Mastering Rack Pulls: A Comprehensive Guide on Form, Benefits, and Variations

Shayla Whitter

Did you know that rack pulls are high-intensity alternatives to deadlifts? In fact, mastering rack pulls might be the key to leveling up your strength game, especially when tackling heavyweights.

All you need is a barbell, a rack, and your preferred weights. It’s as simple as lifting the barbell from just above or below the knees by fully extending your hips. Despite its seemingly limited range of motion, trust me, this exercise packs a punch.

While some may consider rack pulls as a mere side note in a workout routine, they couldn’t be farther from the truth. Rack pulls act like a VIP pass, strengthening your lower back, putting your hamstrings to the test, and giving your glutes the attention they deserve.

So, if you’re up for a fitness challenge beyond the ordinary, let’s explore the world of rack pulls together. We’ll uncover why they’re not just another exercise, delve into some variations, and perfect the form for maximum gains.

Curious? Keep reading, and let’s transform your fitness routine into a powerhouse of strength—one rack pull at a time.

How To Perform A Rack Pull?

Rack pulls or rack deadlifts, often referred to as partial deadlifts, stand out as an intermediate to high-intensity deadlift alternative. This compound exercise, demanding minimal movement and equipment, proves to be a dynamic addition to your fitness routine. 

Specifically targeting the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes simultaneously, rack pulls efficiently engage multiple muscle groups for a comprehensive strength-building experience.

All you need to execute a perfect rack pull is:

  1. A standard barbell appropriate for your fitness level.
  2. A sturdy and adjustable power rack to set the bar at the desired height.
  3. Weights to challenge yourself without compromising form.

Here is how to do it:

  • Adjust the height of the barbell within the power rack, positioning it just above or below knee level, depending on your comfort and training goals.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping the bar aligned with the mid-foot.
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip, placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Engage your core by taking a deep breath and tightening your abdominal muscles.
  • Drive the energy through your heels and keep the bar close to your body, extend your hips and straighten your back as you lift the bar.
  • Stand up straight, shoulders back, and hips pushed forward, ensuring a straight line from your head to your hips.
  • Complete your first rep by reversing the movement and hinging at your hips and bending your knees. 
  • Lower the barbell back to the starting position.
  • Repeat the exercise for your desired number of reps and sets.

Tips for Perfect Form:

  • Maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.
  • Keep the bar close to your body to maximize engagement.
  • Control the descent of the bar to avoid any jerks.
  • Start with lighter weights to master the form before progressing to heavier loads to avoid injuries.
  • While a weightlifting belt can be utilized, it should not be solely relied upon as a training tool for individuals in good health. According to a 2014 study found that it’s not advisable for healthy people to wear a back belt to prevent lower-back injuries. Infact, using the belt might make the muscles in the abdomen weaker.

Rack Pulls Muscles Worked

Rack Pulls Muscles Worked

Much like a deadlift, nailing the perfect rack pull targets several muscles in your body all at once.

  1. Glutes: These are big muscles in your body responsible for moving your hip joints. During rack pulls, your glutes come into action, creating movement in your hip joints and stabilizing them throughout.
  2. Hamstrings: Found at the back of your thighs, these muscles play a vital role in the initial part of the rack pull. They help extend your hips and flex your knees as you lift the barbell from the rack.
  3. Lower Back (Erector Spinae): These muscles surround your spine. Your lower back works hard during the entire rack pull, assisting in lifting and lowering the barbell.
  4. Lats (Latissimus Dorsi): Situated on the sides of your upper back, these muscles protect your spine. Throughout the rack pull, they stay active, helping you keep your back muscles tight.
  5. Traps and Upper Back: Positioned in the upper back region, these muscles are engaged during a rack pull. They play a crucial role in maintaining proper shoulder alignment and a tall posture.
  6. Forearms: Essential players throughout the rack pull workout, your forearms are responsible for gripping and lifting the barbell off the rack. They’re a key component in the overall movement.

What Are The Benefits Of Performing A Rack Pull?

Now that you know how to perform the rack pull and the muscles it targets, do you know this one seemingly simple workout hosts a bunch of benefits as well? 

Here are a few of the major benefits that you can enjoy if you practice rack pulls exercise consistently:

  1. Increases Pulling and Grip Strength

Since the major muscle groups engaged in a rack pull are your back, arms, and legs, this workout effectively strengthens these muscle groups. When performed regularly, rack pulls help improve your lifting and pulling capabilities, contributing to increased convenience in daily tasks. 

