What Muscles Do Face Pulls Work?

Anyone with an active presence in bodybuilding forums and gym 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.

Muscles Worked in Face Pulls

Rear Delts

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 region backward, building strength and size in it. Since they’re superficial muscles—close to the skin surface—they quickly become pronounced when you work them.

Rear delts are actually the primary movers in face pulls. So they can significantly increase your shoulder strength.

Rear Delts


Traps or trapezius is a large, trapezoid-like muscle in your neck and upper back area. It helps rotate your shoulder blades, lift your arms, and stretch your neck. So, no wonders the motions you create via face pulls can trigger these fibers.


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


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 Rotators

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 speaks for their function.

In conjunction with your rear delt, these two muscles work to rotate and addcut 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 joint due to having desk jobs, too much working with computers, 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 to Do Face Pulls Correctly

Having said 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 just teach you to do it wrong and harm your muscles rather than improving them.

So 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 Pulls

It’s the standard face pull variation that requires a cable machine and two-sided rope attachment. But while everyone agrees on this part, so 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, which is why physiologists recommend it.

But 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 slightly, keep your ribcage down, and your 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 at the same time. Do this until you feel your scapula squeezed and the handles by the side of your ears. Your elbows should point to the sides at a slight up angle—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 Pulls

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 face pulls 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 kind of 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.

Whatafit Resistance Bands Set (11pcs), Exercise Bands with Door Anchor, Handles, Carry Bag, Legs Ankle Straps for Resistance Training, Physical Therapy, Home Workouts
  • 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.

How Much Weight, Sets and Reps

Face pulls aren’t a power training option which means 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 all the benefits of face pulls.

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

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 hence cannot take effect fully.

To recruit the full potential of face pulls, 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 2021-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


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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