Lower back exercises are constantly neglected, so you end up with a weak back because you don’t do any. How do you fix it? Rack pulls are the answer.
What The Hell Are Rack Pulls?
You’ve probably seen guys do rack pulls at the gym but you may have thought they were doing barbells rows funny. I don’t find it’s a very popular exercise in of itself, but it’s definitely effective.
In short, rack pulls are a modified deadlift with a limited range of motion.
Rack pulls are performed in a rack (duh). The bar is set on the safety guides at about knee height, depending on how deep you want the range of motion.
Rack pulls are effective at really working your lower back since you’re not limited by leg strength like deadlifts. This way you can target your lower optimally, without relying on your quads or hamstrings.
How Are Rack Pulls Different Than Deadlifts?
When you deadlift, whatever grip it may be, the bar is set on the ground. In some instances, you can step on a platform or plate to increase the range of motion of the deadlift.
As you straighten up with a deadlift you metaphorically push your feet through the floor, using the strength of your legs and back to raise the weight.
Now for rack pulls, the barbell is resting on the safety guides of the rack. For most, the safety is set to around knee height. If it’s too low, you’re just doing a deadlift and if it’s too high, the range of motion will be too short.
Just like a deadlift, you want to hinge your hips as you complete the exercise. Since your legs will be left out of the equation, your lower back will be constantly worked during the exercise.
Since the range of motion is shortened, you can overload the weight on rack pulls. Having said that, if you have a sensitive or weak lower back, this will be the last thing you want to do. Warm up with a lighter exercise such as hyperextensions, with or without additional weight, before you jump into rack pulls. This will reduce the chance of injury by literally warming up the muscle.
How Do I Do Rack Pulls?
As per John Meadows, this is how he recommends doing rack pulls:
Walk to the bar. Stand with your mid-foot under the bar. Your shins shouldn’t touch it yet. Put your heels hip-width apart, narrower than on Squats. Point your toes out 15°.
Grab the bar. Bend over without bending your legs. Grip the bar narrow, about shoulder-width apart like on the Overhead Press. Your arms must be vertical when looking from the front. Bend your knees.
Drop into position by bending your knees until your shins touch the bar. Do NOT let the bar move away from your mid-foot. If it moves, start from scratch with step one.
Lift your chest. Straighten your back by raising you chest. Do not change your position – keep the bar over your mid-foot, your shins against the bar, and your hips where they are.
Take a big breath, hold it and stand up with the weight. Keep the bar in contact with your legs while you pull.
Don’t shrug or lean back at the top. Lock your hips and knees.
Return the weight to the floor by unlocking your hips and knees first. Then lower the bar by moving your hips back while keeping your legs almost straight. Once the bar is past your knees, bend your legs more.
The bar will land over your mid-foot, ready for your next rep.
What Muscles Do Rack Pulls Work?
Just like a deadlift, rack pulls will work your glutes, hamstrings, quads and back. Due to a shortened range of motion, it will work your lower back extensively. Rack pulls are an awesome finisher exercise to any back exercise work.
Primarily if you’re working your back, hitting the lower back muscles can be difficult. It’s easy to hit your lats on a horizontal or vertical row, but not always easy to hit your lower back muscles, such as the long muscle in your back called the erector spinae.
Should I Use Lifting Straps For Rack Pulls?
Yes and no. If you don’t want your forearms to fail during the lift, then yes, by all means, use lifting straps. Even for exercises like Yates Row, you’ll smoke your forearms unless you use lifting straps.
If you want to focus on the mind muscle connection and less so on your forearms, I recommened these lifting straps.
Great value and they don’t burn your wrists either. I use those specific straps all the time in the gym, from rows to farmers walks.
On the other hand, because rack pulls and deadlifts work your entire body, it’s an awesome exercise to help grow your forearms too.
Can Rack Pulls Replace Deadlifts?
Can tricep pushdowns replace close-grip bench press? Can leg extensions replace squatting? That’s an obvious no to both questions.
“But they work the same muscle!!” you say. That’s factually true, but you never saw Arnold doing tricep pushdowns all day to grow his arms.
Rack pulls will never completely replace traditional deadlifts, but supplement them. Same as trap-bar deadlifts, it’s a variation of the same exercise. You can always modify an exercise by reducing or increasing the lever length (limbs), range of motion, time under tension, speed and intensity. Don’t completely stop deadlifting, but switch things up by adding in rack pulls to your existing program.