Rack Pull vs Deadlift – Introduction
When it comes to the rack pull vs deadlift, what are the differences, the benefits, and how do you program them?
Rack pulls and deadlifts are two effective compound exercises used by bodybuilders and powerlifters to build muscle size and strength.
While similar and sometimes interchangeable, each movement has its own merits and drawbacks, and one may suit your purposes better than the other.
For this article, we pit rack pulls against deadlifts so you can decide which one is best for your training goals.
Rack Pull Basics
Rack pulls are basically partial deadlifts where each rep starts with the bar at somewhere around knee height.
With rack pulls, you rest your barbell on the side pins of a power cage and rest the bar on those pins between reps.
Starting with the bar raised means that rack pulls involve a smaller range of motion than conventional deadlifts.
They emphasize the top half of the range of motion compared to deadlifting from the floor.
A lot of powerlifters use rack pulls as a deadlift assistance exercise, but they are also an effective movement in their own right.
Bodybuilders like rack pulls for building bigger, thicker lower and upper back muscles.
Rack Pull vs Deadlift – Muscles Worked
Rack pulls and deadlifts are both compound exercises which means they involve several joints and multiple muscles working together.
Both exercises strongly involve your posterior chain, which is the collective term for the muscles on the back of your body.
The main muscles trained during rack pulls and deadlifts are:
- Gluteus maximus
- Erector spinae
In terms of muscles used during rack pulls vs deadlifts, the main difference is that deadlifts involve more knee flexion and extension, so they engage the quadriceps more than rack pulls.
Other than that, the muscles involved in both exercises are the same.
Rack Pull Benefits and Drawbacks
Not sure if rack pulls deserve a place in your workouts?
Consider these benefits, and then decide!
Rack Pull Pros
#1. Lift more weight
A shorter range of motion means you should be able to rack pull more weight than you can deadlift.
Also, starting with the bar at about knee height means you are already past a major deadlift sticking point, i.e., breaking the bar away from the floor.
#2. Lower back-friendly
Deadlifting a heavy barbell from the floor requires good hamstring flexibility.
If your hamstrings are tight, you may find your lower back is rounded at the bottom of your deadlift.
A rounded lower back is a weak lower back and could be a source of injury.
By raising the bar to around knee height, you won’t have to bend all the way down to the floor to start each rep, which means you are less likely to round your lower back.
If you are very tall or have tight hamstrings, rack pulls may be safer than regular deadlifts from the floor.
#3. Improve lockout strength
While some people struggle to get their deadlift moving off the floor, it’s just as common to stall as you approach lockout.
The rack pull emphasizes the upper part of your deadlift rep, which could be the extra training you need to conquer this sticking point.
While I’m a big fan of the conventional deadlift, you can have too much of a good thing, especially if you deadlift several times a week.
Adding the rack pull to your exercise library means you can make your workouts a little more varied, warding off training boredom in the process.
- Monday – conventional deadlifts, 5 sets of 5 reps
- Thursday – rack pulls, eight sets of 3 reps
#5. Build a stronger grip
Lifting more weight means you’ll develop a stronger grip with rack pulls.
Don’t negate this benefit by wearing lifting straps.
Instead, chalk up, wrap your fingers around the bar, and squeeze it with all your might.
Your hands and forearms will only get stronger with rack pulls.
#6. Increased upper back size and strength
Starting each rep with the weight at around knee height means your upper body gets to work a little harder than your legs.
When you deadlift from the floor, your legs are primarily responsible for getting the weight moving.
If you want a thicker, more muscular back, rack pulls are a good option.
Because of this, you could almost classify rack pulls as an upper-body exercise.
Yes, your legs ARE involved, but the range of motion is limited, so your lower body is less involved than for conventional deadlifts.
Of course, there are several rack pull disadvantages to consider too…
Rack Pull Cons
#1. You need a squat or power rack
Rack pulls are so-called because you start and end each rep with the bar resting on the supports of a power or squat rack.
If you don’t have a rack, you can’t do rack pulls.
You don’t need any extra equipment to do conventional deadlifts.
#2. Damage to your barbell
When you load and lift a heavy barbell from the floor, the strain is spread along the entire length of the bar.
Your barbell will flex, but that’s what it’s designed to do.
With rack pulls, the weight is supported on two small areas of the bar near the ends.
This could damage your bar.
In fact, deadlift barbells are not meant to be used in racks for this very reason.
If you’ve got an expensive deadlift bar, you may not want to use it for rack pulls, in case you end up wrecking your beautiful barbell.
Note: You can achieve a similar rack pull effect using raised blocks.
This may be better for your barbell and also means you don’t need a squat rack.