Additionally, the benefits extend beyond mere physical exercise. According to a study, rack pulls enhance grip strength, recognized as a protective factor against certain illnesses. 

Moreover, research has shown that a robust grip improves your quality of life, particularly in aging individuals. 

Therefore, adding rack pulls to your workout routine can serve as a purposeful investment in strengthening hands and arms, promoting overall well-being and functionality.

  1. Reduced Risk of Injuries

When you’re involved in heavy lifting, there are always certain risks to it. Exercises like deadlifts can strain your lower back and spine, making them dangerous if you’ve got injuries or are recovering.

Luckily, with rack pulls, the barbells sit on a rack. This means you can lift the barbell more easily, keeping your body more upright and avoiding the risk of hurting yourself or making existing injuries worse, especially for your lower back and spine.

  1. Encourages Muscle Growth

Rack pulls are a compound exercise that engages multiple major muscle groups in your body, specifically the entire backside, including the glutes, hamstrings, lats, and upper back muscles like the traps. 

While there is limited research on this topic, regularly including rack pulls in your routine may contribute to noticeable growth in these muscle groups. So, if you aim to strengthen and develop your backside muscles, the rack pull is a beneficial addition to your workout routine.

Alternative Exercises For Rack Pulls

If you’re looking to modify rack pulls to match your fitness level, you’re in luck. I have the best rack pulls alternative that target nearly the same muscle groups. These alternatives not only help you gain strength for a perfect rack pull but also aid in progressing toward your deadlifting goals.

  1. Bent Over Rows

Bent Over Rows are an excellent compound exercise that focuses on developing the upper back muscles, including the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and traps. This movement is an effective alternative to rack pulls, engaging similar muscle groups and promoting overall back strength. 

Here is how to do it:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell in front of you with a slight bend in your knees.
  • Hinge at your hips, keeping your back straight and chest up.
  • Hold the barbell with an overhand grip, keeping your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Keeping elbows close to your body, lift the barbell towards your lower chest.
  • Lower the barbell back to the starting position in a controlled motion, allowing your back muscles to stretch.
  • Repeat the exercise for the desired number of reps and sets.
  1. One-Arm Rows

When it comes to one-arm rows, this exercise provides targeted isolation for your upper back, focusing on the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids. This exercise enhances unilateral strength and works as a great alternate to rack pulls. 

Here is how to do it:

  • Place your right side knee and hand on a bench, with the left foot on the ground.
  • Hold a dumbbell in your left hand, allowing it to hang straight down.
  • Start lifting the dumbbell towards your hip, ensuring a strong contraction in your back muscles.
  • Lower the dumbbell down in a controlled manner, feeling your lat muscles stretch.
  • Repeat the exercise for the desired number of reps and sets.
  1. T-Bar Rows

The third alternate of a rack pull is the T-Bar or landmine rows.  T-Bar Rows provide a unique range of motion, helping you build thick muscles in your middle back area, while targeting the latissimus dorsi and traps. 

Here is how to do it:

  • Place one end of a barbell into a landmine or secure it in a T-Bar Row machine.
  • Using an overhand grip hold the other end of the barbell with both hands.
  • Now, lift the barbell towards your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • After that, lower the barbell back to the starting position in a controlled motion, while maintaining tension in your back muscles.
  • Repeat the exercise for the desired number of reps and sets.
  1. Inclined Dumbbell Rows

Inclined Dumbbell Rows are an amazing exercise targeting the upper back muscles, including the traps and rear delts. 

Here is how to do it:

  • Start by lying face down on an incline bench and holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Hang your arms straight down towards the floor, feeling a full stretch in your arms.
  • Now, lift the dumbbells towards your hips, leading with your elbows and squeezing your upper back muscles.
  • Lower the dumbbells back down in a controlled motion, feeling the muscles elongating.
  • Repeat the exercise for the desired number of reps and sets.
  1. Reverse Grip Cable Rows

Reverse grip cable rows puts emphasis on the lower lats and biceps, providing a unique twist to traditional rowing exercises. This variation is an effective alternative for targeting the upper back. 

Here is how to do it:

  • Set up a cable machine with a straight bar and hold the bar with an underhand grip, 
  • Keeping the hands closer than shoulder-width apart, pull the bar towards your lower chest, focusing on the contraction in your lower lats.
  • Extend your arms back to the starting position in a controlled manner, maintaining tension in your back muscles.
  • Repeat the exercise for the desired number of reps and sets.

