Do More Face Pulls, Grow More Back

Mar 17, 2022 | Exercise guides, Strength & Conditioning

Face pulls are an uncommon pulling exercise that bodybuilders use to shape thick, meaty back muscles and healthy shoulders. Though it sounds like a weird skincare routine or something a toddler would do to get your attention, face pulls train your ability to handle weight on a horizontal plane. 

Face pulls, don’t sleep on horizontal pulling

Pulling from different planes activates different muscles in your back, arms, and core, depending on the angle you take. While all pulling movements use your back, where you pull from can change the part of your back that does the work.  

Vertical pulling is popular and common—everybody works pull ups, chin ups, or lat pull-downs into their routine. Pulling a weight stack or your bodyweight from above your head to face or chest height puts focus on growing ham-slab lats and beefy biceps. 

Then we have the reverse movement on the same plane—think upright rows, high pulls, and even shrugs. These are also technically vertical pulling movements, you’re just pulling weight up toward your midline instead of down toward your midline. This kind of vertical pulling is more shoulder and deltoid dominant. 

But horizontal pulling is a trickier movement to include in your program. It’s not as popular and it seems like there are fewer exercises to choose from. Horizontal pulling changes the plane of motion, so you’re moving weight from out in front of you into your midline.

But you’re probably not doing enough horizontal pulling. 

Rowing machines have become relatively popular in HIIT and Crossfit classes to make up for the lack of horizontal pulling (though it takes some effort to get good with rowing technique). Pulling on a horizontal plane also translates into high-skill gymnastics like muscle-ups. But if all you’re doing is rowing, be it on a rower, with dumbbells or barbell rows, you’re missing out. 

Face pulls target your traps, rear delts, and rhomboids, which makes your back look thicc and fills out the top of your V-shape. They’re also great for building a stable upper body for bigger lifts and improving your posture. Face pulls are a common movement in the Crossover Symmetry system that helps bulletproof your shoulders and rotator cuffs. 

Check out our guide and start working face pulls into your training. 



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How to do a face pull

Points of performance


Cable Machine Setup

Hook up the rope attachment to a cable pulley set at a height just above your head. Grab each end of the rope in an overhand grip and step back far enough so the weight comes off the stack. 

Find an athletic stance with your knees slightly bent at hip or shoulder-width apart. Your starting weight shouldn’t be heavy enough to pull your body forward or round your back. Keep your spine neutral.

Pull the rope to your face—not your clavicle, not your chest or neck, aim for your nose—separating your hands on either side of your head. Keep your elbows high and think about squeezing your upper back muscles. Like Kris Gethin says in the video, “wherever your elbows are pointing, that is the area of your back you’re going to target.” To target your upper back pulling muscles, keep your elbows up.


Coach’s Tip: You can use an underhand grip, but don’t turn your face pulls into face curls! Grip the rope so your thumbs are pointing at the wall behind you. Now when you pull toward your face, let your elbows flare out to the sides as you separate your hands. Your arms should end at 90° angles so you get external rotation of the shoulder at the top of the movement. 


Bands Setup

Choose a band with the right amount of resistance. Go lighter than you think. Don’t let your ego get in the way and grab the thick band or it’ll jack up your form for the movement. Loop the band around a post or rig above head-height and pull one end through the opening of the other end to secure it.

Set your grip about shoulder-width and step back so the band has some tension (not too much or the end range of the exercise will be impractically hard). From here, the rest of the movement is the same. If you’re doing this right, the taut piece of the band between your hands will end up right in front of your nose. Try not to smack yourself in the face. 

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Variation: banded pull-aparts

Another way to target your rear delts, upper and mid-back is banded pull-aparts. These are easy to work in as a high-rep finisher or as a quick warmup before heavy overhead lifts. All you need is a light band. 

Start by grabbing one strand of a loop band in each hand. Take a narrow enough grip (overhand or underhand) so you’ll have some tension.

Extend your arms out in front of you, keep your elbows straight and use your back muscles to pull your hands out to either side, stretching the band tight. You should be able to reach full extension on both sides so your arms form a T-shape.

Lily Frei Headshot

Lily frei

Lily is TrainHeroic’s Marketing Content Creator and a CF-L1 with an English background. She was a successful freelance marketer for the functional fitness industry until being scooped up by TrainHeroic. An uncommon combo of bookish, artsy word-nerd and lifelong athlete, Lily is passionately devoted to weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, dance, and aerial acrobatics. Find her showcasing her artist-athlete hobbies on IG @lilylectric.

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