The Guide To Rack Pulls: How-To, Benefits, And Muscles Worked

 Written by 

Mauro Castillo

 Last updated on 

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Mastering rack pulls can help you improve your deadlift (in any variation), increase your overall strength, and work a wide range of muscles like your glutes, hamstrings, traps, lats, and spinal erectors. 

They are easy to learn and only require an Olympic barbell, a squat rack, blocks, or weight plates to set the rack height. 

A man showing the right rack deadlift form
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In this article, you will learn how to do a rack pull most efficiently, the benefits; the muscles worked, and how to include them in your training program. 

Here’s an overview: 

– What are rack pulls?

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– How to do rack pulls?

– Benefits

– Muscles worked

– How to include them in your training program

Let’s dive in!

What Are Rack Pulls?

Rack pulls are a deadlift variation (or partial deadlift) that consists of lifting a loaded barbell from a squat rack, usually at knee height.

They’re a compound exercise that complements a strength and muscle hypertrophy program.

They are easy to do and will work almost the entire body despite having a reduced range of motion compared to standard deadlifts.

A woman at the gym with the right rack pull form
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How To Do Rack Pulls

Rack pulls are a relatively easy movement to learn and master. They require a low-level skill entrance which makes them perfect for beginners. 

You can do them from the squat rack, blocks, or even bumper plates as commonly seen around gyms.

Here’s a 3-step guide on how to do rack pulls the right way.

Choose The Rack Height

It all starts with the proper height on the power rack. This is what will determine how much range of motion the pull will have.

Generally, you want to set the bar around knee level in the starting position. However, you could have it a little higher or lower depending on your experience and goals. 

Set it at knee height or a little higher for a strength-based program. This will increase the range of motion, pushing your muscles to grow. You can use it at a knee height or lower for hypertrophy goals.

Grip The Bar

Once you’ve set the rack height, approach the bar with a hip hinge and a slight knee bend. Grip the bar (overhand or mixed grip) with your palms outside your quads while keeping a neutral spine and neck.

Brace The Core

Before lifting, engage your core muscles by breathing into your belly and contracting the entire midsection. 

Bracing the core will help you protect your spine and minimize any injury risk as much as possible.

Lift

You can lift the bar vertically until your hips and knees are fully extended at the top after you’ve done all the above. 

A woman with the correct rack pull form
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Benefits Of Rack Pulls

Essential benefits of rack pull include helping with posture, strengthening your grip, a lower-risk option for rehab, and improving hip extension.

Let’s review them more in-depth!

Helps With Posture

The spine, shoulders, and neck must remain neutral and stacked to maintain a proper form through the rep range

This muscular symphony is the perfect mix to help strengthen your posture. As you’ll learn below, the traps, spinal erectors, and lats are some muscle groups responsible for keeping your shoulders and torso in place.

After some time, you’ll notice a more robust, more comfortable, and relaxed posture.

Strengthen Your Grip

Compared to conventional deadlifts, the weight you can lift in a rack pull is significantly higher, which is good news for your grip.

The limited range of motion and the heavier loads will help you strengthen your grip like no other pulling movement. Make sure to limit the use of straps and hook grips, and you’ll notice how your grip endurance skyrocket.

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Great For Rehab

People rehabbing from injuries or injury-prone individuals can benefit from doing rack pulls. The limited range of motion plays to their advantage and makes it ideal for safely gaining strength. 

As you progress, you can play around with the rack height. And eventually migrate to other forms of pulling, like traditional deadlifts. 

Improves Hip Extension

A poor hip extension is one of the most common faults when pulling movements like deadlifts and squats. 

Many people cannot fully extend their hips at the end of the movement, which technically leaves gains on the table. 

Rack pulls are very efficient in teaching you how to properly extend the hips through the entire range of motion.

A man doing rack deadlifts
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Muscles Worked

The rack pulls are notorious for being one of the heaviest pulling movements. For that reason, the muscles worked are greatly benefited.

Forearms

image 295
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Source: wikipedia

The forearms are one of the primary muscles that the rack pulls work. You can only lift as heavy as your grip allows, and the forearms are the primary muscles responsible for your grip strength. 

Although you can use straps like many people, going barehand will help you gain strength and muscle mass in your forearms. 

Trapezius

image 3
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Source: physiopedia

The trapezius is the muscle in the back of your neck and mid-spine. They are responsible for elevating your shoulders and keeping them in place. 

Because the rack pulls are usually heavy, they put an essential amount of stress on your traps, which is why they’re good at stimulating muscle growth.

Lats

image 4
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Source: wikipedia

The lats are the widest muscle group of our bodies and are responsible for extending and internally rotating the shoulders. It’s located in the back and extends to the sides.

