Face Pulls Work What Muscles?

Face pull workout

Anyone with an active presence in bodybuilding forums and gyms knows that face pulls are a much discussed but seldom done workout. You’ve read or heard that it’s a must in any lifter’s program, but you don’t know the benefits and exact muscles it can target.

Face pulls work your rear delts, traps, rhomboids, biceps, infraspinatus, and teres minor. So you can build a massive back and shoulder with this exercise and rectify poor posture or upper body problems. But that only occurs if you go light, set the band to head-level, and keep an athletic stance.

Continue reading to see what muscles face pulls recruit and what other benefits they give you. We’ll also give you step-by-step instructions on doing face pulls, the correct form, technique, weight, and program.

Face Pulls Work What Muscles?

Man doing high face pull

Rear deltoid

Rear deltoids or posterior deltoids are one of the three-headed muscle fibers on your shoulder that appear in a rectangular shape and reside on the farthest back of your shoulder joint.

When you pull the cable car in face pulls, you actually hit and pinch this posterior deltoid backward, building strength and size. Since the posterior deltoid is a superficial muscle close to the skin surface, it quickly becomes more pronounced when you work it out with a pull exercise.

Rear delts are the primary movers in face pulls. So, this face pull exercise can significantly increase your shoulder strength.

Traps

Traps or trapezius muscles are large, trapezoid-like muscles in your neck and upper back area. The trapezius muscles help rotate your shoulder blades, lift your arms, and stretch your neck. So, the motions you create with a pull exercise trigger these fibers.

Rhomboids

Rhomboids are a small ribbon of fibers with a rhombus-like appearance that connect either of your shoulder blades to the spine. They’re two skeletal muscles responsible for moving your upper arm and sporting your shoulder girdle and scapula.

Any kind of retraction exercise that requires you to pinch your shoulder blades together or twist them downwards will hit this area. And face pulls are no exception.

shoulder blades

Biceps

Short for biceps brachii, biceps are two-headed muscles that reside in front of your forearm. They help you supinate the forearm toward your upper arm, flex your elbow, and control your shoulder elevation.

So, any pulling and weightlifting movement that involves bending your elbow can drive through this muscular region. The more loads you lift in face pulls, the more muscle mass grows in your biceps.

Coracoid process

External rotator cuff muscles

Infraspinatus and Teres Minor are two muscles in your rotator cuff that lie below the scapular spine linking to the top of your humerus. Together, they shape a group of muscles called external rotators, which speak for their function.

In conjunction with your rear delt, these two muscles work to rotate and add cut your shoulder joints externally.

shoulder joints

Other Benefits of Face Pulls

Face pulls come with more advantages than strengthening and sculpting your back and shoulder. For one thing, they can correct rounded shoulders and your overall posture.

Gym-goers who limit their focus on chest and front delts and forgo exercises designed for the back muscles and rear delts may apply excessive force to their frontier body. And this can lead to shoulder impingement, slouched back, and other posture issues.

Even non-exercisers can benefit from this workout because they’re likely to get a hunchback or sore joints due to having desk jobs, too much time sitting at a computer, staring down at their cell phones, etc. And face pulls can gradually revert their bones into their initial healthy form.

Not only that, they can increase your stability and balance by stimulating your core muscles. This, in turn, would assist you in other everyday activities where you need to reach overheads or pull a heavy object—not to mention the preparedness it gives you for advanced press workouts

How o Do Face Pulls Correctly

With all the benefits, face pulls can sometimes be fruitless for most people. And that’s because it’s easy to do it wrong. Even worse, many misguiding tutorials out there teach you to do it the wrong way, which can ultimately harm your muscles rather than improve them.

Before you get on cloud nine about finding a back/shoulder exercise and start it on the spot, try to learn its ins and outs.

There are two ways you can do face pulls, depending on the available equipment and location. We’ll discuss each in detail. 

Cable face pull

The standard face pull variation requires a cable machine and a two-sided rope attachment. But while everyone agrees on this part, much controversy exists about the rope’s height.

The best place to secure the rope is at your head level. In this position, all the muscles mentioned above, including your external rotators, rear delts, and mid/lower traps, get a good amount of stress. It also works better at improving your posture, so physiologists recommend it.

If you attach it in line with your chest or any lower than your chin, you shift the focus only to the rear delts and upper traps. You’ll also increase the chance of shoulder injuries and a crooked back.

