How to Do Rack Pulls: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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One way to ease yourself into a full deadlift is by mastering rack pulls, often referred to as a partial deadlift. This exercise targets many of the same muscles as a regular deadlift but is not as strenuous since it has a smaller range of motion. It is a good addition to your back or lower body strength routine.

Also Known As: Partial deadlift, pulling in the rack, lockout

Targets: Lower back, hamstrings, and glutes

Equipment Needed: Barbell, weight plates, squat rack

Level: Intermediate

How to Do a Rack Pull

Woman holding barbell

Mireya Acierto / Getty Images

This exercise requires the use of a squat rack, barbell, and your desired weight. If you don't have this equipment at home, you can find it in almost any gym. You may also choose to use wrist straps and a weightlifting belt for added support.

Before you can begin, it's important to set your rack height. This will be different for everyone depending on body height. Most people prefer to set the rack just below or just above the knee.

Place the barbell on the rack and add the weight plates. 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.

  1. Approach the bar so your toes are just under it, pointing straight ahead, and your feet are shoulder-width apart. Your chest is up, shoulders back, torso straight, and gaze straight ahead.
  2. Bend the knees slightly and lean forward at the hips, grabbing the bar with your hands just outside of the knees. You can grip the bar overhand or mixed.
  3. Inhale and begin lifting the bar. As you lift, push through the heels and extend through the hips and knees.
  4. Pull the weight up and back, pulling your shoulders back at the same time until you achieve a lockout.
  5. Hold the weight at the top.
  6. Return the bar to the rack by bending your knees and lowering your upper body. Keep your back straight and continue to look forward, exhaling as you exit the position.

Benefits of the Rack Pull

Like deadlifts, rack pulls target multiple muscle groups. This includes primarily the glutes (buttocks), quads (front of thigh), hamstrings (back of thigh), and calf muscles, while also hitting muscles in the core and upper body.

Rack pulls are a good stepping stone movement for acquiring the strength needed for full deadlifts. Professional weightlifters might perform rack pulls to improve their strength for other pulling exercises, such as dumbbell rows and biceps curls. 

Adding the rack pull to your workout can also provide more strength for everyday activities, making it a functional exercise. This includes movements such as taking a laundry basket from one room to another or picking a small child up to hold them in your arms.

Other Variations of a Rack Pull

There are a few modifications that can make the rack pull exercise easier or more challenging depending on your experience level.

Higher Rack Height

To make this exercise more beginner-friendly, adjust the rack height so the bar rests above your knees. This decreases the range of motion, allowing you to master good form and technique before moving into a greater range of motion.

Unweighted Rack Pull

Another way to reduce the intensity of the rack pull is to begin with an unweighted bar. Once you feel more comfortable with the movement, add light weights. As your strength increases, increase the weight you lift as well.

Lower Rack Height

To make the exercise more challenging, lower the rack height below your knees. This increases the range of motion. Performing rack lifts with this starting position can help prepare you for regular deadlifts.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors to make the rack pull safer and more effective for you.

Thrusting the Hips Forward

Since rack pulls strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, it may be 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.

Instead, the entire movement should be steady and controlled. Thrusting your hips forward increases your injury risk.

Lifting Too Much Weight

Since the range of motion is smaller, you may be able to load more weight than you would with a traditional deadlift. Although, if you are new to exercise, err on the side of caution and focus on achieving a perfect technique before increasing the weight lifted.

As with any exercise, lifting more weight than you can handle increases your risk of injury or strain. Safe weight training involves using a load that is manageable for your fitness level.

Angling the Knees

One variation of the deadlift is adopting a sumo stance. Like in a sumo squat, this involves the feet 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 any issues, keep your feet facing forward and do not angle your knees outward.

Poor Posture

Having poor posture can cause this exercise to be performed incorrectly, which may negatively affect your lower back and cause strain. Strive to always keep your back straight, shoulders back, and feet shoulder-width apart.

Safety and Precautions

Do not perform this exercise if you have pre-existing back problems. Wear weightlifting gloves if you'd like added protection and support for your hands and wrists. 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. If you feel pain in your back or shoulders, release the exercise immediately and safely.

Start with one set of 4 to 8 repetitions of this exercise. As you get stronger, add more sets, working your way up to three sets in total. Rest for a couple of minutes between sets to avoid overworking your muscles.

Try It Out

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

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  1. Del Vechhio L, Daewoud H, Green S. The health and performance benefits of the squat, deadlift, and bench press. MOJ Yoga Phys Therapy. 2018;3(2):40-47. doi:10.15406/mojypt.2018.03.00042