Rack pulls are not a popular exercise. You rarely see people do them on ”back day”. That’s not a surprise since most humans go to the gym to play with the machines. Hard basic exercises are not as attractive as pump work.
Another factor contributing to the rack pull’s obscurity is that the exercise requires a power or squat rack with strong and stable safety catchers. When you couple that with the fact that rack pulls are done with heavy weights and hurt, you have a recipe for unpopularity.
What are the benefits of doing rack pulls?
Getting stronger. The rack pull is basically a deadlift with a really short range of motion. It works the whole back, the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) as well as the forearms. The exercise allows you to move some serious weight, and as a result, you get stronger in those areas.
Developing a thick back. Similar to the deadlift the rack pull is known to develop some serious thickness in the back. People who do rack pulls on a regular basis have thicker backs than those who play with the pink dumbbells and the pulley systems.
Less stressful than deadlifts. Due to the shorter range of motion, the rack pull is less stressful on the central nervous system than the regular deadlift.
Stronger deadlift lockout. Besides helping you develop a powerful upper back, the rack pull could also improve your deadlift lockout.
FAQ: Will the rack pull take my back development to extraterrestrial levels?
The rack pull will definitely add mass to your back, but your overall development will still fall within the natural limits.
What are the main technique problems with rack pulls?
The main problem is that people usually turn the rack pull into an ego lift and add too much weight. The more the bar bends, the better. This is problematic, defeats the purpose of the exercise and exposes you to injuries.
Most people don’t do rack pulls correctly. Instead of deadlifting the weight, many trainees actually shoot their knees under the bar and squat the weight up. That way you are essentially performing some sort of a deadlift/squat with a lot of weight, and some of the benefits disappear.
For proper execution of the rack pull, consult the video below recorded by Mark Rippetoe:
Note: This site has criticized Mark Rippetoe many times for his dietary approach (GOMAD…etc), but that does not mean that we don’t agree with a large part of what he says on lifting mechanics. He has some really good points when it comes to proper execution of the basic barbell lifts.