Rack pulls are not among the popular exercises you see people do on ‘back day’. That’s not a surprise since very few people actually know how to train. For the majority of the gym attendees the whole point of going to a training facility is to play with all the machines. It’s like an amusement park, but instead of children there are people with big muscles.
Another factor that contributes to the fact that rack pulls are not currently fashionable is that they require a power or squat rack with strong and stable safety catchers in order to be done correctly. When you couple that with the fact that rack pulls require you to lift really heavy weights, you have a recipe for unpopularity.
What are the benefits of doing rack pulls?
Getting stronger. The rack pull is basically a deadlift with 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 result you get stronger in those areas.
Developing a thick back. Similar to the deadlift the rack pull is known to devleop serious thickness in the back. There is no doubt that people who do rack pulls on regular basis have thicker backs than the guys who play with the pink dumbbells and spent time visualizing muscle hypertrophy.
Less stressful than deadlifts. Due to the shorter range of motion (ROM) the rack pull is less stressful to the central nervous system than the regular deadlift starting on the ground. That’s why many people actually prefer to do rack pulls instead of deadlifts, because you are still overloading the back muscles without completely exhausting yourself mentally.
Stronger deadlift lockout. Besides helping you develop powerful upper back the rack pull also allows you to improve your deadlift lockout. Through heavy weight you are able to overload the final part of the deadlift.
What are the main problems that occur with the proper execution of rack pulls?
The main problem is that people usually turn the rack pull into an ego lift and try to put as much weight as possible on the bar. The more the bar bends, the better. This is problematic and besides causing potential injuries similar behavior defeats the purpose of the exercise.
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, but the benefits of the rack pull 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. That’s one of the reasons his books are best sellers.