What Are Face Pulls and How to Do Them

Strong shoulder muscles look good in sleeveless tops, but they’re also functional. Building strength in your shoulders improves your ability to push, pull, and lift without injury. Strengthening your shoulder muscles requires working them from different angles. Face pulls are an exercise that helps train your deltoid muscles.

Your deltoid muscles cover the top half of your shoulder. They’re necessary for lifting your arm to the front, side, and back. It consists of the anterior (located on the front of your shoulder), medial deltoid (middle shoulder), and posterior (rear shoulder). The rear deltoid muscle is particularly tricky to train and often gets neglected. A poorly-developed posterior deltoid muscle can contribute to pain or shoulder injury and poor posture. Face pulls specifically target the posterior deltoid muscle.

What Are Face Pulls and How To Do Them?

Face pulls are an excellent exercise for targeting your rear deltoids and your trapezius and upper back muscles. They involve using a cable pulley machine or resistance band. Using your arms to pull on the ends of the cable pulley hand grips or resistance band, you’ll squeeze your upper back and rear shoulders together. In doing so, you specifically target your rear delts.

Strengthening your delts is essential for everyday activities such as lifting a child over your head, shooting a basketball, or putting something on a high shelf. In addition, working your rear delts with face pulls will contribute to a more balanced upper body. You’ll prevent the hunched forward appearance of having an overdeveloped chest and poorly developed upper back. 

Step By Step Instructions for Doing Face Pulls With Cable Pulley Machine

  1. Set up a rotating, high-pulley cable machine with a dual-handled rope attachment. While you could use a straight bar attachment, it’s not wise. A straight bar attachment will change up the range of motion, meaning you won’t target your rear delts as effectively. Stick to the dual rope attachment.
  2. Make sure the pulley attachment is set up just above your head height. Then choose the appropriate resistance on the weight stack. Go for a light enough weight that will allow you to perform the exercise with proper form.
  3. Grasp the handles with both hands so that your palms face you. Step back from the machine until your arms extend fully. Slightly lean back so that your torso is at almost a 20-degree angle.
  4. Roll your shoulders back and engage your core as you pull towards your forehead (palms remain facing you). As you pull, your elbows should flare out to the side.

Continue pulling your hands towards you until they are in front of your shoulders. You should feel a pinch in your upper back and rear deltoid. Hold the movement here for a few seconds, then return to the starting position while maintaining proper posture.face pull cartoon photo

Step By Step Instructions for Doing Face Pulls With Resistance Band

If the cable pulley machine is busy or working out at home, you can still do face pulls with a resistance band. Look for an open-ended resistance band (not looped) so that you can anchor it to a sturdy post, tree, or wall anchor. If you’re at the gym, some gyms may have an area where you can anchor your resistance band.

  • Hang or anchor your resistance band to something sturdy.
  • Grab either side of your resistance band with your hands, palms facing you.
  • Pull your hands toward your forehead while squeezing your shoulder blades together and flaring your elbows.
  • Pull until your hands are in front of your shoulders and pause.

Slowly retract your arms to the starting position.face pull photo

Cable Face Pulls VS. Resistance Band Face Pulls?

Face pulls can be performed effectively using a cable pulley machine or a resistant band. The difference in using a cable machine is that it allows for a more consistent resistance motion. The resistance stays the same throughout the entire exercise versus band face pulls, where the resistance is felt only at the end of the movement. Cable pulley face pulls also allow you to adjust the resistance as needed. Resistance bands come in various strengths, but you can’t change up the resistance as easily if you only have one. However, resistance bands give you the option of versatility and mobility. If you can’t get to a cable pulley machine, a resistance band can be used and transported anywhere.

Tips for Doing Face Pulls

Start Light

Face pulls are not about showing off your strength. The rear deltoids are smaller muscles that don’t need a lot of resistance to train effectively. If you are using too much resistance, you’ll incorporate other muscles. You won’t be targeting your rear deltoids, which are the primary focus of doing face pulls. You should feel the rear deltoids doing the bulk of the work.

