What are rack pulls?
Rack pulls are one of the simplest exercises you can do in your training. As the name suggests, you pull off the squat rack. It’s the easiest compound exercise to load up and should be in your training at least once per week if you’re looking to build your back and your deadlift.
The three variations & how to do them
There are 3 variations to the rack pull, you have below the knee – where the rack pins are set below the knee (shock horror), just above the knee and then one pin position above that again. The easiest of these variations to load up is the furthest position above the knee, however this will not give you the most benefits and will basically just work your grip strength.
The best variation in my opinion, is the below the knee position as this best simulates a deadlift and therefore, this is the variation I will be referencing in this article. You can see how to correctly perform the rack pull below.
If you wish to increase the range of motion further, you can employ a snatch grip for the lift, which again simulates the deadlift’s range of motion whilst allowing for greater loading of weight. If you wish to employ the snatch grip for your rack pull then you can see how to do this below also.
Why are they good for the natural lifter?
Huge trap stress
Rack pulls put an immense amount of stress upon the traps – even more than deadlifts and shrugs. The trap muscles are notoriously hard to grow, so being able to overload them with the weights that rack pulls offer makes doing this exercise a no-brainer.
It is common knowledge that steroid using lifters tend to grow huge traps, upper back and shoulders due to how steroids interact with the androgen receptors in these areas. By building up the traps, it can completely transform your look as a natural and make you look far bigger in clothes which is a bonus.
Builds a thick back
Placing so much stress on the back can only cause massive hypertrophy. This exercise isn’t just for building smaller body parts and assisting lifts, it will build a big, thick & wide back. I use this along with weighted chins and standard deadlifts and my back is by far my strongest area. No need for lat pull-downs and iso-lateral cable rows at a 90″ inversion atop a unicorn whilst riding into the mists of Avalon.
Helps the lockout portion of the deadlift
The rack pull simulates the upper portion of a deadlift, which means that the pulling strength and explosiveness you build from rack pulling has transferable qualities to your conventional deadlift.
If you struggle with locking your deadlifts out at the top, practising rack pulls allows you to add massive amounts of volume and overload to this particular sticking point without having to perform too many tiring deadlifts that would hinder your overall recovery.
Less full body stress
The rack pull places less overall stress on the body which means you can do them for some considerable volume and not fry your central nervous system. I do 5 sets of 5 for rack pulls once a week on a separate day to my deadlifts.
This allows for a decent amount of recovery and means you’re hitting similar movements twice a week which is optimal for strength and muscle gains in the long run.
Boosts the ego
This one is sort of a joke but the rack pull can really skyrocket your confidence. Knowing that you can handle far more weight in your hands than you’ve ever done before builds up a mentality that becomes bulletproof to self doubt. When you’ve pulled 200kg from the rack, pulling a 160kg deadlift will be a much less daunting task than attempting that weight for the first time without having ever felt it in your hands.
Speaking anecdotally, once I started to incorporate rack pulls into my regime, my deadlifts flew up – and I think this was because I knew I could lift, lock out and hold far more weight than I was tasked with lifting from the floor.
If you’re not convinced to get down to the gym and start doing rack pulls straight away then I don’t know what else I can do for you son. Give them a go for at least 3 months and watch your deadlift, traps and upper back blow up.