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July 26, 2022 6 min read

The deltoids are the biggest muscle in your shoulder, and they are responsible for moving the arm and stabilizing the rotator cuff. These shoulder muscles are made up of three heads: the anterior, lateral, and posterior. 

Moves like the overhead press, lateral raise, and front raise are all exercises that help target the heads of this muscle group.

Out of the three heads of the deltoid, the posterior or rear deltoid is often the most neglected one.

Unlike bicep or triceps muscles, you can’t necessarily isolate this part of the muscle, but you can do exercises that put a greater emphasis on it.

Face pulls work the rear deltoid as it’s the primary muscle worked in this exercise, with the help from some of the muscles in your upper back.

This exercise can be accessible depending on the equipment you choose and can be simple enough for beginners to help build a balanced and solid foundation.

Muscles Worked by Face Pulls

Pulling exercises like face pulls can be beneficial for the muscles on the back of your body that help contribute to deadlifts, pull-ups, and normal function outside the gym.

Face pulls are an isolation exercise, meaning they primarily target only one muscle group, but that doesn’t mean other muscles don’t help in stabilization or movement.

Posterior Deltoid

The primary muscle worked in the face pull is the posterior deltoid, also referred to as your rear delts. 

Many lifters do exercises that can emphasize the anterior and lateral head of the deltoid, but without strengthening the rear delts, it can lead to imbalances in the shoulder and upper body.

For your posture especially, the rear delts can be important. Along with other scapula retractors, the rear delts assist in keeping your shoulders from rounding forward. If you have poor posture, it can lead to lower back pain, lessened core strength, and injury.

By implementing face pulls, you can also help build a balanced and overall stronger upper body.

Rhomboids

Whenever you retract your shoulder blades, your rhomboids are recruited. Keeping this muscle strong can also help contribute to better posture, and greater shoulder stability and movement.

Along with better normal function, stronger rhomboids can help make your pulling exercises even stronger, meaning you can lift more while maintaining proper form.

The rhomboids contribute to the movement of face pulls since your shoulder blades retract and can be strengthened through regular strength training.

Trapezius

Your upper back muscles are important for posture, scapular stability, and overall movement, and the traps help contribute to all of this. 

This muscle is responsible for helping move and stabilize the scapula, so they can be recruited during the face pull.

Keeping this muscle group strong can help create a stronger and bigger upper body and can be important in other pulling exercises.

External Rotators

The external rotators are the infraspinatus and the trees minor, which are responsible for abducting and externally rotating your shoulder. 

Face pulls help to strengthen these muscles for better pulling strength, but also for better pushing strength.

Exercises like the bench press and push-ups can benefit from stronger external rotators as they can provide better movement and more stability to the rotator cuff.

Benefits of Face Pulls

Having a bigger, stronger body is just one of the reasons people may choose to implement face pulls. Daily function, better posture, and more stability can also come from this exercise.

  • Better Pulling Strength: The muscles you can see in the mirror, like your pecs, biceps, and abs, are often referred to as the glamor muscles, and many lifters focus on these to look good. However, only focusing on one side of the body can cause imbalances that may lead to injury or poor performance.

It’s important to develop a training regimen with an equal amount of pushing and pulling because you can then focus on the muscles on the anterior and posterior of your body.

Face pulls can help build the muscles on the back of your body that help contribute to better pulling strength, which can mean bigger and better deadlifts, rows, and pull-ups.

  • Improved Posture: If you sit at your desk all day for work, spend hours looking down at your phone, or don’t make time for exercise, your posture can suffer.

All of the muscles recruited during the face pull all contribute to your posture. 

Poor posture can not only look bad, but it can also lead to low back pain and potential injury.

By strengthening the important muscles that help good posture, you can reduce your risk of pain or injury, and by paying more attention to your posture, you can help increase your physical performance.

  • Healthier Shoulders: Good shoulder health means your shoulder joint can move freely through a normal range of motion, and you don’t experience shoulder pain. Shoulder exercises can help this area of the body stay healthy, but emphasizing one head over the other can lead to injury, pain, and imbalances.

While a solid workout routine can be the start to healthier shoulders, knowing which exercises to perform can be important for shoulder strength and health.

Making sure to target the rear delts can not only help make your shoulders stronger, but it can also help make your upper body look better and more balanced.

  • Bigger Upper Body: It takes time and dedication to build muscle, and choosing the right exercises can be crucial for success. If you’re bodybuilding, choosing isolation exercises can help better promote muscle hypertrophy since you can focus on only one area of the body.

Since face pulls mainly target the rear deltoids, you can use this exercise to help build muscle in your shoulders and your upper body.

To help further your muscle building journey, check out Whey-PRO for muscle building and strength gains without the unnecessary carbs.

How to Do Face Pulls

 

Although it’s not too complicated of an exercise, it’s still important to understand how to do face pulls properly. This exercise is most commonly done on a cable machine using a pulley system with a rope attachment, but you can use other equipment if needed.

How to Do Face Pulls:

  • Set up on a cable machine so the pulley is not higher than chest height.
  • Grab the rope attachment with an overhand grip and take a step away from the machine so there’s tension in the pulley.
  • Pull your shoulders down and back and keep your chest up. Squeeze your core and glutes to help keep your body in a straight line.
  • Keep your elbows high and start to retract your shoulder blades as you pull the rope towards your face.
  • Pull until the rope reaches the front of your face.
  • Still keeping your elbows high and chest up, slowly start to extend your arms and return to the starting position.

Face Pull Variations

Cable machines are pretty popular in the gym, so often they can be all taken during peak gym hours. Or maybe your gym doesn’t even have one. Even though the face pull is commonly done on a cable machine, it’s not required.

Resistance Band Face Pull

 

You can do this variation anywhere, as long as you have a resistance band and a secure bar to wrap the band around.

Barbells and dumbbells may be seen as superior to resistance bands, but they can be just as effective at promoting strength.

How to Do Resistance Band Face Pulls:

  • Secure a resistance band on a pole or pull-up bar.
  • Make sure there’s tension in the band as you assume the starting position. Grab the band with an overhand grip and palms facing the ground.
  • Keep your chest up and elbows high as you begin to pull the band towards your face.
  • When it reaches the front of your face, slowly extend your arms again.

Bodyweight Face Pulls

 

This variation resembles an inverted row, but instead of grabbing the bar with your hands, you’ll use a rope attachment like you would on a pulley machine. This can be a great exercise if all the cable machines are taken.

How to Do Bodyweight Face Pulls:

  • Secure a barbell on a rack low enough to be able to angle your body towards the ground.
  • Wrap the rope attachment around the bar and make sure it’s secure.
  • Get underneath the bar and angle your body so your eyes are looking at the ceiling, and your heels are on the ground. The more your body is angled, the harder it will be.
  • Keep your elbows high and your body in a straight line as you begin to pull yourself towards the bar.
  • When the bar is in front of your face, slowly lower back down.

Pull Yourself to Bigger Shoulders

Targeting all the muscles in your upper body can help you build a bigger, stronger, and more balanced body overall. You can help reduce imbalances in your shoulders by implementing face pulls in with your shoulder presses and lateral raises.

Making the time for regular exercise is the first step to being healthy, but knowing which exercises to use and why can make all the difference in the specific goals you set.