Furthermore, lifting too heavy will cause you to use improper form. An improper form will negate the effectiveness of face pulls. An improper form will also put you more at risk for injury.

Squeeze Your Shoulder Blades

Doing face pulls will naturally force your shoulder blades together. But making a conscious effort to squeeze them together will be more impactful. You will feel the effectiveness of face pulls more by concentrating on bringing your shoulder blades together. Imagine that you are trying to hold a small object between your shoulder blades. They need to be as close together as possible to keep that object. Hold the squeeze in your shoulder blades for at least a few seconds for more effectiveness. Holding the exercise at the most difficult point will help to increase your strength and stamina.

Maintain Proper Form

Proper form is important for the effectiveness of any exercise, including face pulls. Focus on your form during face pulls to get the most out of the exercise. Stand tall with your shoulders rolled back, elbows pointing out, and palms facing in. Be sure to engage your core the entire time. If you can’t maintain proper form, you may need to lower your weight. Too heavy resistance can cause you to hunch forward and perform face pulls improperly. Adjust your resistance and maintain proper form throughout.girl with mask doing face pull

Change Up Your Stance

It would be best if you were standing straight with your feet shoulder-width apart while doing face pulls. But if you feel that your lower back is doing most of the work, or you experience pain in that area, change up your stance. Stagger your stance for better stability and control. You can also choose to kneel on the ground while doing face pulls. Doing so will take the pressure off of your back.

Try Doing Face Pulls Seated

Are you trying to build muscle? Doing face pulls from a seated position allows you to lift heavier weights without losing form. Lifting too heavy during face pulls will engage other muscle groups and decrease the load on your rear delts. You can maintain a more stable torso during a seated face pull and focus more on your rear deltoids.

Put Them at the End

Incorporate face pulls at the end of your upper body exercise routine after you’ve finished your shoulder workout. Face pulls are a smaller movement that is great for adding in as a burn-out exercise. Use light weights or light resistance to perform higher repetitions. Aim for at least two sets of 20 reps. Or repeat for as many repetitions as you can until you completely tire out your shoulders. Burn-out exercises are great for pushing yourself the extra mile and stimulating more muscle growth.

Go Slow

Maximize time under tension to build muscle in your shoulders. Perform face pulls in a slow controlled movement on the way down and up. The longer you engage your muscles during an exercise, the more they must work. The more they work, the stronger they become. Take your time, and don’t rush the movement in either direction. If you find it too challenging to go slow, you need to lighten your resistance.

Alternatives for Face Pulls

If you don’t like doing face pulls or find them difficult to perform because of an injury, there are other exercises for targeting your posterior delts. Try these face pulls alternatives for getting stronger shoulder and back muscles:

Bent-Over Dumbbell Face Pull

Don’t have access to cable machines or resistance bands? No problem, you can still do face pulls using dumbbells. Start by holding a light pair of dumbbells, one in each hand. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, then bend over or hinge at the hips. Your back should be straight, legs bent at the knee, and torso parallel to the ground. The weights should be by your side with your palms facing behind you in an overhand grip. From here, pull the dumbbells up into your ears while you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Think of it as a reverse face pull from a bent-over stance.

Rear Deltoid Flye

The rear deltoid flye works many of the same muscles as face pulls. The only difference is that there is less external rotation of the shoulder in a rear flye. But you’ll still be working your rear deltoids effectively. To do a rear deltoid fly, grab a pair of light dumbbells. Hinge over at the hips with your knees slightly bent and back straight. Hold each dumbbell in your hand with your palms facing each other. Next, raise your arms out to the side, keeping them as straight as possible (they will naturally have a slight bend in the elbows). Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you raise your arms to shoulder height. Pause for a few seconds, then return to the starting position.deltoid lfye

Resistance Band Pulls

Resistance band pulls are like face pulls but from a horizontal abduction. The band pulls will stimulate your rear delts like face pulls. Do them by grabbing an open-ended resistance band and holding each end in either hand. Raise your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height. Hands should be holding your resistance band taught enough to feel resistance as you pull each end of the band out to your sides. Pull the band out as far as you can while squeezing your shoulder blades and bending your elbows. Make sure you keep your arms at shoulder level the entire time.