#3. More weight may mean an increased risk of injury
Because you can rack pull more than you can deadlift, it can be tempting to really load up your bar and see how much weight you can lift.
While rack pulls are more lower back-friendly than conventional deadlifts, that doesn’t mean you can do them with complete impunity.
Be sensible and make sure your rack pull technique is perfect before attempting very heavy weights.
#4. Less quadriceps engagement
If you love deadlifts because they are a total lower-body exercise, you may be a little disappointed to learn that rack pulls don’t provide your quads with such a good workout.
If you do rack pulls, you’ll probably also need to include squats or leg presses in your program to make sure you train your quads as well as your posterior chain.
How to Do Rack Pulls
Get the most from rack pulls by doing them correctly.
Improper exercise technique will make rack pulls less effective and could lead to injury, especially when lifting heavier weights.
- Set the side support bars in your squat power rack to about knee height.
- Place your barbell across the support bars and load it evenly.
- Stand behind the bar, so your legs are touching it.
- Reach down and hold the bar with an overhand or mixed grip.
- Pull your shoulders down and back, brace your abs, and bend your knees slightly.
- Keeping your arms straight, and without rounding your lower back, extend your knees and hips and stand up straight.
- Return the bar back to the support bars, allow it to settle for a second (no bouncing), and repeat.
- If you use a mixed grip, try to alternate hands set by set to avoid uneven muscle development.
Rack pulls are usually done with the bar just below knee height, at knee height, or just above knee height.
Try all three positions to see which works best for you.
Your height, leg length, and the length of your arms will all determine the ideal bar height for rack pulls.
Rack pull vs Deadlift FAQ
Got a question about rack pulls?
Here are some answers to the most common rack pull queries!
#1. Are rack pulls better than deadlifts?
If you want to overload your upper body, rack pulls are arguably better than conventional deadlifts.
But, if you want to train your upper and lower body equally and together, deadlifts from the floor are better.
#2. Can I do rack pulls every day?
Because rack pulls allow you to lift very heavy weights, you shouldn’t do them every day.
Your body needs time to rest, recover, and grow after a heavy rack pull workout.
It’s probably best to limit rack pulls (and deadlifts in general) to 2-3 times a week.
The harder and heavier you lift, the more recovery time you’ll need.
#3. What is the best grip for rack pulls?
If you want to build stronger hands and bigger forearms, try doing rack pulls with a double overhand grip, with both of your palms facing your legs.
This is your weakest grip, but that’s what makes it so effective.
Needless to say, you won’t be able to use as much weight with a double overhand grip.
But, if you want to lift maximal weights, use a mixed grip, where one hand faces forward, and one hand faces backward.
This grip stops the bar from rolling out of your fingers.
However, to develop both sides of your body evenly and avoid muscle imbalances, try to swap your hands around set by set.
#4. How much weight should I use for rack pulls?
While you will eventually be able to rack pull more weight than you can deadlift, when learning this exercise, you should use less weight so you can work on perfecting your technique.
Start out with 50-60% of your deadlift training weight and gradually increase from there.
Using too much weight too soon is a good way to get injured!
#5. I don’t have a power rack, so what can I do instead?
You can emphasize the top of your deadlift range of motion without a rack or blocks by doing Romanian deadlifts.
While you won’t start each rep from a dead stop, you will emphasize your hips and lower back, making Romanian deadlifts a reasonable alternative to rack pulls.
However, you won’t be able to go as heavy.
Rack Pull vs Deadlift – Wrapping up
Deadlifts are arguably one of the best exercises you can do.
Not just for your legs or back, but your entire body.
Very few exercises work as many muscle groups with just a barbell.
That said, if all you ever do is deadlifts, they may start to lose some of their potency.
You might even get bored of them.
Rack pulls are an excellent deadlift variation that you can do as well as or instead of regular deadlifts.
They don’t work your lower body as hard, but other than that, they are similarly effective.
Rack pulls are also a little more lower-back-friendly than conventional deadlifts, especially if you are tall or lack hamstring flexibility.
Are rack pulls better than deadlifts?
But, for some people, rack pulls may offer a few advantages over deadlifts.
However, for others, the opposite is true.
So, try both of these great exercises and see which one works best for you.
Better yet, do both, and enjoy all of the benefits these two movements have to offer.
You got a little taste of the muscles worked by rack pulls and deadlifts.
However, see the 7 Deadlift Muscles Worked That Will Change Your Body & Life for a deeper understanding of just what makes the deadlift so good.
After you understand why deadlifts are so powerful, it is worthwhile learning about another move with begins as a deadlift.
However, this phenomenal exercise can help you build power and speed – the Power Clean.
Learn more about it in this article: Power Clean VS Deadlift: Benefits, Muscles Used, Pros and Cons + Which Is Better.
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