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January 14, 2022 7 min read

You may be familiar with deadlifts, whether it is the conventional deadlift or one of the many variations but the rack pull deadlift variation allows you to increase your pulling strength, build back muscle gains and strengthen your hips.

The rack pull has a shorter range of motion but it still works the same muscles that the deadlift targets.

It also allows you to lift a heavier weight since the movement of the exercise is shorter. It mainly targets the lower back muscles but also targets the upper back, glutes, and hamstrings and helps to develop strength at sticking points in your deadlift.

With regards to equipment, you will need a barbell and a power rack to perform rack pulls.

young man doing Rack Pulls in a gym

What Is a Rack Pull?

The rack pull is a great modified variation of the traditional deadlift that is performed with a loaded barbell using the support of a power rack. It is a high-intensity movement that focuses on pulling strength and can also contribute to improving your deadlift max. 

This exercise is not only great for improving your performance in the gym but it can also make your daily tasks easier as well as decrease your injury risk by strengthening large muscle groups.

Whether you are a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or simply an individual who is looking to get stronger, we recommend you incorporate this deadlift variation into your strength training routine. 

A rack pull is performed with an Olympic barbell, weight plates, and bumper plates.

You may also choose to use a weightlifting belt and straps but these are optional. Individuals with lower back injuries should inquire with a professional prior to performing rack pulls.

Although improving the strength of the back, glutes, and hamstrings can be beneficial in preventing as well as  treating injury, it can be extremely dangerous to perform the exercise if you are already injured. If you are cleared to lift, it may be beneficial to start off with a personal trainer to ensure you are performing the exercise with proper form to prevent future injuries.

What Muscles Does a Rack Pull Target?

  • Glutes: Although the exercise does have a more limited range of motion, it allows the movement to focus more on the glute muscles. The glute muscles are made up of the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus and they are mainly responsible for extending the hip joint. Strong glute msucles are important to lift the barbell off the rack as well as stabilize the hips.
  • Quadriceps: Knee flexion is more limited in this variation but the quadriceps play a large role in knee extension and straightening the legs out during the lift.
  • Hamstrings: Similar to the quads, these muscles are not as engaged in the movement, but they still play a role by working hand-in-hand with the gluteals to assist in lifting the barbell off the rack. If you would like to learn more about how to actively engage the hamstring muscles, check out our article on  the best hamstring exercises to strengthen legs.
  • Trapezius/Upper Back Muscles: The trapezius along with the upper back plays a large role in shoulder alignment and keeping a straight spine throughout the movement to maintain proper, tall posture. By maintaining proper back tension and loading heavy weight, you can stimulate muscle growth.
  • Erector spinae: The erector spinae is the fancy name for the lower back muscles. The lower back is extremely susceptible to injury and by strengthening the muscles that surround it, you decrease your risk of injury and pain. About four out of five people complain about lower back pain at some point in their lives and a large reason behind it is bad posture, weak muscles, and improper execution of certain exercises. The erector spinae aids in the extension of the spine throughout the movement

Benefits of Incorporating Rack Pulls Into Your Routine

Increase Pulling and Grip Strength

Due to the improved lockout and increased hip drive, you will also see improved performance in the regular deadlift. Grip strength will also increase due to the heavier loads being placed on your body. This challenges you both physically and psychologically as it sends signals to your nervous system to push your muscles to pull heavier weight.

Decrease Stress Placed On Lower Back

This variation of the deadlift is performed in a more vertical position which decreases the stress placed on the lower back, making it a good choice for individuals who have a history of back injuries. Less lumbar stress is also beneficial as it means you will be less fatigued and will be able to perform more sets of rack pulls more often. 

60%-80% of adults are susceptible to experiencing low back pain.

In Western countries, adults are especially prone to low back pain. Studies have shown that the incorporation of an exercise routine that targets strength, flexibility, and aerobics can have a  positive impact on individuals who have chronic low back pain as well as decrease the risk of low back pain.

Increased Muscle Development

The rack pull is an example of a compound movement. A compound movement is any movement that involves more than one muscle group at a time. The rack pull activates the entire posterior chain and regular activation can lead to muscle growth. Not only will the muscle gains make you stronger, but they can also  decrease your risk of several diseases such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Decreased Risk of Injury

The performance of any exercise that involves heavy weights places you at risk for injury but strength training is a great way to enhance muscles, bones, and joints. The deadlift is a challenging exercise as mastering form is everything and many people do not master the form. The rack pull is less risky for individuals as it reduces force on the spine, allowing individuals to efficiently perform the exercise and increase strength. 