Now that you know the ideal installation, here’s how to do it:

  1. Grab a dual-grip rope and affix it to the high pulley of a cable station, somewhere between your nose to forehead.
  2. Load the weight stack as appropriate (we’ll talk about the proper weight later).
  3. Stand in front of the pulley machine, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart.
  4. Hold the handles with an overhand grip—your palms facing in and your thumbs toward your face.
  5. Go a couple of steps backward so that your arms remain linear. Bend your knees, keep your ribcage down and glutes up to shape a sturdy base, and maximize your strength (athletic stance).
  6. Now, pull the rope toward your face, trying to stretch the handle apart simultaneously. Do this until you feel your scapula squeezed and the handles by the side of your ears. Your elbows should point to the sides slightly up to a few centimeters above your ears.
  7. Wait one or two seconds before you slowly reverse the movement. And don’t let the weight stacks bang down between each repetition.
  8. Do 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps.

Banded face pull

No worries if you don’t have access to a cable machine. You can mimic the same movement by attaching a resistant band into a sturdy point, such as a tree, stair rail, pillar, or pull-up bar. It makes a face pull exercise even operable at non-gym locations.

Your stance, form, and technique all remain the same as the conventional face pull:

Just make sure the station isn’t too high or too low and if it’s slippery, anchor the band to a loop so it doesn’t move during the pulls.

Also, invest in a heavy-duty resistance band to add more emphasis to your muscles and get a closer result to lifting weight stacks.

Whatafit Resistance Bands Set from amazon.com is an ideal choice. The bands in this set range between 10 to 50 pounds, enough to tone and define your back muscles. They’re also made of high-quality Natural Latex, meaning they can resist a long time.

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  • Different color adjustable resistance bands: Yellow (10 lbs), Blue (20 lbs), Green (30 lbs), Black (40 lbs), Red(50 lbs). All Whatafit exercise bands are 36" in length, and can be used alone stacked in any combination to a maximum equivalent of 150 lbs.
  • Multifunction and portable: Our resistance bands can apply to different types exercise. Good for toning your arms, shoulders, chest, glutes, legs etc. Also comes with convenient travel pouch! You can also take your bands to Gym, Office, etc.

Face Pulls with Hammer Grip

There are two primary grips you can choose from when doing face pulls: hammer grip and palms-down grip. When doing a face pull with a hammer grip, your thumbs face you. This allows for more range of motion in the shoulders. With the hammer grip, you handle less weight, but it will help greatly if you lack external rotation in the shoulders.

Face Pulls with Palms Down Grip

When doing a face pull with palms down grip, your thumbs face inward, limiting the range of motion in your shoulders. However, it also allows you to lift more weight.

What is a Seated Face Pull?

A seated face pull is a good pull exercise option if you want to lift heavier weights while sitting. When sitting, you can maintain a stable torso, and with heavier weights, you are more likely to use the hips and lower body which can decrease the load placed on your deltoids.

To do a seated face pull, sit at a low pulley row machine with a rope attachment. Using the palms down grip, grab the rope, straighten your back, and slightly bend your knees. Your arms should now be fully extended in front of you. This is your starting position.

Now lift your elbows and bend them as you pull the rope toward your neck, keeping your upper arms parallel to the floor. Hold this position for a few seconds before returning to your starting position. The torso should remain still. Repeat these reps until you complete your set.

A seated face pull works your biceps, traps, shoulders, and middle back area.

How Much Weight, Sets and Reps?

Face pulls aren’t a power training option, meaning you shouldn’t put your highest amount of force to do them. They’re designed to primarily work your rear delts, and since the area includes tiny fibers, they won’t be targetted with too heavy stacks. And instead, already strong muscles will bear the bulk of the burden.

Besides, unproportionate weight may wreak havoc on your posture rather than correcting it.

So, start with light weights and preferably work out with a pyramid style: Start your first set with 30 percent of your max capacity, and end with 60 percent. Three to four sets of 12-20 reps will usually let you take advantage of face pulls benefits.

But make sure to repeat the session at least two to three times a week.

Other Exercises that Work the Same Muscles

A face pull exercise is a great choice when you want to train your rear deltoid. However, it is also good to switch things up, so your workout doesn’t get boring.

Dumbell rows, lat pulldowns, rear cable flies, rear delt dumbbell flies, and pull ups are all exercises you can do that also target the same muscle groups as your face pull exercise.

Final words

Face pulls have gained new popularity among the lifting population. And that’s because of their gains in muscle size, strength, and posture. But they’re usually done and instructed wrongly and cannot take effect fully.

To recruit the full potential of this great exercise, you need to load the machine with lighter stacks than you usually work with. Also, tie the rope at your head level instead of chest level, and apply pyramid sets. Don’t drop your elbows or hunch during the pulls.

Last update on 2022-05-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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James Wright

James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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