They play a role in stabilizing the shoulder and keeping it in place. This comes in handy when pulling hundreds of pounds from the rack. 

Spinal Erectors (lower back)

image 294
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Source: physiopedia

The spinal erectors (erector spinae) are mainly responsible for extending your back. When performing rack pulls, the proper form is vital for preserving spine health.

Every pulling movement (like the rack pulls) that requires back extension will recruit the spinal erectors. The spinal erectors are the initial hip extensors before the glutes come into action. 

Glutes

image 293
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Source: wikipedia

The glutes are the primary hip extensors responsible for stabilizing the hips. Although these pulls have a shorter range of motion, they are built for heavier weights which is why they’re fantastic for working the glutes muscles

Because of the limited range of motion, you can have a terrific glute workout without compromising your lower back.

Hamstrings

image 292
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Source: physiopedia

The hamstrings are primarily knee flexors but aid in hip extension. Although the short range of motion takes away most of the time under tension, the hamstrings are still being worked during the rack pulls, especially during heavy and banded pulls.

Lower the rack to gain more range of motion to moderate muscle recruitment.

Common Mistakes

Pulling from the rack is a relatively easy movement, even for beginners. However, some mistakes can prevent you from maximizing your gains and getting closer to your goals. 

Incorrect Height

Rack pulls have a shorter range of motion than traditional deadlifts like Sumo, Romanian, Trap Bar, and Deficit deadlift. 

If you set the power rack too low, it may feel like a regular deadlift, and it can lose its purpose since you’d have to lower the weight significantly.

On the other hand, if you set it too high, the range of motion will be too short to benefit your muscle growth. 

Ideally, set it up, so the starting position has the bar at knee level or 1-2 inches above or below. This is the sweet spot! 

Rounded Back

A rounded back can result from weak and fatigued musculature, poor mind-muscle connection, or heavy loads.

Although this is not inherently bad when lifting heavy weights for many reps, doing so even at lighter weights could increase the risk of injury and compromise your spine health.

To prevent this, stick your chest out, bring your shoulder blades closer to each other, and brace your core. If you have to lower the weight, do so! 

Weight Too Heavy/Light

Rack pulls are meant to be a heavy lift. However, going too heavy can alter your form integrity, compromising your spine health and sidelining you. 

Using light weights may prevent you from reaching your peak muscle growth potential. At first, it’s understandable to use lighter loads while you pick up the technique, but once you nail it, start to increase it progressively. 

As a reference, you want to add enough weight to feel the exercise while leaving 4-8 heavy reps in the tank.

A man preparing for rack deadlift form
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How To Add Rack Pulls To Your Training Program

Independent of your experience level and fitness goals, the rack pull exercise is a fantastic tool to add to your training program. They will help increase your overall strength, muscle mass, grip strength, and pulling strength. 

Here are some examples of how you can include different rack pull variations to get your training to the next level. 

Strength Program

Heavy rack pulls very efficiently in improving your pulling strength, back muscle endurance, and hip drive. 

If you’re a powerlifter, try including rack pulls (knee-height or higher) at least 1-2 times per week. This will help you gain overall strength and improve the “lockout” part of the deadlift, which is where many people struggle.

One variation you can try is isometric rack pulls. These will increase your grip strength and back muscles endurance, which is handy for reducing any chance of injury.

Hypertrophy Program

Aim for a low setting on the rack supports when focusing on hypertrophy. This will increase the range of motion, which is ideal for creating more muscle stress and fiber recruitment. 

You can include banded rack pulls to create even more tension at the movement’s top. To do this, attach two bands from the bar ends to the squat rack pins. 

Add rack pulls at least 1-2 times per week within the low (6-10) and high (12-20) rep range for max gains.

FAQ

What Muscles Do Rack Pulls Work?

The rack pulls work the forearms, traps, lats, spinal erectors, and glutes. Although they also target the hamstrings, they do it at a lesser intensity. 

Why Do Rack Pulls Instead Of Deadlifts?

If you’re a beginner, lack joint mobility, or come out with an injury, rack pulls are a better option than deadlifts. However, out of those options, if you’re completely healthy and ready to lift, include frame pulls but prioritize deadlifts. 

Are Rack Pulls Good For Lower Back?

Rack pulls are great for the lower back; due to their short range of motion, it’s easier to add heavy weights while keeping injury risk at a minimum.

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About

I've been in the world of CrossFit since 2016. Started as a client, later became a coach, and eventually bought an affiliate with two friends from January 2020 to January 2022. In 2018 I won 1st place at a local competition in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. After I sold my shares in January 2022 I moved then to another city to run as the general manager of another affiliate STI CrossFit.

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