Therefore, by performing the exercise, you decrease your chance of injury during the movement itself as well as future injuries due to the increase in muscle growth.

How to Do Rack Pulls (Form)

 

  1. Set the rack supports either below or above the knees. 
  2. Place the barbell on the rack supports and place the right weight on each side. 
  3. Stand by the bar so your toes are just under it with feet shoulder-width apart and bend at the knees and hips slightly. 
  4. Grab ahold of the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with an alternating grip just outside the knees. 
  5. Begin lifting the bar and focus on pushing through the heels and extending through the hips and knees.
  6. With control, begin to lift the barbell up until your hips are in full extension but do not overextend your back at the top. 
  7. Return to starting position by inhaling and bending your knees and lowering the upper body. Keep your gaze forward.
  8. Repeat steps 1-6 for your desired number of reps and sets. 

Effective Rack Pull Alternatives

If you try out the rack pull and decide it just isn’t for you, don’t fret. There are many other alternatives out there!

1. Trap Bar Deadlift

    The trap bar is another great alternative that reduces back strain. It used a trap bar instead of a traditional barbell that allows the lifter to stand inside of the bar instead of having to pick it up straight from the floor. 

     

    1. Step in the middle of the trap bar with your feet hip-width apart. 
    2. Begin to lower and reach down to grasp the handles of the bar. Sit your hips back and keep your chest and shoulders lifted. 
    3. With a flat back, begin to lift up by straightening your hips and knees to bring the bar at mid-thigh height. 
    4. Squeeze the glute muscles at the top and slowly begin to lower back to starting position with control.
    5. Repeat steps 1-4 for your desired number of sets and reps. 

    2. Sumo Deadlift

      The sumo deadlift is performed in a wider stance than the standard deadlift and similar to the rack pull, it decreases lumbar stress

       

      1. Stand with a wide stance and the toes pointed out. 
      2. Contract your core, back and glute muscles to lower and slightly pull up the bar. 
      3. Focus on driving through your legs and pull the barbell up but keep your gaze forward. 
      4. Once you have stood up, lock the weight out and squeeze your glutes. 
      5. With control, return to starting position by bending your knees and lowering the upper body. Keep your shoulders facing the front of the room.
      6. Repeat steps 1-5 for your desired number of reps and sets.

      3. Romanian Deadlifts

        Romanian deadlifts are a great way to engage the glutes and hamstrings more than the traditional deadlift as well as the rack pull.

         

        1. Stand with the bar in your hands. 
        2. Slowly begin to lower the barbell down with a slight bend in the knees. 
        3. Make sure you bend from the hips, never the lower back, and keep a straight back. 
        4. Lower down until you begin to feel a slight stretch in the hamstrings. 
        5. Now, begin to drive your hips forward and power back up to standing by using your hamstrings.
        6. Repeat steps 1-5 for your desired number of reps and sets.

        Additional Tips For The Rack Pull

        • Do not lift too heavy (at first): People have the misconception that quantity is better than quality in the gym but this is false and actually concerning. Proper form is the most important thing before anything and during a rack pull, make sure you focus on keeping your back straight. If you find that you are rounding your back, you probably have exceeded your capacity and you need to lower the weight to decrease the risk of injury and/or pain.
        • Keep your back straight throughout the lift: By bracing the core muscles, you will avoid rounding the back and decrease the risk of injury. If you struggle with this, focus on keeping your gaze forward while performing the movement. Compromising your form can lead to injury and pain. A simple fix such as being aware of your posture and form will maximize the benefits of the exercise as well as decrease future injuries.
        • Do not fully drop the weight: Not only is focusing on your form important, but it is also important to perform the exercise properly to prevent damaging the barbells and racks. It is important to avoid fully dropping the weight on the supports by setting the barbell down in a controlled motion to minimize injury and damage to expensive gym equipment.

        Final Verdict

        Our daily lives place a lot of strain on our lower back and performing an exercise like a rack pull is a great way to escape from daily stressors and increase strength in the entire posterior chain. It is crucial to perform the exercise in proper form to prevent lower back injury. 

        Whether you are seeking to build muscle, reach your one-rep-max, or simply try something new out, this compound exercise is a great alternative to the traditional deadlift to target numerous muscle groups as well as get you one step closer to your muscle gains.

        By incorporating this variation into your workout routine or attempting one of the other variations, you are one step closer to reaching your goals. If you enjoy focusing on the lower body and want to keep working on those lower body gains, check out our article on the  best exercises for a lower body blasting workout.