To do the face pull exercise, you can use a cable machine or a resistance band. A cable machine is the preferred method for doing this move, since you can add more resistance as you get stronger.
Resistance bands do come in a variety of tensions, but advanced exercisers may not feel challenged enough even with the strongest bands.
The rear deltoids are the primary muscles targeted in the face pull exercise. Additionally, the rhomboids, which allow you to pinch the shoulder blades together, and the middle trapezius (upper back) also play a role in executing this move.
Training these areas is key to reducing shoulder injuries, maintaining good posture, and preventing muscle imbalances that often happen from too much chest work.
Plus, the shoulders and upper back muscles help with several physical activities and daily tasks that require pulling or reaching. Because you perform this move standing, you will also recruit the muscles in your core, which help with stability and balance, according to Harvard Health.
In the gym, you’ll see a lot of people performing face pulls on a cable machine with a rope attachment. Occasionally, some people will use a straight bar attachment, but this changes the range of motion. So, whenever possible, use a rope.
Here are the steps for performing the face pull.
- Secure a rope attachment with dual handles to a rotating, high pulley. It should be about head-height or slightly above.
- Select the appropriate resistance in the weight stack. Remember, this isn’t a power exercise. Go lighter and focus on form and function.
- Stand facing the pulley with your feet about hip-width distance apart.
- Reach up and grasp the rope handles with both hands in a neutral position, palms facing in.
- Take a few steps back until your arms are fully extended, knees slightly bent. Lift the chest up, roll your shoulders back, and engage your core muscles.
- Pull the handles back toward your forehead until your hands are in front of the shoulders. You’ll feel your shoulder blades retract or pinch together. Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Slowly straighten the arms, return to the starting position, and repeat. Don’t let the weight rest on the stack until you’re finished with the set.
If the gym is busy or you’re exercising at home, you can still incorporate face pulls into your workout by using a resistance band. You’ll want one that’s open, not looped, so you can anchor it to something sturdy, like a post or a tree if you’re at home.
Most gyms have a designated area for resistance bands that allow you to hang the band to a high attachment point.
- Hang or anchor the band to a fixed attachment point.
- Grab each side of the band with your hands. Palms will be facing in.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and slowly pull the band toward your shoulders.
- Pause for a few seconds and return to the starting position. The focus is on form and squeezing the shoulder blades together.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades together. This is the best cue to use when doing face pulls. As you’re pulling the rope toward your body, squeeze the shoulder blades together. You can even imagine that you have a golf ball in between your shoulder blades and you need to pinch them together to keep it in place.
- Use a lighter weight. The rear deltoids, which are the primary muscles targeted with face pulls, are a small muscle group. If you’re using a resistance that’s too heavy, there’s a good chance you’ll use larger and stronger muscles to perform the move, which defeats the purpose of the exercise. The goal is to feel the rear part of your shoulders doing the bulk of the work.
- Focus on form. The success of this exercise stems from your ability to maintain good posture. This means you’re standing up tall, elbows pointing out, palms facing in, and shoulders down and back. If the weight is too heavy, there’s a tendency to fall forward and out of this stance, which increases the strain on your lower back and takes the tension off the area you’re trying to target.
- Change your stance. If you feel your lower back doing most of the work or you’re experiencing pain and discomfort in that area, take a staggered stance. You can also kneel down and perform this exercise.
Although the face pull is an excellent choice for training the rear deltoids, it’s a good idea to occasionally swap it out for similar moves. Performing the same exercise each time you train can increase your risk of injury, decrease your gains, and get a bit boring.
Here are some exercises that target the same muscle groups:
If you’re doing a push-pull workout, super-setting face pulls with pushups is an excellent way to balance out the muscles worked in these two exercises.
The face pull is one of several upper body exercises you can include in your overall workout routine. It not only improves your general shoulder health and movement patterns, but it also increases shoulder strength and scapular stability.
You can add this move to an upper body workout or shoulder- or back-specific workout. If you feel any pain or discomfort while performing face pulls, decrease the resistance, check your form, and see a physical therapist or certified personal trainer for assistance.