Rack Pulls Guide

Proper Form, Benefits, Muscles Worked, and Variations

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: October 10, 2021

If you want to be built like a brick sh!thouse, then you need to stack on some serious mass. And rack pulls are arguably the best exercise for adding thickness to your back.

Within a few weeks, you could be lifting more weight on rack pulls than any other exercise in the gym. And that heavy load is one of the factors that help you beef up your backside.

In this article, I’ll show you how to do rack pulls with proper form. Including variations that you can do without the need for a rack or barbell.

Rack Pulls

What Are Rack Pulls?

Rack pulls are a posterior chain exercise very similar to conventional deadlifts. Except with rack pulls you start with the bar slightly elevated off the floor.

Typically the barbell rests on the safety stops of a power rack or squat rack. Hence, the name rack pulls. But you can also use a Smith machine or blocks as I’ll explain later.

The higher starting position of the bar results in a shorter range of motion where you work the top half of the movement. Essentially it’s a partial deadlift. And this changes the muscles used during the exercise.

Rack Pulls Muscles Worked

Rack pulls primarily target the muscle groups of the lower back (erector spinae), the latissimus dorsi (lats), and the trapezius (traps). While the glutes and hamstrings are used, but not as much as full deadlifts.

Rack Pulls Muscles Worked

Rack Pulls Benefits & Limitations

One advantage is that you can work rack pulls into your routine even when your hamstrings or glutes are still sore from leg day. Or if you have other aches and pains in your lower body.

Plus you can lift heavier weight. And all that load is applied to the major muscle groups of the back which results in the greatest gains in size and strength.

More specifically, rack pulls help you increase your strength on the lockout portion of the deadlift. So it can be used as part of a powerlifting training plan.

However, the downside to rack pulls is that the shorter range of motion is not as effective for building total-body strength. Particularly in the lower body.


  • Able to lift really heavy weights
  • Isolate the upper posterior chain (back)
  • Good for increasing your strength on deadlifts


  • Not as good for lower posterior chain development

How To Do Rack Pulls

Next, let’s get into how to do rack pulls for your back. Part of making this an effective exercise is getting the bar and rack set up properly.

First, adjust the height of the rack so that the bar rests just below knee level. If the bar is lower than this, you’ll use too much hamstring. And if it’s higher, the range of motion is just too small to be effective.

Next, grab the bar with an overhand grip and your hands about shoulder-width apart. Doing rack pulls is great for building grip strength. But you don’t want your grip to fail before your back.

For heavier weights, you may want to use lifting straps to make sure your grip doesn’t give out. Check out my guide on how to use lifting straps for deadlifts or rack pulls.

With your grip secure, stand so the front of your shins touch the bar and bend your knees slightly. Lift your shoulders until your arms are straight and your back is flat at about a 45-degree angle.

From this starting position, lift the bar by pulling your shoulders up and back and driving your hips forward. At the top, squeeze your glutes and stand tall.

Lower the bar all the way back down to the rack and pause before beginning the next rep. Repeat until you reach the desired number of reps.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:

  1. Put the bar on a rack at just below knee level
  2. Grab the bar with hands about shoulder-width apart
  3. Bend your knees slightly so your back is at about a 45-degree angle
  4. Lift the bar by hinging at the hips
  5. Pull your shoulders back and squeeze your glutes at the top
  6. Lower the bar all the way back down to the rack
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps

Barbell Rack Pulls Video

Rack Pull Form

With rack pulls, good form is important. Because as the weight goes up, the chances of getting injured go up as well.

The best way to prevent injury is to perform this exercise with a flat back. That means your back is not curved or arched excessively.

At the start of the exercise, your back should be flat at about a 45-degree angle to the floor. And your knees are slightly bent.

Rack Pull Form Start

As you pull the weight off the rack, your back should remain straight. Your shoulders should pull back as your hips drive forward.

Essentially, you could think of your hips as one big hinge during this exercise. And your back is simply a straight lever that pivots around the hip joint.

Rack Pull Form Finish

In addition to proper body position, it’s also important to control the weight. That means you should not drop the weight too quickly onto the rack and it should not bounce between reps.

Rack Pull Variations & Alternatives

You can still do rack pulls even if you don’t have a power rack like the one in the pictures and video. Below are some alternative ways to do rack pulls.

Smith Machine Rack Pulls

A Smith machine is simply a barbell on vertical guide rails. It has the feel of free weights, but you don’t have to worry about balancing the bar.

To do rack pulls on a Smith machine, start by adjusting the safety stops so the bar sits just below knee level. The movement is identical, except the bar travels in a perfectly straight line.

This controlled movement path may feel different at first. But Smith machine rack pulls isolate the large muscles of the back because you don’t need as much help from the stabilizers.

Block Pulls

Block pulls are similar to rack pulls except the bar is raised off the floor with blocks under the weight plates instead of a rack under the bar. While the support is different, the exercise is identical.

The main thing is that you adjust the block height so the bar ends up just below your knees at the starting position.

Rack Pulls Block Pull

Dumbbell Rack Pull

If you’re working out at home, then you might not have an Olympic barbell. In that case, you can still do a variation of rack pulls using dumbbells.

A dumbbell rack pull is actually like a block pull where the block supports the end of the dumbbell instead of the weight plates. For this exercise, you can use a bench or box as long as it’s at the right height.


Lastly, you could actually do a regular deadlift as an alternative to rack pulls on your back day. Just keep in mind that deadlifts are a total body exercise that can be harder to work into your routine without overtraining.

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Rack Pulls vs Deadlift

As you’ve learned so far, rack pulls have some nice advantages over deadlifts. For example, I used rack pulls in my workout routine when I had a strained glute that prevented me from doing regular deadlifts.

However, you shouldn’t avoid deadlifting from the floor altogether! Because traditional deadlifts still have several advantages over rack pulls.

Click below for more information on Rack Pulls vs Deadlifts. So you can figure out which one is best in your situation. And see how to design your workout split to include these exercises and maximize your progress.

With this information, you’re well on your way to reaching your fitness goals. And if you found this article informative, make sure you check out some of my other helpful content below!

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By |October 10, 2021|Workouts|0 Comments
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