Stay Balanced with Face Pulls
Written by Zach Erick

I like a good ol’ fashion bro-sesh as much as any other lifter. Bench press followed by incline dumbbell bench, followed by drop sets of push-ups – I can feel the pump just writing about it! However, in order to stay balanced and keep our shoulders and upper back healthy, we need an antagonistic movement so we don’t end up walking around like humpback, unable to raise our arms over our heads. Since I’ve started the Smolov squat program I’ve been doing a lot of upper-body bodybuilding exercises. When hypertrophy is the name of the game, you need to make sure you add in some injury prevention exercises and there is no better exercise than the Face-Pull to keep everything in order.

The Face-Pull works the rear delts, rhomboids, and external rotators (infraspinatus, and teres minor.) Keeping these muscles strong and conditioned is extremely important considering the amount of pressing we do in CrossFit. Think about the last time you DID NOT press vertically or horizontally in the gym. You probably cannot recall because it’s very rare.

Face pulls not only complement pressing movements, they strengthen correct posture. Sitting at my computer typing this post I have to constantly remind myself chest up, shoulders back and down. Within minutes of my reminder I’m back to my slouched rounded position. If you don’t do any corrective exercises to fix this posture, the shoulder will stay internally rotated, with the upper back rounded causing the shoulder joint to be unstable. It doesn’t look that great either.

To do face pulls you can use three different pieces of equipment. Ideally face pulls will be done with some sort of pulley machine with the fulcrum at upper-chest height. No pulley? You can easily build one following Coach Bryan Miller’s instructions posted earlier.

If you use a pulley system, use a “tricep rope.” You can either grab the rope pronated (thumbs up) or supinated (thumbs down). Choose a weight where you can complete three to four sets for 10-15 reps, ideally with a slow tempo (3111 for example.)

  • Keep the elbows up, above the shoulders, do not let them go below the shoulders.

  • As you pull the rope towards your face, pull the rope apart increasing the distance between your hands.

  • At the end of the movement, as you’re pulling to rope apart, squeeze the shoulder blades together.

Don’t want to build a pulley? No problem. You can do face pulls with a band. Hook the band up at upper-chest height on your squat/pull-up rig. The key points stated above apply for the band as well.

Finally, the third method of face pulls is with a sled. Choose a light weight that easily slides across your surface.

Hopefully I have convinced you that face pulls are a greatly beneficial movement to throw into your corrective/strengthening exercise library. The added benefit of injury prevention should be enough reason to start adding face pulls into your program. Remember, don’t go too heavy – no one cares about your 1-RM face pull weight. Perform face pulls slow and controlled and they will do wonders for your shoulder strength, upper back strength, and posture.

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Courtland Creekmore
Courtland Creekmore
December 22, 2014 9:12 pm

nice write-up Zach.

Ali Razvi
Ali Razvi
December 22, 2014 2:36 pm

Great videos! How does face pulls differ from DB rows?