Face pulls are a popular exercise for building upper body size, and are also used within rehab programs, but what muscles does the face pull work? And how can you get the most out of the exercise? In this article we’ll be covering:
Let’s jump straight in.
What Muscles Do Face Pulls Work?
Face pulls are a horizontal pulling movement that works your back and shoulder muscles, specifically the muscles that face pulls work are:
- Your rear delts
- Your rhomboids
- Your infraspinatus and teres minor/major (External rotators)
- Your lower traps
Is face pull for back or shoulders?
Face pull works your upper back and your shoulders, specifically your rhomboids and rear delts.
Are face pulls good for rear delts?
Absolutely, face pulls are one of the best possible exercises for rear delts. They’ve been a staple in my training for many years.
Face Pulls Muscles Worked Diagram
Face Pull Variations
There are plenty of face pull variations that you can use, here are three of my favourites, plus when and why you might use them.
Kneeling Face Pulls
Kneeling face pulls muscles worked
Kneeling cable face pulls are a fantastic face pull variation that works your rear delts, rhomboids and external rotators just like standing face pulls.
Personally, I prefer kneeling face pulls as they offer a more stable base to pull from. This means you can typically control your form better and really focus on making sure your target muscles are doing the work (versus swinging from the hips or overextending your back)
Band Face Pull
What muscles do band face pulls work?
Band face pulls work your rear delts, rhomboids, infraspinatus and teres minor. They work in a very similar way to cable face pulls, the only major difference is that whilst cables offer the same amount of tension throughout the movement, bands offer maximal tension at contraction (when the band is stretched) but very little tension at end range. This likely makes band face pulls not quite as good as cable face pulls for hypertrophy training.
Personally, I recommend using band face pulls when you don’t have access to cables, for example you’re training at home or travelling without access to a gym.
Dumbbell Face Pull
What muscles do dumbbell face pulls work?
Dumbbell face pulls (a.k.a. face pull with dumbbells) work your rhomboids, teres minor, lower traps and rear delts, so they hit all the same muscle groups as cable face pulls. However, since you’ll be holding a bentover position, you’ll also be working your lower back muscles.
I tend to programme dumbbell facepulls as a variation every few mesocycles (typically every few months) I find that the stretch under load they offer is a good hypertrophy stimulus, but the bentover position is a bit more systemically taxing, so you have to keep that mind.
Quick Training Recommendations for Facepulls
I recommend using face pulls in your training anything from 1 to 3 times per week.
- For hypertrophy, anything from 10 to 30 reps is acceptable
- For strength, I would stick in the 8-15 rep range
From experience, anything less than about 8 reps per set tends to just feel awkward and too heavy, and not really allow you to get a good mind muscle connection. Higher reps are definitely a better option for facepulls.
How many sets of face pulls should I do?
I recommend you should anything from 2 to 6 sets of facepulls within a single workout. This will vary a lot person to person, but you should do enough to get a decent pump, as well as some soreness the next day.
Should you go heavy on face pulls?
No, you should not go heavy on facepulls. I highly recommend sticking to a lower weight and using higher reps so that you can focus on achieving a good mind muscle connection with your target muscles.
“A common face pull mistake is to go too heavy and ‘cheat’ your reps by using your hips or overextending your back, taking focus away from the target muscles.”
I recommend picking a weight that allows you to get a good contraction as well as control the eccentric (downwards/outwards) portion of the movement and get a deep stretch under load.
Face Pull Alternatives
Bored of facepulls but want to hit the same muscles? Here are some of my favourite face pull alternatives:
- DB Reverse Flyes
- Cable Reverse Flyes
- Reverse Flye Machine
- Band Pullaparts
- Bent Over Barbell Facepull
- Incline Dumbbell Facepull
- Wide Grip Inverted Row
Face Pulls Work What Muscles? Frequently Asked Questions
Do face pulls build muscle?
Absolutely, face pulls will build muscle in your rear delts, rhomboids, teres minor, infraspinatus and lower traps so long as you follow hypertrophy guidelines.
What are the benefits of face pulls?
The main benefits of facepulls are bigger and stronger rhomboids, rear delts and external rotator muscles. This can also help to keep your shoulders healthier if you happen to be involved in a sport which involves lots of pressing, throwing or swinging.
Are face pulls worth doing?
If you want big, strong and injury-resistant upper back and shoulders then face pulls are 100% worth doing.
Do face pulls work your back or chest?
Face pulls work your upper back, but they do not work your chest, for that I highly recommend exercises like pressups and bench press.
Is it better to do face pulls standing or seated?
I tend to recommend performing face pulls seated as this is better for stability and consistent technique. However, standing facepulls are a totally fine option so long as you be mindful of your technique.
Should you do face pulls if they hurt your shoulder?
No, if face pulls hurt your shoulder you probably should not do them (this goes for pretty much anything that hurts you) However, you may find that by adjusting your technique, hand position, loading or tempo you can find a way to perform them pain free.
If adjustments don’t work, then pick one of the face pull alternatives listed above and give that a try.
Alright, that’s enough reading for today, time for action…
1) Get in the gym and start using some face pull variations to build strength and size in your upper back and shoulders. Or if you need a bit of help with your training, consider having a look at my custom programme options
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching, you can find more information about my services here.
‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.