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November 07, 2021 9 min read

Looking to build some big shoulders? Well, look no further because we’ve got the exercise that’ll take your shoulder routine to the next level.

Barbell face pulls are one of the best exercises that you can do to help develop some boulder shoulders.

In this article, we’ll show you how to do them and tell you all about the amazing benefits of this exercise.

What Are Barbell Face Pulls? 

You may have heard of this exercise before but never actually looked into it. It’s possible you’ve heard about how this exercise is great for a shoulder routine. While that is definitely true, it’s not the whole truth.

A face pull is not just a shoulder exercise, but a back exercise as well. They come with a lot of benefits and can be a great part of any back or shoulder day!

Muscles Worked During A Barbell Face Pull

A barbell face pull will primarily work the upper posterior chain, or the upper back muscles, along with shoulder muscles. Specifically, this exercise will work your rear delts, trapezius, and rhomboids.

Just by looking at the muscle groups that are worked in this video, it’s easy to see why this exercise is recommended for people looking to grow their shoulders.

How To Do A Barbell Face Pull 

 

  1. First, you’ll need to get yourself a barbell. For this exercise, you don’t need to use a lot of weight. Excessive weight will cause other muscles to be incorporated and won’t isolate your delts well enough. 
  2. With your feet apart at about the width of your hips, bend your knees slightly and then bend down and grab the barbell in an overhand position. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Before you start pulling on the barbell, make sure that it’s not rounded. A straight back will prevent you from experiencing a lower back injury. Ideally, your back should be just about parallel to the ground. Also, be sure to tighten up your core and keep your shoulders pulled back. 
  4. Now, pull the barbell towards your face, keeping your elbows flared outwards. You’ll want to aim for your eye area when pulling the bar towards your face. 
  5. When you get to the top of this motion, you’ll want to hold it for a few seconds. To really feel this exercise work, squeeze the back of your shoulders. You’ll feel your shoulder blades almost pinch together. 
  6. Slowly, and with plenty of control, lower the barbell back down. 
  7. Rest for a moment and then repeat for as many repetitions as you’d like. 

Common Mistakes of Barbell Face Pulls 

Despite this being one of the best exercises for your shoulders, there’s a lot of mistakes you can make while doing it.

Here are some things that you should avoid when doing your face pulls! 

  • As with any exercise, make sure you’re practicing proper form. Specifically, make sure you’re pulling the barbell to the right part of your face, the eyes. Pulling to your neck or chest won’t hit your delts. 
  • We can’t emphasize this enough, you will need to go easier on this exercise than other ones. The reason you’ll need to work with a lighter load is that the rear deltoids are a small muscle group. Focus more on more reps and lighter weight.
  • A common mistake found in exercises like the barbell face pull and other similar exercises like a deadlift or bent-over row is back rounding. It is crucial to avoid this mistake as it can cause unwanted injury and is improper form. 

Benefits of Barbell Face Pulls 

Now we’ve mentioned that this exercise is an excellent way to develop your shoulders.

If that in and of itself wasn’t enough to entice you to try it out, here are some added benefits:

  • Barbell face pulls can actually help people with posture problems. Many people don’t properly exercise the muscles that are involved with their upper back, causing pain after maintaining a certain posture for a long time. This exercise can ultimately help that pain and also improve posture! 
  • Besides back health, barbell face pulls are excellent for improving your shoulder pain. The thing about your rear deltoids is that they actually rarely get worked out properly. This exercise effectively fixes this. By doing barbell face pulls, you’ll find those muscle imbalances will get fixed and will keep your shoulder joints mobile and stable. 
  • Aesthetically speaking, the barbell face pull is one of the best shoulder exercises that you can do to really pack on some muscle mass in that area. By making the back of your shoulder fill out, your shoulders in general will look bigger and will also make your back look bigger. 
  • A big benefit to this exercise is just how well that it isolates your rear delts. As we said earlier, it’s not often that this particular muscle group gets engaged and this imbalance can hurt other lifts, particularly pressing movements. 
  • This brings us to our next benefit: Overall shoulder strength. By doing this exercise you will definitely see strength gains in other exercises that demand the use of your shoulders. There’s really no reason not to incorporate barbell face pull into your shoulder routine! 
  • Our final benefit is that this exercise is actually incredibly versatile. There are plenty of variations and alternatives that allow you to basically do the same thing 

Barbell Face Pull Variations

As we just said, there are plenty of alternatives to the barbell face pull. These alternatives require minimal requirements and can even be done at home.  Here, we’ll show you just what we mean, that way you’ll never have an excuse not to do them! 

Cable Face Pulls 

This type of face pull is generally the type you’ll see people performing most often. It hits your rear deltoids, just like the barbell variant. What many people like about this variant is that you don’t have to bend over to do it. This makes it easier on the back and there’s no way that you can cause injury unless you’re overloading. Here’s how to do the exercise: 

 

  1. First, you’ll obviously need a cable machine. Then grab a rope attachment. Secure the rope attachment and pulley so that it sits at about head level. 
  2. Stand in front of the machine with your feet spread at about hip-width. 
  3. Grab the rope attachment with both of your hands using a neutral grip. 
  4. Now, take a few steps back so that your arms are extended. Then, bend your knees slightly. Make sure to keep your chest up and roll your shoulders back while also engaging your core. 
  5. Then, you’ll pull on the rope attachment. Like with the barbell variant, you should be aiming for your eyes during this exercise. Pull back until you can feel your shoulder blades retract or pinch together. Then, hold that for a second. 
  6. Slowly ease up and let your arms straighten out while maintaining control over the weight and return to the starting position. 
  7. Rest for a second and repeat these steps until you’ve done all of the repetitions that you want to. 

