In the field of strength training, modified variations of commonly performed exercises are often used to complement other areas of training.
The rack pull, for example, is a deadlift variation in which a loaded barbell is set up on the supports of a power rack, usually just above or below the knees, and lifted by gripping the bar and extending the hips to full lockout.
This high intensity deadlift alternative efficiently builds pulling strength, which transfers well to a wide range of athletics, or even simply to improving your deadlift max.
This article details the rack pull, including how to perform it, its benefits, muscles worked, and a few precautions to be aware of.
The rack pull is fairly simple to set up and perform, although it does require a few essential pieces of equipment.
Well-seasoned deadlifters will find this exercise familiar, as it mimics the movement pattern of the traditional deadlift.
That said, rack pulls can be a great exercise for beginners just learning how to deadlift.
Executing the movement with good form and gradually increasing the weight is key to avoiding any potential injuries.
Start out light to dial in on your technique, and slowly increase the weight as your skill level and strength improve.
Avoid jerking or slamming the barbell to decrease your chance of injury and prevent damage to the equipment.
How to perform
Equipment required: power rack, Olympic barbell, weight plates, weightlifting belt (optional), straps (optional)
- Start by setting the rack supports to the proper height, which is most commonly just below or above the knees.
- Place the barbell on the rack supports and load the desired amount of weight on each side.
- Step up to the barbell, and with a shoulder-width stance, get into position by bending the knees and hips slightly.
- Grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width, with a double overhand or alternating grip.
- Before initiating the lift, pull the slack out of your positioning by tightening your lats and loading your hamstrings by pushing against the floor slightly.
- In a controlled movement, lift the barbell up until your hips are fully extended, making sure not to overextend your back at the top.
- Keeping slight tension on the bar, return it to the starting position, being sure not to fully drop it on the supports to avoid damaging the rack and barbell.
- Repeat the movement for the desired amount of sets and reps.
Many people chose to use weightlifting straps for this movement, as grip strength may become a limiting factor when the load gets heavier.
In addition, a weightlifting belt can be used, but it should not be relied upon as a training tool for healthy individuals.
A 2014 study concluded it’s not recommended that healthy workers wear a back belt to protect them from lower-back injuries, and that the use of a belt may reduce transverse abdominal strength (
Block pull variation
In some situations, there may not be a rack available to perform rack pulls.
Block pulls make an excellent alternative and are much less likely to damage your barbell or rack, considering that only the weight plates contact the blocks.
This versatile movement can be performed with blocks that are designed specifically to pull the weight off of bumper plates that have been stacked on their side to the desired height.
How to perform
Equipment required: Olympic barbell, weight plates, blocks or bumper plates, weightlifting belt (optional), straps (optional)
The block pull is performed in the same fashion as the rack pull, though instead of pulling off of the rack supports, blocks or bumper plates are used to elevate the barbell.
Follow the steps above to complete the block pull, swapping out blocks or bumper plates for the rack.
The rack pull is performed by placing a loaded barbell on the supports of a power rack, usually just above or below the knees, and lifting it by gripping the bar and extending the hips to full lockout. Blocks or bumper plates can be used if a power rack isn’t available.
Traditionally, the deadlift is performed by strategically lifting a loaded barbell from the floor, with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, until the hips and knees are fully extended.
When performing a rack or block pull, the barbell’s start position is elevated, making the movement slightly easier and allowing more weight to be lifted.
This variation is excellent for overcoming weak points in the traditional deadlift, most commonly from just above the knee to lockout.
Overloading this portion of the movement transfers well to other deadlift variations, including traditional, sumo, and trap bar.
For those who are serious about increasing their deadlift strength, the rack pull may be a worthwhile supplementary exercise to boost the weight on the bar.
While the traditional deadlift is performed from the floor and requires more range of motion, the rack pull utilizes a power rack to elevate the starting position. This makes it slightly easier and allows lifters to overload the lockout portion of the deadlift.
Regularly performing the rack pull comes with several potential benefits. Here are the most notable ones.
Can increase pulling and grip strength
Performing rack pulls on a regular basis can lead to sizable improvements in pulling strength.
This increase in pulling strength transfers particularly well to other pulling movements like the traditional deadlift.
Plus, pulling movements such as the rack pull help improve your grip strength, which has been correlated with a decreased risk of various diseases and improved quality of life among older adults (
Reduces your injury risk
As with any heavy compound exercise, there is always a certain amount of risk involved.
The deadlift is no exception, though for those who are particularly concerned about getting injured, or people recovering from an injury, the rack pull may help reduce the risk of injury, compared with a traditional deadlift.
This is because the starting position of the rack pull is a bit higher than that of a traditional deadlift, allowing you to perform the lift with a more upright posture and reducing lateral stress, also known as shearing force, on the spine.
In turn, this may reduce the risk of sustaining an injury or aggravating a previous injury.
Promotes muscle development
The rack pull is a compound exercise that targets several major muscle groups.
When regularly performed, the rack pull may help promote significant growth of these muscle groups, though specific data in this area remains limited.
If you’re looking to pack on some muscle, especially in your posterior chain, the rack pull may be an excellent exercise to add to your training regimen.
Regularly performing the rack pull comes with several potential benefits, including increasing pulling strength, reducing injury risk, and promoting muscle development.
The rack pull is a compound exercise that stimulates several muscle groups simultaneously.
Here are the major muscle groups targeted by the rack/block pull (9):
- Glutes. The gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, or glutes, are mainly responsible for the extension of the hip joint. They’re crucial for deadlifting the barbell off of the rack and stabilizing the hip joint throughout the movement.
