Face Pulls Definitive Guide – Form, Muscles Worked, Benefits and Training Tips

This complete guide to Face Pulls will help you understand the benefits, technique, training tips, alternatives and programming for this highly effective cable exercise.

What are Face Pulls?

Face Pulls are a pulling cable isolation exercise that work the shoulders and back.

Muscles Worked by Face Pulls

Face Pulls specifically target and work the rear deltoids (back of the shoulders), side delts, traps, the rhomboids (the muscles that allow you to squeeze your shoulder blades together) and the middle traps (the upper back).

They will also develop grip, forearm and tricep strength as ancillary benefits.

Benefits of Face Pulls

F Pulls are exceptionally useful for shoulder health in general.

Reduce Shoulder Injuries

The Face Pull is an excellent way to strengthen rotator cuff muscles like the infraspinatus. This in turn improves scapular stability and strength and makes your shoulders more resilient and resistant to injury.

Woman doing wall balls exercise
Strong shoulders for life ©Austin Wilcox

Build Muscle

Face Pulls work well within hypertrophy programs to build upper body mass.

Enhance Strength

They are also an excellent accessory exercise to work alongside movement such as the Strict Press or Bench Press.

This exercise also functions within strength programs as a great opportunity to strengthen ligaments and tendons. This aspect of strength training is often overlooked, but by placing focus here, you can help to avoid injury and therefore train harder for longer.

Nothing stops progress faster than an injury.

Establish Better Posture

Working on the thoracic spine and upper back will improve your posture in general. This is especially useful for people that work in an office hunched over a computer screen.

Prevent Muscular Imbalances

Man performing headstand on rock
Build a strong body for life ©Jonathon Borba

Many athletes concentrate far more on the chest than the back which leads to muscular imbalances and bad posture.

The exercise can work well to address and solve these imbalances.

They are an Excellent Warm Up

Grab a band or the cable machine and try warming up with the exercise.

Use a light weight or an easier resistance and the movement will serve as an effective way to get your muscles activated and your body ready for the Bench Press, Bent Over Row, Deadlift, Strict Press or Upright Row.

Face Pulls Form

Use the following instructions to ensure that you perform Face Pulls form correctly.

  • Adjust the pulley of the cable machine to the highest (or lowest) setting. Attach the rope grip. Select your weight using the pin in the weight stack
  • Standing with your body facing the cable machine. Reach forwards and grab the rope with two hands, one at either end
  • Take the tension of the weight and walk back a couple of steps
  • Place your feet shoulder width apart. Maintain a neutral spine. Establish a slight bend in your knees
  • Inhale and brace your core, glutes and grip
  • Activate your shoulders and upper back and pull the cable towards you. Make sure your elbows move backwards and out to sides of your body, not downwards
  • When your elbows reach a 90-degree angle, pause and squeeze your back again
  • Slowly move back to the starting position. Exhale during the last part of this motion
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Face Pulls Training Tips

Activate your Lats and Shoulder Blades

Make sure that you keep your shoulder blades tight and tensed throughout the full range of motion. You want to try and “pinch” them together.

One trick is to imagine that you are holding a golf ball between them and you mustn’t let it drop to the floor.

Don’t go too Heavy

This exercise works many smaller muscles and recruit the entire range of muscle groups involved in the rotator cuff.

This makes them a great opportunity to work on your tendons, ligaments and taking time to strengthen your shoulders (and general shoulder health and movement) without simply pounding them with heavy weights (other exercises such as the Strict Press are better for this).

The rear delts benefit massively from Face Pulls but these muscles are not large. If you go too heavy then your body may overcompensate and utilise the last to a greater degree.

This will de-emphasise the rear delts and your strength and muscle gains will not be as good.

Pay Close Attention to Form

Good form is especially important. You must keep good posture and a strong, straight spine.

Excellent technique will maximise the benefits and improve your mind muscle connection, an asset for all other movements as well.

Find the Best Stance for You

Our instructions above are guidelines. Feel free to change your stance and the distance you stand away from the machine to find the best possible combination for you.

If it feels like your lower back is doing too much work then try a staggered stance (as you would in a lunge movement).

You can even kneel down to perform the exercise as well.

Optimise Shoulder Positioning

If you are having trouble engaging your upper back then rotate your shoulders outwards a little more.

Reps and Sets

3 – 5 sets of 8 – 12 reps are a good place to start.

Adjust this accordingly depending on your training goals.

Remember to start with a light weight so that you can perform the movement with technical excellence.

Face Pulls as a Warm Up

The exercise can also be used as an excellent warm up for the upper body. Attach a resistance band to a pull up bar or power rack and use the same technique as outlined above.

This will help to prepare your body for any push or pull movement such as the Bench Press, Deadlift or Strict Press.

Face Pulls Variations

Try to mix up training by adding these F Pull variations into your workouts.

The following exercises target similar muscle groups in slightly different ways.

  • Pull Ups
  • Lat Pulldown
  • Rear Delt Dumbbell Fly
  • Rear Cable Fly
  • Dumbbell Row
  • Kettlebell Row

FAQs

Learn more from our FAQs.

Adaptive athlete doing pull ups.
Keep grinding ©Corey Young

Do Face Pulls Build Muscle?

Yes, F Pulls do build muscle. You need to combine them with large compound lifts such as the Bench Press, Overhead Press and Barbell Row, but they are hugely effective to target your shoulders and build muscle mass.

What are Face Pulls Best for?

They are best for building stronger shoulders and preventing them against injury. They target the muscle groups of your shoulder joints, the posterior delts and rotator cuffs. They are also great for developing scapular strength and stability.

Which Muscles do Face Pulls Work?

This exercise works the rear delts, rhomboid, middle traps and muscles of the rotator cuff such as the infraspinatus.

Do Face Pulls Help Pull Ups?

Yes, they do help to improve Pull Ups. They work many of the same muscles and although they are a different exercise, they do make you stronger in ways that are beneficial for Pull Ups.

That being said, the best way to get better at Pull Ups is by doing more Pull Ups.

Do Face Pulls Work Lats?

If the weight is too heavy then the body may subconsciously start to use the lats more during the movement. This takes pressure away from the rear delts which is not what you want. This is why it is better to work with a lighter weight.

If you want to specifically target your lats, use Bent Over Rows, Lat Pulldowns, or Snatch Grip Deadlifts.

Do F Pulls Work Chest?

To a small degree they do work chest but this is not their primary or even secondary purpose. If your goal is to work on your chest you will have better results from Bench Press (all variations), Flys and Pullovers.

Expand your Training Knowledge

If you found this information useful, learn more about the Landmine Press, Hack Squat and Renegade Row.

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