Rack Pulls – Muscles Worked, Exercise Demo, and Carryover to the Deadlift

The rack pull is a partial range of motion exercise that can be used by intermediate and advanced lifters to increase top end strength, neural drive, and muscular hypertrophy via increased training volume. In addition, it can be used by coaches to help beginner lifters develop greater movement mechanics and positional strength necessary for more complex pulling movements, like the deadlift.

Therefore, in this article we will take an in-depth look at the rack pull, the difference between starting heights, and specifically address the carryovers (to the deadlift) and benefits that it has to offer. 

Muscles Worked

Below are the primary muscle groups targeted in the rack pull. Due to the higher loading potential of the lift, many movements are loading significantly more and therefore can create greater muscle damage. It is advised to take this into consideration when programming the rack pull into programming.

  • Forearms (grip strength)
  • Trapezius and Upper Back
  • Erectors
  • Gluteals
  • Quadripces (higher blocks)
  • Hamstrings (lower blocks)

Rack Pull Demo

Below is a video demonstration on how to set up and properly perform the barbell rack pull, which can be done at a variety of pulling heights (see below) to address certain weaknesses of bring about training benefits (also, see below). This movement can be done using both conventional or sumo pulling stance.

Rack Pulling Height Variations

Below are three of the main pulling height variations. Note, both the conventional and the sumo style pulling stance can be used with any of the below variations.

Low Blocks

For some lifters the barbell just doesn’t get enough jump of the ground to continue its ascent into the knees and thigh region. By starting the barbell off the floor yet still within the shin region, you can train the full pull but also help the lifter who may have issues right off the floor or even at the knee region (see below). Due to the closed angles still in the hip, the hamstrings, glutes, and back with be targeted and allow for muscular loading to drive hypertrophy and strength.

At the Knees

The knees pose a very tricky issue for some lifters who fall into technical errors or lack of back and leg strength at this point. Typically when a lifter has a good pull off the floor, the acceleration (if they get stuck) will drop within this range, leaving them to battle the barbell about halfway up the movement and in the knee region. By training this segment of the pull, you can increase technique during heavier lifts, as well as provide a greater stimulus to the hamstrings, glutes, and back to produce hypertrophy and strength gains.

High Blocks

This is a higher pulling position, somewhere around mid thigh emphasizing lock out abilities. By targeting this stage of the deadlift, lifters can also increase loading on the barbell fighting the neural overloading, grip strengthening, and upper back/trap targeting (see below).

Carryover to the Deadlift

The rack pull can be used to train a specific weakness of sticking point in one’s full deadlift due to the isolated range of motion approach. Like other partial rep strength movements, such as the half squat, the rack pull works to increase joint angular specific force production, and therefore can do a wonderful job of increasing a lifter’s lockout strength and/or bar acceleration through a certain sticking point. By manipulating the height of the rack pull, coaches and athletes can best individualize this movement. It is important to note that lifters should still use fuller range deadlifts (assuming lifter has the base and abilities…see below) for best results.

More Rack Pull Benefits

Below are four rack pull benefits (in addition to the above benefits discussing the carryover to the deadlift) that coaches and athletes can expect to attain when they include rack pulls (at any height) within training programs.

Learning/Teaching the Full Deadlift

Limiting the range of motion and starting point in the deadlift (aka the rack pull) is a smart move for beginners and coaches looking to progress a client/athlete towards a fuller range deadlift or other pulling lift. By starting at a higher point, you allow a lifter to gain awareness and position strength needed throughout the progression chain, leading to better muscle development, movement patterning, and greater injury resilience over time (due to poor setup and technique).

Increased Grip Strength

The hands are the first thing to touch the barbell and provide feedback to the brain which can either impede your ability to lift a heavy load or enhance it. If your body does not feel you have the necessary grip strength and abilities to pick up the barbell, if will often not allow you to go for it (which really can make a huge impact when handling with 90+% loading).

Additionally, lack of grip strength can decrease training volume, influenced back positioning in the pull, and mentally mess you up during heavier or high rep training, and therefore should be addressed if you look to maximize your performance in the deadlift and other total body lifts.

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Bigger Traps, Back, and Glutes

The rack pull can aid in the growth and development of the upper traps and back as the lifter is able to handle heavier loads than if they were to be pulling from the floor. If the lifter has issues with back strength or staying upright in the pull after the knee, increasing hypertrophy and positional strength can help increase stability in the deadlift and size of upper back.

Neural Overloading

Like other partial rep movements, the rack pull allows coaches and athletes to handle much heavier loads than they would usually be able to do with a full range lift, like the deadlift. While these do not replace the full lifts, they can be used as supplemental training exercise to increase neural drive and lifter confident, just like we would use squat walkouts, etc. By handling heavier loads, we place the body under greater tension and loading which can increase neural activity and prepare us for heavier lifts to come.

Build a Stronger Deadlift

Check out these articles and learn how to effectively build a bigger deadlift.

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