How to Do Rack Pulls

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Also Known As: Deadlift Variation

Targets: Lower Back, Hamstrings, Glutes

Equipment Needed: Barbell, Weight, Squat Rack

Level: Intermediate

The deadlift is known as a full-body exercise, primarily benefiting the back and lower body. However, it can be a challenging exercise and one that strains the upper body if not performed properly. One way to ease yourself into a full deadlift is by mastering rack pulls, which is often referred to as a deadlift variation.

Rack pulls target many of the same muscles as the regular deadlift, mainly the lower back and hamstrings. Fortunately, it is not as strenuous as a regular deadlift because the range of motion is smaller. 

To get started, you will need access to a squat rack, full-size barbell, and desired weight. You may also choose to use wrist straps and a weightlifting belt for added support.

This exercise can be incorporated into your back routine or lower body routine. Once you have mastered rack pulls, you may be ready to move onto regular deadlifts.

Benefits

Like deadlifting, performing rack pulls targets multiple muscle groups. This is a great exercise to work the full body. Many people use rack pulls to increase the strength of their lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. It also improves overall strength as it challenges muscle groups all over the entire body.

Professional weightlifters and powerlifters often perform rack pulls to improve pulling strength. This is an advantage that comes in handy for other pull exercises, such as conventional deadlifts, dumbbell rows, and bicep curls.  

Rack pulls also place less stress on the lower back than conventional deadlifts. Though deadlifts are an important exercise to rotate into your routine to build back strength, rack pulls can be used as a stepping stone until enough strength is acquired to work up to full deadlifts. This reduces the risk of lower back strain or injury.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Since this exercise resembles deadlifting, it may be an intimidating move to some. This exercise is best performed at a gym since you will need access to a squat rack, barbell, and weights.

Here is how to safely and effectively perform rack pulls:

  1. Approach the squat rack. Before you can begin the exercise, you need to set your rack height. This will be different for everyone depending on your personal height. Most people prefer to set the rack just below the knee or just above the knee.
  2. Place the barbell on the rack and add weights. Aim for a similar amount of weight that you use for regular deadlifts. If you are unsure, start with a lower weight and gradually add more weight as needed.
  3. Get into position. Approach the bar so your toes are just under it, pointing straight ahead. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Your back should be arched. Point your gaze straight ahead.
  4. Bend the knees slightly so your hands wrap around the bar. You can position your hands so that they grip the bar overhand or mixed. Your hands should be just outside of the knees.
  5. Once you have a comfortable grip, inhale and begin lifting the bar. As you lift, extend through the hips and knees. You will pull the weight up and back, pulling your shoulders back, until you achieve a lockout.
  6. Hold the weight at the top.
  7. Return the bar to the rack by bending your knees and lowering your upper body. Keep your back straight and continue to look forward. Exhale as you exit the position.
  8. Repeat.

Common Mistakes

Like the regular deadlift, this variation invites many errors. Here are some of the errors commonly made during this exercise and how to avoid and correct them.

Thrusting the Hips Forward

Rack pulls and deadlifts mainly target the lower back, but some people use them to target the lower body. Since they can strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, it is tempting to thrust your hips forward at the top to further challenge these muscles. However, this affects the form of the exercise and may cause you to throw out your back. The movement should be steady and controlled. Thrusting your hips forward to further challenge the lower body only increases the risk of injury.

Lifting Too Much Weight

Like any exercise, lifting more weight than you can comfortably handle increases your risk of injury or strain. Since the range of motion is smaller, you may be able to load more weight than you would with a traditional deadlift. However, if you are new to exercise, you should err on the side of caution and increase the weight gradually. Focus on achieving a perfect technique first before increasing the weight.

Angling the Knees

One variation of the deadlift is adopting a sumo stance. This is when your feet are facing outward, causing the knees to bend at an angle. This is not a beginner-friendly movement as it places pressure on the knee joints and hips. It can also throw off your balance and disperse the weight unevenly. To avoid uncomfortable pressure on the knees, keep your feet facing forward and do not angle your knees outward.

Having Poor Posture

Having proper posture is a vital part of performing this exercise safely. Always keep your back straight, shoulders back, and feet shoulder-width apart. Having poor posture can cause the exercise to be performed incorrectly, which may negatively affect your lower back and cause strain.

Modifications and Variations

Here are modifications to make the exercise easier or more challenging depending on your experience level.

Need a Modification?

To make this exercise more beginner-friendly, adjust the rack height so the bar rests above your knees. This decreases the range of motion, which should allow you to master the form and technique before moving into a greater range of motion. You can also start by lifting the bar by itself before graduating to adding weights.

Up for a Challenge?

To make the exercise more challenging, lower the rack height below your knees. This increases the range of motion. Eventually, you can graduate to a regular deadlift or sumo deadlift.

Safety and Precautions

Engaging in any type of strength training must be taken seriously to prevent strain or injury. The following tips will help you perform rack pulls safely:

  • Do not perform this exercise if you have pre-existing back problems.
  • Wear weightlifting gloves for added protection and support. You may also choose to use wrist straps or a lifting belt.
  • Always practice proper form and utilize good posture to prevent strain and injury.
  • Move through the exercise slowly and steadily to effectively target the back and lower body.
  • If you feel pain in your back or shoulders, release the exercise immediately and safely.
  • Relax and pull back your shoulders. Do not tense or bunch them up.
  • Keep your back in a straight line and avoid rounding it.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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