Louis Degnan, EP
The face pull is a great accessory exercise that can benefit a variety of fitness goals. This exercise is rarely seen performed in a gym, taking a back seat to other shoulder and back exercises such as the military press and pull up. In this blog, we’ll discuss the benefits of face pulls and how to perform them, and some rare tips and tricks on how to make the exercise more efficient.
The face pull involves elbow flexion, scapular retraction, and external shoulder rotation. Although face pulls are primarily a rear delt exercise, they also target the trapezius, rhomboids, and to a lesser extent, the biceps. Of course, building the rear delts helps the aesthetic appearance of the shoulder. However, it also helps the mid and upper back become tighter and stronger against opposing forces that internally rotate our shoulders during our everyday routines (i.e., sitting for prolonged periods of time, hunching over the desk, scrolling through social media).
How NOT to Perform Face Pulls
The reason that face pulls are rarely seen on the gym floor may be because of the complexity of the exercise, and the amount of poor information about them online. I’ve seen countless people at the gym and gym “influencers” pull the cable toward their chest, sternum, and above their head; basically anywhere BUT their face!
One could argue that pulling the cable above the head increases lateral deltoid activation, or that pulling toward the chest allows more assistance from the rhomboids and mid traps. However, there are more efficient exercises that target those specific muscles. Using the face pull for those muscles defeats the purpose of doing the face pull.
The Correct Form
Adjust a cable attachment anchor at eye level or slightly above eye level. Attach the triceps rope to the cable and grasp the handles with your thumbs pointing upward. This allows for proper external rotation of the shoulder towards the end range of the movement. Stand square with the cable machine and take a step or two away from the cable machine while holding the rope attachment to allow for tension. Begin the exercise with a slight elbow bend as this keeps muscular tension throughout the exercise.
Flex at your elbows and retract your shoulder blades as you pull the handles. Your goal should be for the middle of the attachment to come close to or barely touch the bridge of your nose. This provides an optimal angle for external shoulder rotation on the pulling phase as well as minimal internal rotation on the eccentric phase.
If your gym has the luxury of two tricep rope attachments, attach both to the cable machine and pull one end through so that the majority of the rope on each attachment is closest to you. This allows for even more scapular retraction and external rotation through the exercise, placing even more emphasis on the rear delts, rhomboids, and mid traps