Cable Face Pull Exercise Guide

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Cable Face Pull Exercise Guide

Cable face pulls improve posture and help build muscles in the upper back, especially your trapezius, rear (posterior)  deltoids, and rotator cuff. Training these muscles not only helps you break through plateaus in almost every upper-body lift but also keeps your shoulders balanced and injuries at bay. To perform cable face pulls you will need the cable machine and the rope. You can do this trapezius exercise standing or seated.

Face Pull Exercise Instructions

Follow these guidelines to ensure safe exercise technique. Cable face pull is a very safe exercise but only if performed properly.

Standing Face Pulls

STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Setup your pulley so that ti is about chest height or a little bit lower. You don’t want to be pulling from to high. Attach the rope handle to the pulley machine, and grab the ends with your palms either facing down (overhand grip) or up (underhand grip). Both grip positions will be effective.

cable face pull

cable face pull

MOVEMENT (ACTION): With your head facing forward and still, pull the center of the rope attachment towards the center of your face, keeping your palms down and elbows up. As you pull the rope make sure that your elbows are always higher that your wrists. While pulling, imagine that you’re also trying to pull the rope apart. This will enable scapular retraction. Hold this contraction for a second and think about squeezing the back of the deltoid muscles and upper back muscles. In other words, really squeeze your shoulder blades at the end of the movement while keeping your elbows higher that your wrists. Pause for a second and then return the weight to the starting position.

Seated Face Pulls

STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Sit on the bench with your feet against the supports, knees slightly bent, and torso upright. You want your abs tight and your neck and head aligned with your torso. Your arms should be fully extended in front with tension on the cable.

seated rope face pulls

seated rope face pulls

MOVEMENT (ACTION): Lift your elbows and bend them as you pull the rope towards your neck (chin) while squeezing your shoulder blades together behind you. As already mentioned in the standing variation, imagine that you’re also trying to pull the rope apart while pulling. Hold the contracted position for a second or two, then come back slowly to the starting position.

Additional Tips & Key Points

Some helpful hints (key elements to consider) on how to perform rope cable face pulls safely and effectively.

  • Keep your back as straight as possible and your chest sticking out.
  • When you get to the top of the movement, your forearms should be angled slightly upward and your elbows should be held out away from your sides.
  • Use just enough weight that allows you to perform three of four sets of 8 to 12 smooth reps.
  • Avoid jerking and focus on performing one continuous and fluid movement.
  • Do not allow your elbows to drop down below your shoulders.
  • Either keep your elbows and wrists in line with your shoulders or, preferably, as you pull the rope make sure that your elbows are always higher that your wrists. That’s why you should attach the rope at about chest level or a little bit lower. If you attach the rope on a higher level you will not be able to keep your elbow higher that your palms.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades as you pull the rope towards your face.
  • Keep your head straight and stable. Avoid pushing your head towards the rope. Instead, pull the ropes towards your head.

Exercise Variations

For this exercise you can use many different pieces of equipment, but ideally, face pulls are performed with a pulley machine with the fulcrum at upper-chest height. You can use rope  or dual handles (triangle attachment for cable row).

Muscles Engaged

Exercises that employ the vertical plane of motion (such as shrugs or upright rows) primarily hit the upper traps, while the lower (and middle) traps need to be trained with movement patterns that are more in the horizontal plane (like with the face pulls).

Muscles engaged while performing cable face pull: trapezius (lower and middle portion), posterior (rear) deltoid, rotator cuff, biceps, forearms

Replacement Exercises

Trapezius is best engaged using vertical and horizontal pulling exercises. While cable face pull employ the horizontal plane of motion, exercises such as shoulder shrugs and upright rows employ the vertical plane of motion.

Both shoulder shrugs and upright rows work your trapezius, but upright rows also work your shoulders. So while upright rows work more muscles, the shrug allows you to work a solitary muscle harder, as you can use far more weight when performing shrugs. For best results, combine both exercises in your exercise program.

Closing Thoughts

Since there are many muscles and more than one joint being worked during a face pull exercise, this is considered a compound movement. Compound exercises are truly beneficial for building muscle and burning fat. Improving scapular movement and increasing trap strength are the two most important reasons why we recommend cable face pulls to anyone who’s looking to grow bigger and healthier traps. Finally, this trapezius exercise will improve your posture. As you probably already know, posture is important for a number of reasons – from proper digestion to spine health. That’s why adding face pulls to your routine is very beneficial for your overall health.

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