Face Pull Alternatives: For All Equipment Types

face pull alternative exercises

Although the classic face pull is accessible to the majority of individuals, it does require a cable machine with an adjustable pulley.

For home gym owners, calisthenics athletes or those who wish for a more intense approach to rear delt training, good alternatives to the face pull include:

  • Dumbbell rear Delt Flys
  • Resistance Band Pull Aparts
  • Barbell Rear Delt Rows
  • Towel Face Pulls

If You Only Have Dumbbells: Rear Delt Flys

Rear delt flys are a posterior deltoid isolation exercise considered to be most effective with the use of a pair of dumbbells.

dumbbell rear delt fly

As a substitute to the face pull, the lifter will miss out on trapezius and rotator cuff muscular recruitment, but benefit from even greater deltoid development as a result.

Equipment Requirements

Pair of Dumbbells

Sets and Reps

2-3 Sets of 10-16 Reps

Common Mistakes to Avoid

The most frequently encountered mistake seen when performing rear delt flys is poor time under tension and range of motion. Aim to begin the exercise with the arms hanging straight beneath the torso and topping out the repetition with the arms parallel to the shoulders.

Other mistakes to avoid include a non-horizontal torso angle, cheating the repetition by swinging the hips or keeping the arms completely straight throughout the movement.


Dumbbell Rear Delt Fly
  1. Grip a pair of light dumbbells in both hands and hinge forwards at the waist, creating a torso orientation that is nearly vertical. Bend the knees as needed.
  2. Now bent over with the dumbbells held beneath the torso in both hands, squeeze the rear delts and extend the arms out to the sides until they are parallel with the shoulders.
  3. Once the arms are parallel to the sides of the torso, the lifter slowly reverses the motion and allows their arms to fall back beneath the chest in a controlled manner. The repetition is now complete.

If You Prefer Resistance Bands: Band Pull-Aparts

The band pull-apart is one of the few posterior deltoid exercises that can actually rival the benefits and role provided by conventional face pulls.

Rather than pulling a cable towards the face however, band pull-aparts are exactly as they sound; stretching a resistance band towards either side of the body with the hands.

resistance band pull apart

Apart from requiring significantly less equipment, this allows for greater focus on the posterior deltoids, rotator cuff muscles and the trapezius as the elbow flexors play a lesser role.

Equipment Requirements

Resistance Band

Sets and Reps

2-3 Sets of 12-16 Reps

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Remember to retract the shoulder blades as the arms spread outwards. Keep the elbows relatively straight and avoid turning the movement into a curl or press.


Resistance Band Pull Apart
  1. Begin by standing upright with the feet shoulder-width apart. A moderate tension resistance band should be held in both hands, enough slack given at both ends to keep tension even at the start of the rep.
  2. Bracing the core, pushing the chest out and ensuring the upper arms are parallel to the shoulders, the lifter then slowly pulls their hands further apart. This should stretch the band out.
  3. As the arms begin to extend outwards to the sides, the lifter will also retract their shoulder blades, ending with both arms pointing in opposite directions and the scapula fully retracted.
  4. To complete the repetition, the lifter simply allows the tension in the band to pull their arms back to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner, stretching out the eccentric phase.

For a Barbell Alternative: Rear Delt Rows

Barbell rear delt rows are a compound horizontal pulling movement meant to target much the same muscles as face pulls, only to a greater level of intensity.

barbell rear delt row

Despite their difference in positioning, the rear delt row and face pull are quite similar as far as angle of resistance and mechanics go. They are ideal for those that wish to focus more on the strength and mass building aspects of face pulls, rather than its rehabilitative or low-impact advantages.

Equipment Requirements


Sets and Reps

2-3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid curving the lower back, as this can cause it to become injured while the upper body is bent over. Furthermore, ensure that the elbows are not pulling parallel to the shoulders but rather behind the torso.


Barbell Rear Delt Row
  1. Hinge at the hips with a barbell held in both hands, grip pronated and wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bracing the core and ensuring the lower back is flat, squeeze the upper back muscles and pull the bar towards the sternum.
  3. As the elbows cross behind the torso (avoid flaring), retract the scapula so that they are pinched together as full elbow flexion ROM is reached.
  4. Slowly lower the arms back beneath the torso. The repetition is now complete.

If You Have No Equipment Whatsoever: Towel Face Pulls

Although more a variation than an actual alternative, performing face pulls is entirely possible with the use of a towel. 

Towel face pulls are quite similar in concept to inverted rows, but instead feature the exerciser performing the movement while standing so as to “row” the body using scapular retraction and a small amount of elbow flexion.

Equipment Requirements

A Towel

Sets and Reps

For Novices or Heavy Bodyweight: 2-3 sets of 5-7 repetitions

For Experienced or Lighter Bodyweight: 3-4 Sets of 8-12 repetitions

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Ensure the towel is properly anchored at the mid-point. Avoid twisting the wrists or hands outwards, as this will over-engage the forearms, elbow flexors and lats.


  1. Hold one end of the towel in both hands, grip pronated and shoulder-width apart.
  2. Walk towards the towel while leaning the torso back, maintaining tension in the towel so that the body is partly suspended entirely by the hands itself.
  3. Now positioned correctly, the lifter pulls their head towards the towel by squeezing the posterior deltoids, bending the elbows slightly and retracting the shoulder blades.
  4. Once the head is nearly touching the towel, slowly disengage tension in the upper body and extend the arms back out. The repetition is now complete.

1. Lorenzetti, Silvio, Romain Dayer, Michael Plüss, and Renate List. 2017. “Pulling Exercises for Strength Training and Rehabilitation: Movements and Loading Conditions” Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology 2, no. 3: 33. https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk2030033