Rack Pulls – An Overview of One of The Best Back Exercises

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Rack pulls are a strength training exercise that primarily targets the posterior chain (back and legs). They’re a variation of the deadlift that consists of lifting a barbell from a rack instead of the ground. Rack pulls can be performed from various heights, allowing you to emphasize certain muscle groups. In this article, we’ll discuss how to do rack pulls, the muscle groups targeted, the benefits, and why they’re a great alternative to deadlifts. 

Understanding the Posterior Chain

Before diving deeper into the exercise, it’s important to understand the posterior chain. The posterior chain is composed of the muscles that run down the backside of your body, such as the erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. These muscles are responsible for movements like hip extension, and they play a vital role in athletic performance and everyday activities. 

By strengthening the posterior chain, you can improve your posture, increase your lower body strength, and reduce your risk of injury. Rack pulls are an excellent exercise for targeting the posterior chain, as they engage every muscle in the back, as well as your hamstrings and glutes. For those who are unable to deadlift, it’s crucial to perform alternative exercises that keep the posterior chain strong. 

posterior chain example, rack pulls
An anatomical depiction of the posterior chain

How To Do Rack Pulls

To perform rack pulls, you’ll need access to a squat rack with adjustable safety bars. Follow the steps below to properly perform the exercise. 

  1. Set the safety bars at the desired height in the power rack. The height can vary depending on your goals. If you’re in doubt, a good height is either right below or at knee level. 
  2. Place a standard barbell on the safety bars and load it with the desired weight. 
  3. Stand in front of the barbell with your feet approximately shoulder width apart. The positioning should resemble that of a deadlift position. 
  4. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width. 
  5. Lock your core, keep your back straight, and lift the barbell by driving through your legs. 
  6. Pause for a few seconds at the top of the lift, then lower the bar back down in a controlled manner. 
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

When performing this exercise, the height of the safety bars certainly matters. As you position the safety bars further below your knees, you’ll notice that you’re working your legs more. The movement becomes more like a deadlift when the starting position of the bar is closer to the ground. If you position the safety bars higher, you’ll notice greater targeting of the traps and low-mid back.

If you’re more of a visual learner, we suggest checking out the video below by the folks at Bodybuilding.com. We did not create this video, but it’s straight to the point and a great example of performing the exercise. 

Muscle Groups Targeted

Rack pulls primarily target the muscles of the back and legs, including the erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. The erector spinae muscles run down both sides of the spine and help to maintain proper spinal alignment. Your glutes and hamstrings are responsible for hip extension, while the quadriceps are responsible for knee extension. 

All things considered; rack pulls are essentially a compound movement. You might perform them with the sole intention of getting a stronger back, but the comprehensive benefits are unmatched. You’re working your entire posterior chain when you perform this exercise. 

Why and When You Should Do Rack Pulls

Rack pulls are an excellent exercise for building strength and size in the muscles of the back and legs. They’re particularly useful for powerlifters who want to improve their deadlift performance. Rack pulls allow lifters to train with heavier weights than they could with a conventional deadlift. They’re also a good exercise for bodybuilders who want to add size and definition to their back muscles. 

Rack pulls can be performed as part of a strength training or bodybuilding program. They can be considered a compound lift or as an accessory exercise to complement exercises like deadlifts, squats, and bent-over rows. They’re frequently performed as an alternative to deadlifts as there is less risk of injury when lifting off a rack. 

Overall, choosing to add rack pulls to your routine is a subjective matter. If you’ve been neglecting your posterior chain or not deadlifting, you should consider incorporating them. Additionally, if you’re focused on adding thickness

Rack Pulls vs. Deadlifts

Rack pulls and deadlifts are similar considering that they target many of the same muscle groups. However, there are some key differences between the two exercises. 

To start, rack pulls are performed from the safety bars of a squat rack, while deadlifts are performed from the ground. The positioning allows lifters to focus on different parts of the lift, such as the lockout phase. 

Secondly, rack pulls allow you to train with heavier weights than you could with a conventional deadlift. This is particularly useful for powerlifters who are struggling with a plateau on their deadlift. 

Finally, rack pulls place less stress on the lower back compared to deadlifts. This is mostly because you’re not lifting the weight off the ground, so your spine is less likely to be in a compromised position. Rack pulls are especially ideal for lifters who have lower back issues or simply want to reduce the risk of injury. 


In addition to building strength and size in the muscles of the back and legs, rack pulls offer several other benefits: 

  1. Improved grip strength: Rack pulls require a strong grip to hold onto the bar and keep it steady. By consistently performing rack pulls, you will improve your grip strength, which can carry over to other exercises like deadlifts and pull-ups. 
  2. Increased muscle mass: The rack pull is an excellent exercise for building mass in your back, traps, and glutes. It also targets your hamstrings, quads, and calves, making it a great all-around exercise for the posterior chain. 
  3. Reduced injury risk: Since rack pulls are done with a shorter range of motion compared to a deadlift, they place less stress on the lower back. This can be beneficial if you have a history of lower back pain or want to avoid it altogether. 
  4. Improved deadlift performance: As mentioned, rack pulls are a great supplemental exercise to improve your deadlift. By focusing on specific portions of the deadlift movement, you can strengthen your weak points and increase your overall deadlift strength. 
  5. If your gym, for whatever reason, does not allow deadlifting, you can essentially get all the same benefits by doing rack pulls. 

Alternatives to Rack Pulls

If rack pulls aren’t for you, there are several other exercises that offer similar benefits: 

  1. Deadlifts: Deadlifts are the king of all exercises for building overall strength. They require a full range of motion and target every major muscle group in the body. 
  2. Good mornings: Good mornings are a compound exercise that target the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. They are similar to rack pulls in the sense that they work the whole posterior chain, but they are done with a lighter weight and longer range of motion. 
  3. Romanian deadlifts (RDL): Romanian deadlifts are a variation of the deadlift that place more emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes. You might hear them referred to as straight leg deadlifts because the bend in your knees should be minimal. RDLs are similar to rack pulls because the barbell doesn’t necessarily have to start on the ground. This variation is less taxing on the lower back. 
  4. Cable pull-throughs: Pull-throughs target more of the glutes and hamstrings. This movement replicates the final portion of a deadlift or rack pull when you’re driving your hips through the top of the movement. Although you won’t be targeting your back as much, pull-throughs are a great exercise for working on form and muscular imbalances. 

Key Takeaways

There’s quite a bit of information to digest here, although rack pulls are a fairly straightforward exercise. Below are some key takeaways from this article to ensure you grasp the most important information. 

  • Rack pulls are a phenomenal exercise for targeting the posterior chain. This includes the entirety of the back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. 
  • The exercise is performed by setting up a standard barbell on the safety bars of a squat rack. 
  • If you’re unable to deadlift or prefer not to, rack pulls are an ideal alternative. 
  • Rack pulls are safer and less taxing on the lower back because less range of motion is required to complete the movement. 
  • You can greatly increase your grip strength and muscle mass in your back via this exercise. 


To conclude, rack pulls are a great choice for building strength and muscle mass in the back, traps, glutes, and legs. They offer several benefits over deadlifts, including reduced stress on the lower back and improved grip strength. Ultimately, however, they should be done with caution and proper form to avoid injury. 

If you’re looking to strengthen your posterior chain and increase muscle mass, incorporating rack pulls can be a game changer. We encourage you to give them a try and see the results for yourself!