Face pulls: this banded exercise is a surefire way to kick your back and shoulders into action, and work several muscles that are otherwise neglected in other shoulder exercises.
With a rope attachment and the right form, you can build your strength, your muscle, enhance your posture, and give your body a unique stimulus not mimicked by other pulling or rowing movements.
If you’re new to face pulls, we’re going to give the low-down on this unique exercise, and talk about which muscles are worked, the benefits, and how to execute the perfect face pull. Ready? Let’s dive in.
What Are Face Pulls?
This unique corrective and isolation exercise activates muscles in the lower and upper back, specifically targeting some of the weakest upper body muscles in the body.
If you’ve ever seen someone doing a face pull in the gym, you’ll know it looks a little clunky.
With your hands grasping the handle in front of you, and your palms facing the floor, you’ll extend your arms in front of you and pull the handles until they meet your face.
You can either use a cable machine with a rope attachment or a straight bar attachment to perform a face pull, however, rope attachments are recommended.
What Muscles Do Face Pulls Work?
There are lots of things that make face pulls so unique. They don’t just look different, but they also work out our bodies differently, too.
Most exercises that work the shoulders focus on the anterior and lateral muscles, but the posterior deltoid (also called the rear deltoid) is almost always neglected.
It can be hard to isolate this part of the muscle, however, face pulls primarily work the rear deltoid, with the help of a few other muscles in the back.
The posterior deltoids are essential for extension, rotational, and abduction. The posterior deltoids connect the flat area of your shoulder blade, and they can be found at the back of your shoulder.
Posterior deltoids are also essential for good posture, and like other scapular retractors, they can prevent your shoulder from rounding.
Poor posture is associated with weakened core strength, back pain, and injury, making face pulls an essential exercise for any gym goer.
This muscle, also known as the trap, plays a significant role in posture, and it starts at the base of the neck and extends to the shoulders and middle back.
The trapezius also helps move and stabilize the scapula, and it can be worked during the face pull exercise. Working out the trapezius can improve strength and create a larger upper body.
Face pulls also work the rhomboids, a muscle that retracts, elevates, and rotates the scapula.
The rhomboids are essential for upper limb movement, and they jump into action whenever the shoulder blades are retracted.
By working out the rhomboids with your face pulls, you’ll build greater shoulder movement and stability, and promote better posture. This will also help you maintain proper form when performing other exercises.
Although the trapezius, rhomboids, and sometimes even the external rotators can be worked with face pulls, the posterior deltoid is the most commonly worked muscle.
How To Execute The Face Pull
Ready to start working on your deltoids? Getting the right form is essential. Let’s take a look at the safest and most effective way to perform a face pull.
- Turn your cable pulley system to high, and ensure the rope is attached.
- Face the cable and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Take the rope with both hands, and step backward until the weight plates lift up.
- Move your hands to the starting position.
- Slowly inhale, engage your core, and lean back slightly. Your body should be at a 10-degree angle. Your knees should be slightly bent.
- Begin the movement by squeezing your upper back and trying to pinch your shoulder blades together.
- Now, move the cable toward your face. When you’ve done the movement, your arms should be at a 90-degree angle. Ensure your palms are facing in, and make your elbows flare out at the sides.
- Take a brief pause, and then slowly return to your starting positions. Exhale at the end of the movement.
Face Pull Variations
If you want to make face pulls more accessible or target your muscles in new ways, you can perform variations to shake things up a bit. Here are a few ways to level up your face pulls (see our post about improving pull ups here).
Not everyone can access a cable machine. If you’re one of them, you can try using dumbbells to target your rear delts instead.
There are plenty of dumbbell exercises to target the rear delts, including the delt dumbbell fly. Although it’s not an exact replacement for face pulls, it’ll work the same muscle groups.
If you don’t have a cable machine, you can also mimic the movements by using resistance bands. Simply place your resistance bands over an extended attachment point (e.g. a pull-up bar), and recreate the movement.
Take extra care when using resistance bands, and only use extremely heavy-duty models to reduce the risk of injury.
Seated Face Pulls
If you prefer to be seated when you exercise, why not try performing seated face pulls? This is a great way to perform face pulls, especially if you’re trying to build muscle or you want to start lifting heavier weights.
When you use heavier weights, you’ll be putting more pressure on your hips and lower body. Sitting down can help you stabilize your torso while you work out.
The Bottom Line
Face pulls are a truly unique exercise that works just one main muscle – the posterior deltoids.
Although other muscles can be used during the movement, face pulls target the delts in ways that other exercises don’t, helping you to improve your posture, reduce joint pain, and build a bigger upper body.