Face pull The best exercise you don't do

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Everyone wants a pair of well-developed shoulders. That’s why on ‘shoulder day’ the shoulders are attacked from all angles with an arsenal of exercises for your front, middle and rear shoulder heads. But you forget something…


It is important for your shoulders that, in addition to exercises for strength and mass, you do another type of exercise. Namely exercises that focus on the health of your shoulder joint and injury prevention.

The shoulder joint is one of the most complex and mobile joints in the human body. This complexity and mobility make the joint unstable and prone to injury to a certain extent. It is in fact only four small muscles, which we collectively call the rotator cuffs, that stabilize the shoulder joint. This is where most shoulder complaints arise.

Face pulls, a favorite exercise of powerlifters, strengthen those rotator cuffs and keep your shoulders healthy.


Not only that. The exercise also strengthens the often neglected posterior shoulder heads, rhomboids, and trapezius. In this way, face pulls even contribute to a stronger bench and shoulder press, and can even improve your posture.


Finally, with face pulls you can build a lot of muscle mass in that ‘difficult’ back and shoulder area: side delts, rear delts, traps and rhomboids. The unique thing about the exercise is that you can pull the weight ‘through’ your head, which is simply not possible with a barbell. The face-pull should therefore not be missing in the repertoire of the pure bodybuilder.

Which muscle groups you target most with the face-pull depends on where exactly you place the pulley in the pulley station:

  • top pulley (above eye level): slightly more accent on the back (mid and lower traps, rhomboids);
  • bottom pulley: slightly more accent on the upper traps and side delts;
  • pulley in the middle: no specific target.

Face pulls are – unfortunately – an unpopular exercise. You can’t use heavy weights and you can’t see the muscles you train with them in the mirror. The few people we see doing the exercise do it wrong and turn it into a sort of rear-delt row.


  • The exercise is best performed (standing) in a pulley station, using the same rope you use for your triceps pushdowns.
  • Place the pulley (pulley) at the desired height. By default, it is placed fairly low, approximately at the height of the knees.
  • Grab both ends of the rope with an overhand grip (thumbs pointing away from you). Some coaches recommend an underhand grip (thumbs pointing up or toward you); both options seem defensible and make no significant difference.
  • Take a few steps back so that the cable is under tension while your arms are straight.
  • Place one foot slightly in front of the other for a more stable stance and bend your knees slightly. This is your starting position.
  • Pull the center of the rope (where the rope attaches the carabiner) toward your face, pulling the ends of the rope apart. Aim for your eyebrows/forehead. Higher is not necessary and sometimes even undesirable because of discomfort in the shoulders or elbows.
  • Your hands are in the top position next to the top of your head and are further back than your elbows.
  • Bring the weight back to the starting position in one to two seconds in a controlled manner.


The face-pull is slightly different than usual. A few things you should pay attention to.


‘Control’ is the key word in face pulls. Weights that are too heavy make for sloppy performance and distract the focus from the muscles the exercise targets.

Ideally, you’ll do face pulls in the range of 10 to 20 reps, but even 20 to 30 reps is possible. Avoid the 5-10 rep range.


Use a standard range of motion. So choose a fixed pulley height, fixed pull height along your face and a fixed pace. Only in this way can you reliably track your progress.


Use a 1-1-2 pace, with the numbers expressing the duration (in seconds) of the concentric, pause, and eccentric phases, respectively. In other words: it takes you one second to pull the rope towards you, you hold that position for one second and bring the rope back to the starting position in two seconds.


Don’t lean back, something you may be inclined to do with (too) heavy weights. By putting one foot in front of the other, you prevent that.


Make sure you don’t pull your biceps too much, because we don’t want to train that muscle with this exercise. Let your elbows guide the movement and pull the weight back:


We already said: don’t use too much weight. The risk is then the greater that a lot of momentum will use and therefore throws muscles into battle that you do not want to train with this exercise:

Keep your upper body more or less still throughout the exercise. “More or less,” because it’s okay to contract and release the shoulder blades, rather than keeping them squeezing the entire movement.


You can also perform face pulls with powerbands. This makes the exercise even more effective.


The face pull is an indispensable exercise for anyone who wants to keep their shoulders healthy and prevent injuries. The best way to avoid injury is not to exercise at all. The second best way is to do exercises that specifically target this, such as the face pull. What is your preference?


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