Lat Pulldown

Like face pulls, you can perform the lat pulldown using a high pulley cable machine. Set up your pulley machine with a wide grip angled pulldown bar. The bar should be above your head over the seating bench. Start in a standing position and by grabbing the bar with each hand. Make sure your hands are equidistant apart, slightly wider than shoulder-width. While still holding the bar, slowly sit down on the bench so that your arms hold the bar straight above you. Next, slightly lean back as you pull the bar down in front of you to chest level. You should feel your shoulder blades pinched together at the bottom of the move. Hold here for a few seconds, then carefully let the bar return to the start position.

Pullups

Pullups are a classic upper body exercise that works your entire back, arms, and core muscles. Pullups are more challenging than face pulls, and they work a lot more muscles. But they are ideal for working your back, including the rear delts. To do them, you’ll need to find a pullup bar. Please make sure the bar is high enough to hang from it without your feet touching the ground. Grab the bar with your hands in either an overhand or underhand grip. Placing your hands closer together on the bar will target your deltoids more, similar to face pulls. Use your arms, back, and upper body strength to pull your body weight until your chin is over the bar. Release to a hanging position and repeat.pullups

Who Should Do Face Pulls?

Face pulls are beneficial for anyone who wants to strengthen their shoulders. Strengthening the posterior deltoids will improve posture, shoulder strength and increase stability during overhead pressing movements. Anyone can benefit from face pulls, including Olympic weightlifters, strength athletes, or average gymgoers.

Olympic Weightlifters

Olympic weightlifters perform weightlifting exercises on a, well, Olympic level. They do some serious lifting, including the jerk and snatch. These movements require a lot of shoulder stability to perform them safely. Face pulls can be beneficial for an Olympic weightlifter’s training program. They can add the move into their normal training schedule to add extra muscle, strength, and stability. Smaller muscles shouldn’t be neglected, even on an Olympic scale. It’s the smaller muscles that help support the bigger muscles. These small advantages can make all the difference in an Olympic competition.

Strength Athletes

Strength athletes like bodybuilders or fitness competitors can use face pulls to strengthen and shape their shoulders. Face pulls provide the necessary stability for heavy pressing exercises and overhead lifting. Standard exercises like the bench press or military press put a lot of stress on the anterior deltoid muscles. Strengthening the posterior deltoid muscles will help stabilize the shoulders during these exercises. Strength athletes will be able to lift heavier and build stronger, shapelier muscles for competition.

Average Gymgoers

Face pulls can benefit average gymgoers who want to get in shape and stay healthy. Strengthening your rear deltoids with face pulls will improve your posture and make daily activities like carrying groceries, pushing the lawnmower, or lifting things over your head easier. You’ll feel a major difference in having strong shoulders that help you stand up straight and take on the world.

Who Should Not Do Face Pulls?

People with back or shoulder injuries should be cautious when performing face pulls. Talk to your doctor before performing any new exercise that may worsen your condition. Shoulder injuries are painful and take a long time to heal. Don’t push yourself too hard too soon. If at any point you feel pain when doing face pulls, stop. Wait until your shoulder injury has completely healed before attempting again.

The Takeaway

Face pulls are an excellent exercise for targeting the small rear shoulder muscles. You often neglect your posterior deltoids in favor of working larger upper body muscles. Many people fail to realize that it is the smaller muscles that support the larger ones. Working your rear deltoids will help to strengthen both your smaller and larger shoulder muscles. You’ll also improve your posture and find doing daily activities much easier. Anyone can benefit from adding face pulls into their training routine, whether you’re an Olympic athlete or an average gymgoer. 

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