Face Pulls: An Exercise


I’m bad about doing exercise that work the muscles of the back outside of whole-body movements like deadlift. It’s much easier to perform an exercise confidently when you can see what you’re doing and make adjustments, a la bicep curls or squats, but working things on the backside of your body is an entirely different beast. Compound that difficulty with something like an imbalance or injury and you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe long-term gym morose. This is why I tend to incorporate additional simple prehabilitation movements to address imbalances as needed. The face pull is one such exercise, and one that most people should probably be doing with some frequency.

Face pulls are an exercise performed with a cable machine and, most commonly, a rope attachment. The pulley should be positioned anywhere between chest and eye level, the rope being held with knuckles pointing at one another. Starting with arms fully extended, pull the rope back so the attachment moves towards the face (hence the exercise name). Try to emphasize pulling the elbows backwards, pointing your knuckles at your head at the end of the movement. Try to emphasize both squeezing the shoulder blades together at the end of the movement while also pulling them down towards your lower back; this is the most difficult part of the movement for most people and may require some stretching of the shoulders/chest/biceps to perform well.

There is quite a bit of room for variation with this movement as long as the start and end positions are respected. I prefer to do them one-handed to focus on making the movement pattern similar on both sides of the body. Hand position and cable attachment can also be varied, depending on availability. The world of face pulls is your oyster!