If you want to target underworked back and shoulder muscles, including the essential deltoids and rhomboids, then add face pulls to your regular workout routine.
Face pulls help you gain strength, improve your posture, and work many muscles that too often get overlooked in our daily lives, and many training routines. The classic face pull uses a cable machine, allowing you to increase the weight during the exercise rapidly. An excellent face pull method utilizes an assist band, creating an exercise that can be performed anywhere, without the need for heavy gym equipment.
As this isn't exactly a common exercise, it's easy to get the technique wrong if you've never attempted a face pull before. In this article, we'll show you how to do face pulls the correct way to help you avoid unwanted injury!
What are face pulls?
Face pulls aren't an exercise that you'll find included in every training regime, even if the goal is to build up the back and shoulder muscles. Face pulls are criminally underappreciated, perhaps, because they don't require as much weight as the more popular shoulder presses. They are, however, an incredibly useful exercise that will target those muscles that don't often get worked out in the shoulder and back area.
No, they weren't given their name because of the face you make when you're struggling to push out that final repetition after a long workout. It's simple, though! The exerciser pulls a cable or band towards their face as they perform the movements - hence the name face pull.
The cable or band provides the resistance, and the technique is essentially the same whether you are using a fancy cable machine or a basic resistance band. There are several variations, including seated or standing face pulls, which you can combine to create a more effective workout.
Face pull exercises
We'll take a look at the varying techniques for different face pulls in more detail before explaining the targeted muscles and what benefits you can gain from incorporating these exercises into your regular workout schedule.
We recommend performing three sets of each exercise, with reps ranging from 8 - 15, depending on your level of fitness and the amount of weight you are using.
If you've never performed this exercise before, start out using a smaller weight or a low resistance. Perfect the technique before increasing the weight or resistance in increments. Poor posture, or overdoing the resistance too early, can easily result in back injuries.
Before beginning any exercise, you should stretch thoroughly and warm your muscles up with some light cardio.
1. Cable face pull
- Select the appropriate weight on the cable machine and attach a double-rope to the high pulley.
- Hold the double-rope handles with an overhand grip. The palms of your hands should be facing down towards the ground.
- Hold the cable with your arms fully extended, level with your shoulders.
- With a tight grip, pull the rope towards your body. Your arms should remain parallel to the floor, so the handles are adjacent to either side of your face.
- Release the tension slowly and return your arms to the original start position.
- Repeat the cable face pull exercise for 10-15 repetitions.
2. Banded face pulls
You might not always have access to a cable machine. Banded face pulls use small resistance bands that can be stuffed anywhere in your luggage to use instead of weights.
- Select an appropriate resistance band, with the correct level of resistance for your strength and fitness level.
- Loop the resistance band firmly around a fixed, secure point in front of you, with the resistance band level with the top of your shoulders.
- Grasp the ends of the resistance band in either hand, with your palms facing down towards the ground.
- Keep your arms straight in front of your body, then pull your hands towards your face, so they are on either side of your face (or as close as the band allows).
- Return your arms to the start position by slowly releasing the tension in the band.
- Repeat the exercise with proper face pull form for 10-15 repetitions.
3. Seated face pulls
You can perform the seated face pull using a resistance band or a cable machine. The technique and posture are the same.
- Set up a cable machine with an appropriate level of weight, and attach a double rope to a low pulley. Alternatively, loop a resistance band around a secure point in front of you.
- Set yourself on the seat (or on the floor if the cable machine has no seat) with your back straight and your legs bent at the knees.
- Keep your arms straight ahead of you, with your palms facing straight down to the floor.
- Pull the double-rope or resistance band towards your face, keeping your hands by either cheek.
- Release the double-rope or resistance band slowly back to the starting position.
- Repeat the seated face pull exercise, working your shoulder muscles for 10-15 repetitions.
What muscles do face pulls workout?
The primary muscle groupings targeted by proper face pull exercises are found in the shoulders and the back. That's how the exercise is so effective at building broader shoulders and defining upper body physiques.
The main muscle groupings targeted are the following:
- Rear deltoids
- Middle trapezius (otherwise known as the upper back muscles).
You'll also stand to workout many more muscles in your body, including building strength in your hands, arms, and legs through the movement and posture required of the exercise.
What are the benefits of face pulls?
As well as directly strengthening the deltoids, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles, including face pulls in your regular exercise schedule will provide many other benefits as well.
- Build strength in target muscle groupings and secondary muscles.
- Broaden shoulders and define shoulder shape.
- Strengthen and improve posture.
- Improve back muscles and avoid chronic back pains.
- Target muscles neglected by daily life.
Cable machine vs. resistance bands
What's better? A cable machine, or a resistance band when you're performing face pulls? Both offer very different benefits!
Disadvantages of a cable machine and resistance bands
The classic face pull exercises use a cable machine, but this requires either a hefty investment in personal home gym equipment or a gym membership. Cable machines are great for building strength if you do have access to one. You can change the weight that you are using by quickly switching the pulleys around, and you can make use of the stability of the machine itself when you are exercising.
Resistance bands don't offer quite as much opportunity when it comes to weight. The heaviest weights on a cable machine are always going to be much more substantial than even the strongest resistance band, of course. To use a resistance band, you'll also need a firm, stationary point that you can secure the band itself to.
Advantages of a cable machine and resistance bands
But, resistance bands do have their advantages over cable machines as a face pull alternative. For starters, resistance bands are so much cheaper, and you don't need to invest in large gym equipment to get a solid workout from them. Resistance bands are light, they pack down small, and they can be taken anywhere. That means you aren't limited as to where you can start performing face pulls, and other exercises, when you're using resistance bands.
Resistance bands have a wide range of resistance too, offering different strength levels that allow you to progress and improve your fitness, just as you would increase the weight on a cable machine, as your face pull muscles start to get stronger and stronger.
Resistance bands won't offer as much weight, but they are perfect for warm-up exercises, as well as for toning and definition. They can help to sculpt your shoulder and back muscles and give you the aesthetic you might be looking for.
Both resistance bands and cable machines have their place, and if you can, there's no reason not to include both forms of the exercise in your workout routine, especially if you are at the gym.
The final word on face pulls
Face pulls are a fantastic way to work out muscles in the back and shoulders that are so often neglected. These are essential muscles that we use in everyday movements, and strengthening and defining them not only helps you to avoid injury but improves your posture. If you're trying to sculpt your shoulders or back to look aesthetically pleasing, then face pulls are essential!
Because face pulls can be performed using the bulky weight of a cable machine or the lighter resistance of assist bands, it's a truly versatile exercise to know. Why not incorporate this great exercise into your next strength training or workout routine?