- Hamstrings. The hamstrings are responsible for knee flexion and hip extension. They play a major role in the first half of the movement, working with the glutes to lift the barbell off of the rack.
- Erector spinae (lower back). The erectors — or paraspinal muscles — are the muscles that surround the spine. They help extend the spine throughout the movement, though they’re most active during the bottom half of the movement.
- Lats. The latissimus dorsi, or lats, are the largest of the back muscles. They help maintain back tightness throughout the exercise, protecting your spine.
- Traps and upper back. The upper-back muscles, including the trapezius muscle, or traps, are responsible for keeping your shoulders aligned and maintaining a tall posture throughout the movement.
- Forearm and hand muscles. While these consist of several small muscles, they play a significant role in gripping the barbell throughout the movement.
- Quadriceps. The quads are responsible for knee extension. While not the primary movers in the rack pull, they contribute to straightening the legs during the lockout portion of the lift.
The rack pull is a full-body exercise that stimulates several muscle groups simultaneously, including the glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae, lats, traps, quadriceps, and forearm and hand muscles.
While the rack pull comes with several potential benefits, there are a couple precautions you should consider when performing the movement.
Technique is important
One of the most important aspects of performing the rack pull is using proper technique.
The following are some important cues and tips to keep in mind while performing the movement:
- Maintain good posture with a neutral spine throughout the exercise, and avoid hyperextending your back at the lockout phase.
- Avoid jerking the weight off of the rack.
- Grip the barbell deep in the palm of your hand as opposed to in your fingers.
- Be cautious not to strike your knees when setting the bar back on the rack.
- Gradually increase the weight on the bar over time instead of making big jumps.
Following these cues and tips will help reduce your risk of getting injured while performing the movement.
Avoid damaging your barbells and rack
When not performed correctly, the rack pull can cause significant damage to barbells and racks.
The best way to prevent damage to the barbells and racks is to avoid fully dropping the weight on the supports.
From the top of the movement, set the barbell down in a controlled motion.
It’s also helpful to have a designated barbell for rack pulls and other movements that may potentially cause damage.
When performing the rack pull, there are a couple precautions that you should take into consideration. These include executing the movement with proper technique to minimize injury and equipment damage.
Considering its adaptable level of difficulty, the rack pull is suitable for almost all trainees — from those just getting started to those who are more advanced.
When just starting out in the weight room, the deadlift can be an intimidating movement, as it requires a good amount of coordination and technique to perform safely and properly.
The rack or block pull can be a great introduction to the deadlifting movement pattern while using a limited range of motion. Lifting the bar from just above the knees requires less strength and skill than lifting it from the floor.
Once you become proficient at the high rack pull (above the knees), you can advance to a lower rack pull (just below the knees) to make the movement slightly more difficult.
From there you can progress to a traditional deadlift from the floor.
For those who have mastered the deadlift and are looking for alternate ways to increase their pulling strength, the rack pull can be an excellent tool.
Advanced trainees often utilize rack or block pulls to work on improving strength during the second half of the deadlift and at lockout.
Due to the reduced range of motion required, this portion of the movement can be overloaded such that when you return to performing a regular deadlift, your strength is enhanced.
Those with certain injuries
During recovery from a musculoskeletal injury, compound movements such as the deadlift are safest when gradually reintroduced to avoid further injury. More specifically, those with back injuries must exercise extreme caution.
For some, the rack pull may be a suitable option for reintroducing pulling movements following an injury due to its adjustable range of motion.
For example, if you still have pain when deadlifting from the floor, the rack pull can be used to elevate the starting position and reduce stress on the lower back.
It’s important to consult a doctor or qualified physical therapist before reintroducing exercise following an injury.
The rack pull is suitable for trainees of varying levels of experience, including beginners, advanced, and those recovering from injuries.
The rack pull can be added to your workout routine as a stand-alone exercise or a deadlift accessory.
For example, those just starting out or recovering from an injury may choose to utilize the rack pull as their major pulling exercise for a given period of time.
Meanwhile, more advanced trainees may choose to perform a traditional deadlift on one day of their weekly lifting schedule and a rack pull on another day to further increase pulling strength.
Here are the most common set and rep ranges:
- Beginner: 2–3 sets of 4–6 reps
- Intermediate: 3–5 sets of 4–8 reps
- Advanced: 4–6 sets of 6–12 reps
Rep ranges may vary depending on whether your goal is to maximize strength (lower rep range) or promote muscle gains (higher reps range) (
The rack pull can be added to your training program as a deadlift accessory exercise or primary pulling movement. Set and rep ranges usually vary based on your level of experience.
The rack pull is a deadlift variation in which a loaded barbell is set up on the supports of a power rack, usually just above or below the knees, and lifted by gripping the bar and extending the hips to full lockout.
This exercise transfers particularly well to pulling strength, which can benefit athletes and recreational gym-goers alike.
The most notable benefits associated with the rack pull are increasing pulling strength, reduced injury risk, and posterior chain muscle growth.
Some precautions to take when performing the rack pull include ensuring proper technique, as well as avoiding slamming the bar down on the rack.
This exercise is well suited for trainees of all skill levels, including beginners, advanced weightlifters, and even those recovering from injuries.
If your deadlift has remained stagnant, you’re looking to get started deadlifting, or you’re just getting back to lifting after an injury, the rack pull can be an excellent tool to boost your strength.