How To Rack Pull

Rack pulls increase training stress by allowing more weight to be lifted. This is a very useful deadlift variation for intermediate lifters, that can benefit from a novel training stress to keep their deadlift progressing. Learn how to rack pull, what muscles a rack pull works, and how to add them into your programming.

In this video, learn all about rack pulls and why this supplemental exercise is a great option to include in an intermediate program to help progress the deadlift.

The traditional deadlift trains a large amount of muscle mass. Novice lifters can make progress for quite a while simply performing this standard lift with relatively minor programming changes. Eventually, however, lifters will reach a point where the introduction of deadlift variations are a necessity to continue progress.

Supplemental lifts are useful for introducing extra stress to a lifter’s program. When it becomes difficult to add more stress (increase weight or volume) with a main lift, we have two options when considering lift variants that can add stress in a way the main lifts do not. One way is through an increased range of motion, such as the deficit deadlift. This type of supplemental lift decreases the weight on the bar, but stresses the body in a novel way that can lead to further adaptations. Another way is by reducing the range of motion of the main lift, allowing for higher intensities than what a lifter could normally be exposed to. Rack pulls fall into this category.

What are Rack Pulls?

Rack pulls increase stress by increasing intensity or the amount of weight on the bar. This is accomplished by placing the bar on rack pins (hence the name) higher up than the normal height of a deadlift. Leverages are better higher up off the ground, allowing most lifters to lift more weight. Rack pulls target the hip extensors, spinal erectors, traps and lats very effectively, but perhaps the biggest benefit is the increased CNS stress. This, in addition to familiarizing the lifter with what it feels like to lift heavier weights than they’re used to, makes rack pulls an excellent variation to explore.

How To Rack Pull

To set up properly for rack pulls, adjust the safeties in your power rack (or use blocks) so the bar meets your shin about 3-4 inches below your kneecap (the tibial tuberosity is the target). This is a good height, as setting up lower than this is so similar to a normal starting position that only an insignificant amount of weight could be added to the bar. Anything above knee height would allow much more weight to be added, but this does not train enough range of motion to effectively carry over to the deadlift, so the tibial tuberosity is a nice compromise.

In a regular deadlift, you would walk forward until your shins were about 1 inch from the bar. However, for the rack pull, you want your shins to touch the bar in the setup. This will make your shins vertical (or nearly so) which is the position they would be in at this height in a regular deadlift. Again, we want this movement to mimic a deadlift as much as possible for better carryover effect.

Use straps for rack pulls. The point of this variation is to build strength in the posterior chain of muscles to better lock out your top position—not train your grip strength—so don’t let that be a distraction. You might be lifting upwards of 70 lb. more than you can deadlift, so this would be immensely taxing on your grip.

There is a similar 5 Step Set Up for rack pulls, just as you would follow for a conventional deadlift. Step 1 is the only difference:

  1. Walk forward until your shins touch the bar. Take the same stance as your conventional deadlift.
  2. With straight legs, bend over and grab the bar just outside your legs.
  3. Push your knees out slightly.
  4. Squeeze your chest up to set your back.
  5. Drag the bar up your legs.

Here is our quick rack pull Gym Short.

How to Perform Rack Pulls

When you first attempt this variation, do not be discouraged if you can’t lift more than your traditional deadlift. You might even lift less initially. That’s okay. The Novice Effect is at work here, just like the first time you deadlifted as a beginner. It will take a few attempts for your body to get used to this new variation—and for you to get used to exerting far more force than you’ve had to before while deadlifting. There is also a lack of tightness that you are probably used to experiencing while deadlifting from a normal starting position, which needs to be overcome with experience and technique adjustments.

Don’t give up! Producing all that extra force requires time to develop. You may find it takes upwards of 5 seconds of maximal effort before the bar starts moving. This is simply how muscles work, and experiencing this first-hand is very informative for how to approach heavy deadlift attempts. Once you learn how to apply more force in a slightly different starting position, you’ll see great benefit for this lift!

A word of caution: Dropping your nice bar on to metal pins with lots of weight can easily damage it. It’s preferable to have a dedicated (cheaper) bar for this lift so there’s no equipment anxiety, but if you must use your only bar for this variant, you have a few options. You can minimize the possibility of damage by setting the bar down very lightly on the pins—challenging to do with heavy weights, but do your best. Another option would be to construct riser blocks for the weight plates to sit on (outside the rack) so the plates are the thing making contact, just like a regular deadlifting scenario. Here is a video all about block pulls.

Programming Rack Pulls

Stick to lower rep ranges with rack pulls. Several sets of triples, doubles, or singles work best. This lift is very stressful on the CNS, so “touching” the heavy weight several times is enough to get the benefits you are after. This lift can be mentally draining to perform and setting the bar back down on pins usually knocks it out of place to start the next rep, both great reasons to have less reps per set. Remember too that pulling continuously for 5 seconds on each rep means a triple can actually take quite a long time to complete.

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