Cable Face Pulls – How to Perform, Benefits & Muscles Worked

cable face pulls

Face pulls are an upper body exercise that require core strength whilst isolating specific muscles in your shoulders and upper back.

It’s a great exercise for combatting bad posture and depending on the weight/reps you do, face pulls can help to build explosive power and strength, or be used to tone and sculpt your upper back.

Whatever your fitness goals, it’s likely face pulls can help.

What are Face Pulls?

Face pulls is a term used to describe the movement of pulling a gym cable rope towards your face, which engages the backs of your shoulders, traps and back. It also requires good stability so uses core stabilizing muscles to keep you balanced during the movement.

The exercise usually involves using a gym rope that attaches to the cable machine. The rope allows you to grip with both hands and pull the cable weight towards you. The adjustable height on cable machines means they allow you to do all sorts of exercises, from tricep pushdowns, to face pulls.

The adjustable height and ability to hold the rope in different grips also means there are actually many different ways of doing face pulls and lots of variations you can try.

Similarly, face pulls could be done using resistance bands, or other personal training equipment.

How to Perform Face Pulls

To perform the standard face pull, follow the steps below. Heavy duty resistance bands can be used (see variations) but the preferred option is a cable pulley machine.

To perform this exercise, stability and posture is key. Our step-by-step guide on how to perform face pulls helps to ensure the correct form for face pulls, allowing you to slowly but surely strengthen the powerhouse muscle groups in your shoulders, upper body and core.

  • Step 1. Secure rope attachment to cable pully with dual handles
  • Step 2. Set the anchor high, slightly above head height so that you will be pulling from high to low.
  • Step 3. Set the appropriate weight resistance for the cable pulley. Always start lower than you might think as the emphasis will be on slow, controlled movements.
  • Step 4. Stand square to the machine, feet hip-width apart.
  • Step 5. Using an overhand grip, reach and hold the rope handles with your palms facing in.
  • Step 6. Step back from the machine until your arms are almost fully extended. By not fully extending your arms you avoid engaging biceps too much.
  • Step 7. Engage your core for stability, roll your shoulders back, lift your chest and lean slightly back.
  • Step 8. Pull the rope towards your forehead until your hands are either side of your face, just in front of your shoulders with your elbows pointing outwards. You should feel the movement in your rear deltoids as you squeeze your shoulder blades together and you shouldn’t require momentum to pull the cable towards your face.
  • Step 9. Return to starting position in a controlled, slow movement. Do not allow your body, shoulders or chest to be pulled forward – you may need to lighten the weight if this is happening.
  • Step 10. Repeat movement, maintaining a good posture without allowing the weight to rest on the pulley to rest until you have completed a set.

Face Pull Variations

It’s easy to mix up and add variation to face pulls. Some ideas to get started with include:

Resistance Bands

Use heavy-duty resistance bands over a high attachment point such as a tree and follow the same steps. Remember bands will provide less resistance than a cable pulley so this is a good choice for those new to training their rear delts but may not provide enough challenge once you’ve built your strength.

Due to the resistance in these bands growing the further they are pulled, you may find you need to stand slightly closer to the attachment point so that you can pull them into position either side of your forehead.

Kneel

It’s possible to still work the same shoulder muscles with this exercise whilst kneeling, which may help you maintain your balance and posture.

Stance

Whilst a square stance is usually recommended, a staggered stance can be used to help reduce the chance of relying on your lower back too much to maintain your posture.

Choice of Weight

Always start with small weights even if you are used to exercising with more. The face pull targets muscles that many other weight exercises do not, so you need to slowly build the strength to avoid injury and allow you to perform the exercise with the correct form. If you’re having any difficulties, decrease the weight and of course, if you feel any pain, stop.

Increase the weights

To up the challenge, of course you can begin to increase the weight resistance as you feel your muscles strengthen. This makes face pulls a great choice for a muscle building exercise.

Change starting position

To further target your shoulder muscles, you could use a seated position rather than standing to prevent you from using your hips and lower body so that the increased load is predominantly on your shoulder muscles.

Muscles Worked During Face Pulls

Face pulls engage and build strength in your posterior (also known as ‘rear’) deltoids, a muscle group often neglected when focusing on pushing and pressing exercises. These shoulder muscles are key to allowing almost any overhead actions. Your upper trapezoids will also be activated giving you strength in your upper back, whilst your rhomboids work hard to allow you the movement required to pinch your shoulder blades together.

Benefits of Face Pulls

1. Strengthen Shoulders and Upper Back

As mentioned, the rear deltoids are the key muscles required for almost any over-head movement and actions. Strength here allows a greater ease for many daily activities particularly those involving lifting, pulling or reaching.

2. Prevent Shoulder Imbalance and Poor Posture

Face pulls target the rear deltoids many other shoulder exercises fail to engage. Without strengthening both the front and rear deltoids, you may find the muscles groups in your shoulders are imbalanced, which in turn can lead poor posture and a hunched forward stance.

3. Strengthen Core

As face pulls are performed whilst standing, your core muscles are engaged as well as your upper back and shoulders. Strength in your core is frequently linked by research to greater stability and balance.

Final Thoughts

If you experience back or shoulder problems, face pulls are not recommended without first consulting doctor or physical therapist first. Always start small with any new exercise and gradually build the duration and amount of weight resistance.

As this is an isolation exercise, targeting specific muscle groups, make sure you vary your routine with exercises for other muscle groups as well as cardiovascular activities for a greater overall level of fitness and health.

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