Rack Pulls: The Ultimate Guide for Back Strength

Rack pulls are a highly effective exercise for developing back strength and size. Often overlooked in favor of traditional deadlifts, rack pulls offer unique advantages, particularly for those looking to focus on the upper portion of the lift. This guide will delve into the benefits, techniques, and frequently asked questions about rack pulls, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of how to incorporate them into your training regimen.

What Are Rack Pulls?

Rack pulls are a variation of the deadlift performed by lifting a barbell from an elevated position, usually set on a power rack or safety pins. The bar starts at a height that typically ranges from just below the knees to mid-thigh, depending on the desired focus. This shorter range of motion allows lifters to handle heavier weights and emphasizes the upper portion of the deadlift movement.

Benefits of Rack Pulls

  1. Targeted Back Development: Rack pulls place significant emphasis on the upper back, traps, and spinal erectors, making them ideal for building upper back thickness.
  2. Grip Strength Improvement: Handling heavier weights in rack pulls can help enhance grip strength, beneficial for overall lifting performance.
  3. Reduced Lower Back Stress: Since the movement starts from an elevated position, it reduces the strain on the lower back compared to conventional deadlifts.
  4. Versatility in Training: Rack pulls can be adjusted to target different muscle groups by changing the starting height, making them versatile for various training goals.
  5. Progression to Deadlifts: For those new to deadlifting or recovering from an injury, rack pulls serve as an excellent progression tool before attempting full deadlifts.

How to Perform Rack Pulls

  1. Setup: Position the barbell on a power rack or safety pins at the desired height. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your shins close to the bar.
  2. Grip: Use a mixed grip or overhand grip, depending on your preference and grip strength. Ensure your hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Posture: Engage your core, keep your chest up, and maintain a neutral spine throughout the lift.
  4. Lift: Drive through your heels and extend your hips and knees simultaneously to lift the bar. Pull your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
  5. Lowering: Lower the bar back to the rack or pins in a controlled manner, maintaining tension in your muscles.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What height should I set the bar for rack pulls?

The height for rack pulls depends on your training goals. Setting the bar just below the knees targets the lower back more, while a higher starting point focuses on the upper back and traps. Beginners might start with the bar at mid-shin or below the knees to gradually build strength and technique.

2. How much weight should I lift in rack pulls?

Rack pulls typically allow you to lift heavier weights than conventional deadlifts because of the reduced range of motion. Start with a weight that you can handle comfortably for 3-5 sets of 5-8 repetitions, then progressively increase as you build strength. It’s essential to maintain proper form and avoid overloading to prevent injury.

3. Can rack pulls replace deadlifts in my workout routine?

Rack pulls can be an excellent supplement to deadlifts, particularly if you want to focus on the upper portion of the lift or reduce lower back strain. However, they should not completely replace deadlifts, as conventional deadlifts offer a more comprehensive full-body workout. Incorporate both exercises to maximize your strength training benefits.

4. Are rack pulls safe for beginners?

Yes, rack pulls are relatively safe for beginners as they offer a controlled way to handle heavy weights and improve back strength without the full range of motion of deadlifts. Ensure that you start with lighter weights and focus on mastering proper form before increasing the load.

5. What muscles do rack pulls primarily work?

Rack pulls primarily target the upper back, including the trapezius, rhomboids, and spinal erectors. They also engage the glutes, hamstrings, and forearms, making them a compound movement that benefits multiple muscle groups.

6. How often should I include rack pulls in my training?

Incorporating rack pulls into your routine 1-2 times per week is sufficient for most lifters. Ensure that you have adequate recovery time between sessions and combine them with other back and posterior chain exercises to achieve balanced muscle development.

7. Can rack pulls help with my deadlift strength?

Yes, rack pulls can significantly enhance your deadlift strength by improving your lockout phase and overall pulling power. They allow you to handle heavier weights, which translates to greater strength gains in the full deadlift movement.

8. What are some common mistakes to avoid when doing rack pulls?

Common mistakes include setting the bar too high, using excessive weight, rounding the back, and neglecting proper form. Always prioritize technique over load and adjust the bar height and weight according to your strength and experience level.


Rack pulls are a powerful exercise for enhancing back strength and size, offering a versatile and safer alternative to traditional deadlifts. By understanding the proper techniques and benefits, you can effectively integrate rack pulls into your workout routine to achieve your fitness goals. Whether you’re looking to boost your upper back development, improve grip strength, or transition to deadlifts, rack pulls are a valuable addition to any strength training program.