Rack pulls are also known as half deadlifts. You make the same movement (you lift a bar), but with a smaller range or a smaller range of motion (ROM). After all, with rack pulls you do not lift the bar from the floor, but from a higher position, usually slightly below knee height.
RACK PULLS VERSUS DEADLIFTS
Why a “half deadlift” when you can do a whole? Well, it just depends on what your goal is with the exercise. There is no question that the deadlift as a compound exercise for overall (functional) strength can hardly be matched. But if you are looking for an effective exercise for muscle growth in the back (both for the width and thickness of the back) then the rack pull is an excellent, often overlooked option.
The smaller ROM on rack pulls means that, compared to the deadlift, the exercise is less stressful for the central nervous system and therefore less tiring, which is beneficial for your Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV). Deadlifts are a much bigger attack on your MRV, at the expense of the rest of your workout(s).
In addition, the role of the legs in rack pulls is smaller than that in the deadlift, in favor of the back muscles. That makes the rack pull an excellent back builder, in which both the broad back muscle (the lats) and the muscle groups that determine the depth (traps, rhomboids and back shoulders) get a lot of use. But your lower back is also heavily called upon. Therefore, ensure a neutral back posture where your back does not curve, but also not excessively hollow.
1. Place a barbell on the safety bars of a power rack, so that the bar is just below knee height. Place your legs shoulder-width apart against the bar.
2. Bend over and grab the bar at about shoulder width with a double overhand grip.
3. Straighten your back with a neutral spine. Lift the bar. The bar moves close to your legs and touches your legs. In the top position, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
4. Move your hips back to lower the bar. Your back remains straight. The exercise then looks like this from the side:
Note that the execution is identical to the deadlift, but without the first and last part of the ROM.
Start with low weights to familiarize yourself with the exercise first.
ALTERNATIVE: SNATCH-GRIP RACK PULLS
As with the deadlift, you can also use a wider grip (snatch grip) with the rack pull and thus increase the range of motion. The result is that the accent is even more on the top of the back. Below you see a snatch grip rack pull performed with the barbell at shin height. Mind you, an exercise that is barely inferior to a ‘normal’ deadlift in terms of weight.