Seated Cable Face Pull

This variation is for people who are looking to get a better range of motion out of their face pulls. Not only that, you can actually use more weight on this variation. That being said, make sure that you’re still doing your best to maintain proper form. Also, don’t overload as you don’t want to cause an injury. 

 

  1. First, get yourself situated with a seated cable machine. Then, attach a rope to it. 
  2. While setting up, make sure that your knees are bent slightly, while your back is completely straight. 
  3. Hold the rope attachment like you would with the normal cable face pulls. 
  4. Now, drive your elbows back and pinch your shoulder blades together. You should be pulling the rope attachment towards your forehead while ensuring that your arms stay above shoulder level. 

Dumbbell Face Pulls


 

As you probably already guessed, you can do this exercise using dumbbells. For this variation, all you really need to do is grab some dumbbells and perform the same motion that you would with a barbell.

This variation is easier on beginners since you won’t be lifting as much weight. We highly recommend this variation if you’re just starting with the exercise and are looking to really nail down your form. 

Resistance Band Face Pulls 

This is the perfect variation for our lifters who work out from home. For this face pull exercise, make sure that the space you’re using is open enough to accommodate. Also, some gyms will have areas dedicated to the use of Face Bands that you can use instead. 

 

  1. First, you’ll need to hang your resistance band of choice or anchor it to an appropriately high position. We recommend something at about head level. 
  2. Grab each side of the band. When doing this, the palm of your hands should be facing inwards. 
  3. Like with the cable face pulls, squeeze your shoulder blades together while pulling on the resistance band. Hold this position for a second. 
  4. Slowly, while controlling the band, return to the starting position of the exercise. 

Barbell Face Pull Alternatives

Here are some other exercises that you should look into if you can't do face pulls or are looking for something to supplement it. All of these alternatives will work your rear delts and back but won't isolate it as much as a face pull.

Barbell Rows

Barbell rows are a great exercise. They're one of the best upper body exercises for hypertrophy and building muscle and perfect for putting mass on your back, especially when combined with proper nutrition and sufficient protein.

Pull-Ups 

This is an excellent exercise in terms of strength training. Many people struggle to do more than a few reps with this exercise because you have to use your own body weight. If they're too difficult for you, many gyms provide assisted pull-up machines 

Push-Ups

This is a surprisingly good alternative to the face pull. Pretty much everyone knows how to do this exercise and it also happens to work your delts, alongside your chest and triceps. It can be a great warmup and there are plenty of variations to go with it. 

Face Pull Frequently Asked Questions 

Now that we’ve talked all about face pulls, it’s time to answer some common questions surrounding the exercise. 

When Should You Do Face Pulls? 

While face pulls are certainly an excellent exercise that you should incorporate into your routine, you shouldn’t commit a full workout to them. Doing this could end up causing an injury due to overworking your rear deltoids.

Therefore, you should include a range of different exercises to work alongside the face pulls, depending on the other muscle groups you’re working with. 

Generally speaking, you should include face pulls when you are doing any sort of routine that involves your shoulders or upper back muscles. For instance, if you’re doing chest day, chances are you’re going to be doing a lot of pressing motions.

By doing face pulls alongside these other exercises, you’ll ensure your shoulder muscles don’t become imbalanced. The same goes for back days too, though you won’t have to do as much since many back exercises work for similar muscle groups. 

Are Face Pulls Dangerous? 

Generally speaking, the face pull is one of the safer exercises that you can incorporate into your routine. You’re not taking the risk of having a large amount of weight falling on top of you, like on a squat or bench press. Also, you don’t have to worry about hurting your back somehow due to a large amount of weight like in a deadlift. That being said, there are some complications that can happen with face pulls. 

As they say, “too much of a good thing can be bad,” and face pulls are no different. Excessive use of this exercise, especially when using a heavyweight and poor form, can lead to shoulder impingement.

This can usually be corrected with physical therapy or even a chiropractor. Also, with variations like resistance band face pulls, you do run the risk of the bands snapping and hurting you.

Do Face Pulls Work Your Side Delts? 

Yes! The face pull does work on your side delts. However, it’s not as effective as other exercises and mainly focuses on your rear delts and upper back muscles. If you’re looking to make some aesthetically pleasing, big shoulders, you need to incorporate other exercises that work all of the points of your shoulder. So, don’t neglect doing exercises like lateral raises and shoulder presses to really make your shoulders pop. 

Final Verdict 

The barbell face pull is one of the best exercises that you can incorporate into upper body routines. It is amazing for developing your rear delts as it does an awesome job at isolating the muscle group.

Not only that, but it has plenty of benefits as well. It will make sure there aren’t imbalances in your shoulder muscles and also keep them healthy and improve scapular stability.

If you aren’t already doing this exercise, you should start including it in your upper body days immediately.