The rack pull is a powerful compound lift (which means it works lots of muscles in your upper and lower body all at once). It’s got big benefits for building strength throughout your bod. Need to get a grip? The rack pull can help. Having trouble pulling your weight? That’s another thing the rack pull can help you handle.
If you’ve never tried this deadlift variation, we’ve got you. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s a rack pull?
The rack pull involves loading a barbell onto a power rack (that’s the giant rectangular piece of gym equipment). You’ll start with the bar just below your knees and hinge at your hips to raise it up.
Chances are you’ll find all this equipment at the gym, but you might have your own setup at home that would work.
Now, here’s what to do:
- Set the rack supports to the proper height. (This will fall somewhere around your knees, depending on how much range of motion you’re looking for.)
- Place the barbell on the rack supports. Load the desired amount of weight on each side. (Pro tip: Start small and work your way up.)
- Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at your hips.
- Grab the bar with hands just a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Use a double-overhand or alternating grip, your pick.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and shift the weight onto your hamstrings by pushing against the floor slightly.
- In a slow and controlled movement, lift the barbell up until your hips fully extend. Keep your spine in neutral position.
- Slowly and steadily return the bar to the starting position.
Rack pulls can improve your life in lots of ways. They can help boost your athletic performance or simply make it less of a struggle to carry the laundry basket downstairs.
Here’s what they might do for you.
1. Boost your pull and grip strength
Regular rack pulls can lead to major gains in your pull and grip strength.
And those improvements won’t just help you look good at the gym or beat out the powerlifting competition. According to research from 2019 and 2017, grip strength is an important health indicator of quality of life in older age.
So by working on your grip strength today, you just might be doing your future self a solid.
2. Reduce your risk of injury
Traditional deadlifting involves a large range of motion with a typically heavy load. This type of lift can come with major gains — but also some major risks if you don’t have perfect form. Form is super important for performing rack pulls, too, but they tend to be a safer alternative overall.
Since the rack pull’s starting position is higher than the traditional deadlift, you perform it with an upright posture that reduces lateral stress on your spine. This could potentially reduce your risk of injury.
3. Build up your muscles
Doing this move on the reg can help you make serious strength and growth gains in these areas.
Though that might seem like a no-brainer, a 2016 research review outlines how greater muscular strength leads to greater athletic performance. Another 2016 review, meanwhile, notes that muscle growth not only boosts athletic performance but also offers long-term health benefits (#winning).
4. Increase your workload
If you’re used to traditional deadlifts, you’ll prob notice that you can lift more when you do a rack pull. That’s because the rack pull has a shorter range of motion. Since you don’t have to move the weight as far, you might be able to add more to your load.
So, if you’re a seasoned lifter looking to break through a strength plateau, the rack pull may be the variation you need to take it to the next level.
5. Perfect for beginners and pros alike
Both brand-new lifters and experienced pros will benefit a lot from the versatile rack pull. Since it’s a little easier on your bod than a traditional deadlift, it’s the perfect intro move for beginners to build strength before moving on to tougher lifts.
Play it safe, folks. Following these key tips will help lower your risk of injury, pain, or strain when lifting:
- Maintain good posture. Keep your spine neutral to avoid overextending your back.
- Keep it slow and controlled. If you jerk the weight off the rack, you risk injuring yourself.
- Grip with your palms. Gripping with your fingers can make your grip less secure. That may allow the weight to slip.
- Watch those knees. When you set the bar back on the rack, take care to ensure that the weight doesn’t hit your knees.
- Take baby steps. To stay safe while you build strength, gradually increase the bar weight over time instead of making giant leaps.
- Build up your reps and sets. Start with 1–2 sets of 4–8 reps and work your way up as you get stronger and more comfortable with the lift.
If you have a preexisting back condition or injury, consult a doctor or physical therapist before attempting a rack pull.
Rack pull variations can make things harder or easier or help you out when you don’t have all the right equipment.
To start, here are a few to try.
1. Block pull
Don’t have a rack to do rack pulls? Try a block pull, which instead uses blocks or bumper plates to elevate the barbell.
Simply stack them to your desired height and do the rest just like a rack pull.
- Make sure the blocks or bumpers are sturdy and stacked to about knee height.
- Place the barbell on the block supports. Load the desired amount of weight on each side.
- Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, bend your knees and hips just a smidge.
- Grab the bar with hands just a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Squeeze your lats and shift the weight onto your hams by pushing against the floor slightly.
- Slowly and with control, lift the barbell up until your hips are fully extended. Keep your spine in neutral position.
- Slowly and steadily return the bar to the starting position.
- Repeat for 2 sets of 4 reps.
2. Reverse band rack pull
The reverse band rack pull strengthens the muscles of your legs, glutes, and back. You’ll need a band to do this move — it will offer added support to pull off the reverse motion.
This move is popular with the powerlifting community, but truly, anyone can do it. Here’s how:
- Load the bar. Attach the bands to the top of the rack via pegs or to the rack itself. Make sure they’re secure.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart. Position the bar so it hovers over the top of your feet.
- Push your hips back and hinge forward until your torso is about parallel with the floor.
- Grab the bar with a double-overhand grip.
- Pull up slightly on the bar as your hips drop slightly.
- Imagine you’re squeezing tennis balls in your armpits — they should be directly over the bar.
- Drive through your feet as you extend your knees and hips.
- Reverse the movement by pushing your hips back, hinging forward.
- Repeat for 2–3 sets of 4–6 reps.
3. Isometric rack pull
The isometric rack pull requires a power rack. Isometric exercises are especially beneficial if you’re recovering from injury or experience pain while doing traditional deadlifts or rack pulls.
Since it puts less pressure on your back and hips than traditional methods, it’s a good reintroduction to lifting without the added stress.
Here’s what to do:
- Set the barbell under a pair of safety stoppers. Feel free to start with an empty barbell.
- Standing with your feet hip-width apart, hold the barbell over your feet with an overhand grip.
- Push your hips back, hinge forward, and pull the barbell swiftly into the pins. (If you do it hard enough, isometric muscle contractions will occur, which help stabilize joints and increase strength.)
- Repeat for several reps.
The rack pull is a deadlift variation that involves putting the loaded barbell on the support of a power rack. Doing rack pulls regularly can increase pull and grip strength and build up your glutes, hams, back, lats, traps, quads, and forearms.
Since rack pulls put less stress on your spine and hips, they may be a safer alternative to traditional deadlifts. Remember, if you have a back injury, talk with a physical therapist or doctor before trying rack pulls.