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Performing Rack Pulls

Rack pulls might seem easy, but there are mistakes that can slow your progress and even cause injuries. Here are some common errors to avoid if you want to see results and keep your back safe.

Pushing Hips Forward

One common mistake individuals often make without realizing it is thrusting their hips forward when attempting to lift the barbell.

While some may be tempted to do so at the top of the rack pull, challenging the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, this posture compromises form and increases the risk of back injury. Excessive hip thrusting can lead to lower back strain and disrupt the intended muscle engagement. 

Therefore, when practicing rack pulls, it is crucial to maintain a steady and controlled movement throughout the exercise. This helps avoid unnecessary hip thrusts, ensuring controlled lifts without compromising form.

Lifting Too Heavy Weights

The second mistake is lifting too heavy weights too soon. The limited range of motion in rack pulls can be tempting for many to load more weight than with traditional deadlifts, especially for those new to the exercise. Lifting beyond one’s capacity increases the risk of injury or strain, hindering the effectiveness of the workout. 

Therefore, it’s essential to prioritize perfecting technique before adding significant weight. Focus on a manageable weight for your fitness level, ensuring a safe and effective training session.

Positioning Your Knees

Another common issue involves positioning your knees incorrectly. Adopting a sumo stance with your feet facing outward can exert undue pressure on the knee joints and hips, affecting balance, weight distribution, and potentially leading to discomfort or injury. 

To address this concern, ensure your feet face forward during rack pulls, and refrain from angling your knees outward. This adjustment maintains a stance that supports proper form, reducing the risk of joint strain.

Dropping Down Weights

Another critical error to avoid is letting the bar almost drop from the top of the movement, as this can lead to serious consequences. Allowing the bar to bounce back creates unnecessary momentum for the next repetition, compromising control, form, and increasing the risk of injury. 

To avoid this, lower the weight until it gently touches the rack, maintaining control throughout the movement. You may also consider incorporating rest-pause sets, introducing a brief pause at the bottom before lifting the next repetition.

Hyperextending Back

Another issue to be mindful of is hyperextending at the top of the rack pull, involving leaning back too far and placing excess pressure on the lower back and erector spinae, which can lead to strain and discomfort. 

To akeep your posture in check, stop the movement at the top once you’re standing up straight, avoiding excessive backward lean, and focus on maintaining a neutral spine position for a safe and effective rack pull.

Rack Pulls Vs Deadlifts

While rack pulls are an easier version of deadlifts, there are still some differences between them, and individuals must choose the exercise based on their fitness goals and fitness level.

Firstly, when considering weightlifting capacity, rack pulls outweigh the deadlift exercise as they allow individuals to load more weight due to the shortened range of motion. On the other hand, deadlifts, with their full range of motion, present a more overall challenge.

Secondly, the range of motion sets the exercises apart. Rack pulls offer a more controlled lift from a higher starting point, making them perfect for those focusing on specific muscle engagement. In contrast, deadlifts, with their lifting from ground level, demand a broader range, engaging various muscle groups simultaneously.

Lastly, when evaluating functional strength, deadlifts emerge as a functional powerhouse, mimicking real-life lifting scenarios. In contrast, rack pulls, while emphasizing specific muscle groups, may not replicate the same functional strength gains.

Ultimately, the choice between rack pulls and deadlifts depends on individual fitness goals, whether emphasizing targeted muscle engagement or comprehensive strength development.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What muscles do rack pulls work?

Rack pulls mainly work on muscles in your back, arms, and legs. They target the lower back, hamstrings, glutes, lats, traps, and forearms.

  1. Is rack pull as good as deadlift?

Rack pulls are good for specific goals, focusing on targeted muscle engagement. Deadlifts, with their full range of motion, provide a more comprehensive strength challenge.

  1. Do powerlifters do rack pulls?

Yes, some powerlifters incorporate rack pulls into their training to strengthen specific muscle groups and improve overall lifting performance.

  1. How heavy should rack pulls be?

The weight for rack pulls depends on your fitness level. Start with a manageable weight and gradually increase, prioritizing perfecting your technique before adding significant weight.

  1. Is rack pull safer?

Rack pulls can be safer for certain individuals as they involve a shorter range of motion. However, like any exercise, it’s essential to maintain proper form to reduce the risk of injury.


Learning about rack pulls is like discovering a powerful tool for getting stronger. This guide covers how to do rack pulls correctly, what muscles they work, and common mistakes to avoid.

It also explains the benefits and suggests alternatives. Whether you want to boost your strength, avoid injuries, or grow muscles, rack pulls can be a great addition to your routine.

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