You’ve probably heard the term but you may not have actually seen a rack pull being performed.
It’s an uncommon exercise to see in your average commercial gym these days – often mistaken for some kind of poor mans deadlift.
“A partial range of motion deadlift… SJ, I thought you always told us to work the entire range of motion?!”
There’s an exception to every rule, and when it comes to powerlifting based training there’s a couple of partial range of motion exercises that CAN be extremely beneficial when performed correctly.
The floor press is one of these, fantastic for breaking through plateaus on your bench press.
The rack pull is the other.
Just in case the name hasn’t given it away yet the rack pull is a deadlift performed from the safety rails of your power rack.
Instead of pulling the barbell from the floor and locking out at the top of the movement you’re going to be pulling from the safety rails (set at a specified height based on your goals) before locking out at the top of the movement and lowering the barbell back down to the safety rails on your rack.
What’re The Rack Pull Benefits You Can Expect?
1 – You’ll Improve Your Deadlift
As mentioned, the rack pull allows us to focus on the top half of the deadlift, if your deadlift is lacking and you’re able to get the bar off the ground but fail to lock it out at the top then the rack pull was made for you!
The shorter range of motion utilized on the rack pull will allow you to lift significantly more weight than if you were performing a deadlift.
The strength you build performing rack pulls will transfer across to the top half of your deadlift (unlike machine pressing exercises transferring across to bench press etc.)
The key here is to ensure you’re setting the safety rails on your power rack at the level of your sticking point, this may quite low or it may be slightly higher (around the knee). If you’re using the rack pull for this benefit ensure you’re setting it up at your specific sticking point!
2 – You’ll Gain Back Thickness
When we talk about building a thick back two exercises come to mind. The weighted pull-up and the deadlift. Many argue that the deadlift is the only exercise you’ll need to build an incredibly thick back.
The rack pull works just as well.
The sheer amount of weight we’re able to lift on a rack pull (provided you’re using correct form) is enough to spark growth for your back, hamstrings and glutes.
You’ll find that guys that perform heavy deadlifts and rack pulls have far, far thicker backs than the guys that spend their days with the cable row machine, one arm dumbbell row and lat pulldown – the sheer amount of weight and tension on the back and posterior chain when deadlifting and rack pulling cannot be emulated any other way.
Want a thick back? Hit your rack pulls heavy and often.
3 – You’ll Refine Your Lockouts
Regardless of whether you’re setting up your rack pull from a few inches off the ground or from just below the knee you’re still going to be hitting a lockout at the top of your movement.
The bottom portion of the deadlift isn’t the only area guys run into trouble, with many PBs (including my own!) falling short due to the inability to lock out the weight at the top of the repetition.
As such there’s always great benefit in refining and building strength in your lockouts.
4 – You’ll Build Grip Strength
Some gym-goers and coaches swear by using wrist straps when performing deadlifts and rows.
I do not.
Utilizing gloves or wraps might allow you to pull a slightly higher number on your deadlift but you’re failing to address the root of the problem.
You don’t get better at something by not doing it – building grip strength is no different.
By performing heavy rack pulls you’ll be gripping far more weight than if you were performing a conventional deadlift.
Skip the straps and gloves on your next set of rack pulls, build grip strength doing so then take that over to your deadlifts – you’ll soon find your grip to no longer be the weak link.
5 – You’ll Satisfy Your Ego!
Let’s be honest we all love lifting heavy.
Instead of stacking the weight on the barbell and performing jerking bent over rows or poor form military presses opt to satisfy your ego by lifting heavy on your rack pulls!
How To Perform Rack Pulls Correctly
Begin with your Olympic barbell on the safety rails of your power rack.
Set your safety rails to the desired height of your rack pull (i.e. the sticking point on your deadlift).
Common rack pull levels include: below the knee, above the knee and mid quad.
Begin as if you were about to perform a regular deadlift – with your feet under your hips, a shoulder width overhand grip, a slight arch in your back while driving your hips back as you get ready to engage your hamstrings.
Continue to look forward as you explode through the hips, knees and heels as you pull the barbell up again you’re able to lock out the weight by pulling your shoulders back.
Lower the barbell back down to the safety rails before proceeding for the desired number of repetitions.
Common Mistakes With Rack Pulls
In theory, the rack pull is a simple exercise but there’s still a few common mistakes that need addressing… make sure you’re not falling victim to these.
1 – Lifting Too Heavy
As always, form comes first. Regardless of whether you’re pulling the barbell from below your knee level or above your knee make sure your back remains straight and you’re engaging your hips to drive through your heels.
Rounding your back? Lower the weight.
2 – Starting From The Wrong Position
If your sticking point on your deadlift is above the knee you should focus on just that, pulling from above the knee.
If your sticking point on your deadlift is the lockout then begin with your rack pulls half way up your quad.
The guys that dismiss rack pulls and say they don’t work are the guys that aren’t tailoring the setup of their rack pull to the sticking points(s) they’re finding.
Replacing Deadlifts Entirely
The rack pull is a tool, not a replacement for your deadlifts entirely.
I recommend swapping out your deadlifts for rack pulls occasionally, or adding an extra pulling workout into your regime, specifically targeting the rack pull.