How to Improve Your Posture With Face Pulls

Aug 18, 2022 | Exercise guides, Strength & Conditioning

strong muscular man doing the face pull exercise
Look in the mirror lately and see your shoulders slouching forward? Spent too much time on your phone and came down with a case text-neck? Not to worry – the face pull exercise can help fix these issues by strengthening your upper back and giving you picture-perfect posture.

Cole Hergott is the head S&C coach at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC. With a master’s in coaching science and his CSCS, he’s got the passion for fitness, nutrition, and sports. In this blog, he explains how to correctly do a face pull and the importance of adding it into your strength training routine.

Cole Hergott
Cole Hergott

Your Posture is Deteriorating. The Face Pull Can Help.

“Fix your posture!”
“Stand up straight!”
“Text-neck kills your gains!”
“Stop slouching!”

You’ve probably heard one or all of these statements at some point. It’s no secret that our modern lifestyle is not great for your posture (ie. texting, sitting, watching TV/Netflix). Unfortunately, it’s not possible for you to simply abandon using your devices and stand up straight every waking second. So, the question becomes: What can you do to fight the battle against poor posture and maybe even improve it?

Enter: the face pull.

The face pull offers a number of benefits, but today I am going to talk specifically about how this movement can help your posture.

Face Pull Benefits & Muscles Worked

Trapezius back muscles anatomy
Face pulls are a horizontal pulling exercise that works your upper back, lower trapezius, rear deltoid, and rotator cuff muscles. Aside from helping slap on some beef in these areas, strengthening your back muscles can help improve your posture simply by being strong enough to hold yourself upright without slouching.

While all pulling exercises can help strengthen these muscles, there is one other major aspect that the face pull offers that helps fight poor posture that I want to focus on.

Most poor posture is caused by our lifestyle habits and an overemphasis or fascination with pushing/pressing exercises in the gym. This leads to overdeveloped anterior muscles (chest muscles) that pull our body forward as they get stronger. Having overdeveloped chest muscles can lead to rounded shoulders, which comes from excessive internal rotation of your shoulder joints.

What does this look like? If you stand straight up facing a mirror with your arms hanging loosely by your sides, you should not be looking at the backs of your hands. Instead you want to see the side of your hands (your thumb).

If you’re looking at the backs of your hands (without trying to correct it), this means your shoulders are internally rotated and you could use some assistance to fix it. Once again, this is where the face pull can help.

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What Makes the Face Pull Different From Other Pulling Exercises

If you have been going to the gym for at least a month or even just researched online about how to train, you most likely have heard about balancing your pushing movements with your pulling movements to keep a strong back and improve your posture. While that is true, most common horizontal pulling exercises (i.e. 1-Arm DB row, inverted row, bent-over row, seated cable row) all lack one aspect that the face pull adds: external rotation of the shoulder.

If you look at the end point of a row, you want to see the elbow around 30-45 degrees away from the body, with a tall chest and shoulder blades squeezed back.

End Point of Row Exercise
Now if you look at the final position of the face pull, you can see the shoulder blades are still pulled back, but the fists are up at the level of the head with the elbows turned out, causing external rotation.
Man in Gym Showing Final Position of Face Pull Showing External Shoulder Rotation

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How to Add the Face Pull Into Your Strength Training Program

Face pulls are best trained at higher volumes and in larger rep schemes. This is due to the fact that your back muscles are primarily slow twitch fibers that need the extra volume to have a better training/growth effect.

Doing sets of 1-3 on face pulls will not get the stimulus you need, and it will lead to some heavy involvement of the lower body as you pull. Aim for sets of 12-15 repetitions at a light to moderate weight so you can focus on actually using your upper back muscles during the movement.

Squeeze at the top of the movement for a second, then slowly let your arms go. By using a controlled tempo, hard squeeze, and appropriate weight, you’re more likely to get the intended effect using the right muscles. (For more coaching cues, check out this article on face pulls.)

Correctly performing the exercise is incredibly important. A poorly done face pull with your shoulder dumping forward, your head bobbing up and down like a chicken, or using your legs too much is not going to get you the results you desire. Leave the ego at the door and do it right!

In a world that drives us into internal rotation, it’s important to offset our lifestyle habits by including exercises that deliberately work on external rotation. This can be the golden ticket to giving you the upper back strength you need to fight poor posture and enhance your performance. If these benefits are something you’ve been looking for, then it might be time to add face pulls to your strength training routine.

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