groups at the expense of upper back and rear deltoids.

Ergo, Face Pulls rock!

Other Benefits

Sticking regular Face Pulls into your workout regimen will not only build muscle mass where other’s fail to reach, but the exercise also promotes better shoulder health and prevents internal rotation of the shoulder joint, which could land you with some serious time away from the equipment.

A good shoulder workout trains all three heads of the muscle and focuses on heavy lifting.

Alternative Exercises

So now you know…

Bottom line when you talk about an all-over body workout; make sure you mean it and you’re not just talking about the bits you can see.

Even serious fitness periodicals fall into the trap of majoring on anterior gains because abs and arms are what most people concentrate on.

Think outside the box. Don’t be a sheep!

Unless you’re planning to greet every potential buddy in your life with a face-on view, you need to be thinking wider. You know what you need to get a great look whether that’s from in front, from the side or the back.

Use our effective Face Pull guide and reap the rewards. Progress, increase your weight and don’t fail to action it.

Remember, for the best possible results all round…

Pressing Weights + Pulling / Rowing Weights = Balanced Body Growth

What do you think of the Face Pull exercise? Is it something you’ve successfully added into your routine? Or is there a different exercise that you prefer to incorporate?

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