Practically any modern lifter is familiar with the face pull and its capacity to round out the shoulders – but this rather popular exercise offers more than just simple hypertrophy.
If you’re on the fence whether to perform face pulls or rear delt flys, consider the following benefits.
The Benefits of Adding the Face Pull to Your Routine
Face Pulls Strengthen the Trapezius, Rear Delts and Other Upper Back Muscles
Although nowhere near as intense as movements like the upright row or barbell shrug, face pulls have cemented themselves as an excellent way of targeting the rotator cuff, posterior deltoid head and upper back muscles.
With the right programming, these muscles are not only strengthened through a unique range of motion, but will also inevitably hypertrophy and grow more stable due to the inherently slow tempo of the face pull.
Keep in mind that unlike rows or shrugs, face pulls derive the majority of their stimulus from time under tension and a large range of motion.
While less conducive to explosiveness, power or large muscle group hypertrophy, this sort of training is indeed excellent for small and often under-trained muscles like the rear delts.
Reduces Future Risk of Shoulder Girdle Injury
Among the most common upper body injuries seen in athletes have to do with the shoulder joint and shoulder girdle – both of which are at major risk of damage in the unconditioned and untrained.
Fortunately, face pulls offer one highly potent solution by not only strengthening the soft tissues that make up these structures, but by also teaching the lifter how to properly move their joints in the first place.
It is unlikely that lifters will be able to perform a face pull correctly without being able to consciously retract and depress their shoulder blades, or otherwise without properly externally rotating their shoulders.
All these factors combine to create a shoulder girdle “bulletproofing” tool in the form of the face pull – one that also comes with the benefit of training the skeletal muscles therein.
Reinforces Scapular Movement, Shoulder Rotation and Elbow Flexion
Both novice and advanced lifters commonly have issues relating to biomechanics related to their shoulder girdle and joint. This can present as an imbalance, difficulty retracting the shoulder blades fully or even more serious issues like a winged scapula.
Although not quite a substitute for actual physical rehabilitation, the face pull is excellent for correcting minor issues related to these structures – as well as in flexion of the elbow joint.
Even outside of correcting mechanical issues, face pulls are advantageous for improving the range of these biomechanics, stabilizing them and otherwise improving the lifter’s capacity to execute them in day to day life.
Comparatively Lower Risk and Less Strenuous than Other Rear Delt Exercises
If comparing it with exercises like the Arnold press or rear delt fly, face pulls are considerably less likely to result in injuries to the shoulder joint itself.
Chronic overuse injuries like irritation of the labrum are common among the former exercises due to their angle of resistance and use of free weights.
Fortunately, because the face pull angles the resistance relatively horizontal to the shoulders and does not involve significant in-socket rotation, these risks are greatly diminished.
With a lower risk of injury, face pulls are not only more appropriate for novices and the previously-injured, but also generally more suitable for high volume training.
Improves Upper Body Posture and Stability
While more a benefit of training the rear delts than the face pull itself – regularly performing the exercise can help correct or prevent hunched shoulders, especially in individuals who are otherwise sedentary.
In connection, the upper body will also grow more stable in general movement as the trapezius and posterior deltoid heads grow more capable of isometric contraction.
Face pulls achieve these benefits by both strengthening said muscles and by teaching the lifter how to properly move their shoulder blades. Both are vital aspects of maintaining correct posture, and should be combined with conscious effort to maintain proper shoulder positioning outside of a training setting.
Modifiable, Accessible and Scalable
As a general benefit seen in most other machine-based exercises, the face pull is considerably easy to modify and scale to meet the lifter’s needs.
Those who wish to make the exercise unilateral for whatever reason can simply select a single-hand attachment. Likewise, the angle of resistance, capacity for the movement to be performed seated/standing and even the distribution of resistance throughout the ROM can all be changed as well.
Essentially, face pulls are capable of meeting a far broader range of needs than other exercises of a similar recruitment pattern.
Excellent for Building Upper Body Muscular Silhouette
Bodybuilders and other aesthetically-minded forms of weightlifter often seek greater trapezius and deltoid mass as they greatly contribute to the overall silhouette of the upper body. This is particularly true for the posterior and medial deltoid heads, where greater mass therein is the best way to achieve a wider appearance overall.
Among other exercises, face pulls are particularly effective for achieving this greater silhouette width, as they directly target the correct muscles in a volume-friendly and low risk manner.
If performing face pulls for such a purpose, aim for 8-16 repetitions for 3-4 sets at a low level of resistance.
Is the Face Pull Worth Doing?
If the question is whether the risk or intensity of face pulls are worth its benefits – then the answer is a definitive yes.
Few exercises come close to face pulls in terms of accessibility, ease of performance and non-performance health benefits.
Of course, avoid performing face pulls if you have a particularly pronounced posture issue, have a history of injuries to the shoulder structure or have not programmed a more intense upper body compound movement yet.