Face Pull Muscles Worked: It’s More Than Just the Delts

muscles used to face pull

Face pulls will primarily work the rear head of the deltoids while also working the rotator cuff muscles, elbow flexors and trapezius muscles.

Face pulls are a compound upper body movement primarily involving a horizontal pulling motion with the use of a cable machine. Like other pulling exercises, face pulls tend to target muscles along the posterior side of the torso.

The Muscles Used During a Face Pull – Biomechanics, Role, and Function

The muscles being targeted in the face pull are:

  • Posterior Deltoids
  • The Trapezius
  • The Rhomboids
  • The Infraspinatus, Teres Major, and Minor
  • The Biceps Brachii and Other Elbow Flexors

1. The Posterior Deltoid Heads – Primary Movers

The main muscles targeted by face pulls are the rear delts – or what are otherwise referred to as the posterior heads of the deltoids muscle group.

rear deltoid

These muscles are located alongside the back of the general shoulder structure, acting as a counterpart to the medial and anterior deltoid heads. 

In terms of insertions, the entire trio of deltoid heads all insert at the deltoid tuberosity along the humerus bone of the upper arm. The posterior deltoid also features an origin at the spine of the scapula, hence its close synergy with the movements of the shoulder blades.


The rear delts primarily function to extend the shoulder and arms, externally rotate the joint itself or otherwise abduct the humerus horizontally.


The posterior deltoid heads fulfill the role of primary mover during each face pull repetition.

They are responsible for a significant portion of the force needed to execute the movement, and are dynamically contracted through a relatively large range of motion as well.

Function During a Face Pull Repetition

As the posterior deltoids are responsible for the biomechanics of horizontal arm abduction, they are used during the general pulling motion of the arms beginning from full forward extension and ending parallel to the shoulders.

face pull exercise

Furthermore, although no internal rotation is meant to take place, face pulls also feature external rotation as the scapula squeezes together at the apex of the repetition; This also targets the rear delts.

2. The Trapezius – Secondary Movers

The trapezius is a large superficial muscle spanning from the neck to the middle of the back, being subdivided into the upper, middle and lower trapezius respectively.

trap muscles

Although not as important during face pulls as the posterior deltoids, the trapezius nonetheless plays a vital role in stabilization and movement of the scapula during certain portions of the movement.


The trapezius is responsible for stabilization of general shoulder movement, upward rotation and elevation of the scapula, as well as forward extension of the neck.


While the trapezius are only truly targeted near the apex of the movement pattern, they nonetheless contract dynamically and produce a moderate amount of force during said range. This effectively marks them as a secondary mover muscle.

Function During a Face Pull Repetition

During a repetition of face pull, the trapezius helps “squeeze” the scapula together as the handles approach the face and the arms rotate parallel to the sides of the shoulders. 

face pull and scapular retraction

Furthermore, the trapezius is also contracted isometrically throughout the movement so as to stabilize the general shoulder girdle structure.

3. The Rhomboids – Secondary Movers

The rhomboid minor and major are a set of deep muscles located immediately beneath the trapezius, where they attach to the lower cervical and upper thoracic sections of the spine alongside the scapula’s spine and medial border.

rhomboid muscles

As one can guess from such origin and insertion points, the rhomboids play a similar role to the trapezius during a repetition of face pulls, aiding with stabilization and movement of the scapula.

Because of their deeper location and relatively smaller span across the upper back, the rhomboids play a comparatively less vital role to the trapezius, but are nonetheless worked in a similar range.


The rhomboids are responsible for retraction, elevating and partial rotation of the scapula – as well as in stabilizing the entire structure as well.


All the hallmarks of a mobilizer muscle – those being dynamic contraction and force output – are present.

As such, the rhomboids can safely be considered a secondary mobilizer muscle in the same vein as the trapezius, albeit to a less intense degree and smaller range. 

Function During a Face Pull Repetition

The rhomboids serve a similar function to the trapezius during a face pull rep, where they are primarily contracted during the top of the movement to squeeze the scapula together. Of course, alongside this role is their exhibition of isometric contraction throughout the movement.

4. The Infraspinatus, Teres Minor and Major

Otherwise known as the “external rotator” muscles, the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles work with the teres major to rotate the shoulders and arms during a face pull repetition. 

the teres major the teres minor and infraspinatus

Primarily located along the rear of the shoulder blades, these muscles actually feature different attachment points as the teres major attaches to the humerus whereas the remaining two (infraspinatus and the minor) attach to the glenohumeral joint instead.


The teres minor and infraspinatus work to externally rotate the shoulders, whereas the teres major adducts and internally rotates the upper arm.


Like the trapezius and rhomboids, these three muscles are dubbed secondary movers as they are contracted dynamically – albeit in a short range.

Functions During a Face Pull Repetition

The teres minor and infraspinatus help externally rotate the shoulder as the arms are drawn alongside the torso, whereas the teres major adducts the arm before reaching the top of the movement – and also aids in extending it at the start and end of the rep.

5. The Biceps Brachii and Other Elbow Flexors – Stabilizer Muscles

The biceps brachii, brachialis and brachioradialis all play a minor role in a face pull repetition. They are located throughout the entire arm, where they attach to various points along the humerus, elbow joint and forearm bones to initiate elbow flexion.

biceps anatomy


Although the elbow flexors are responsible for quite a few biomechanics related to arm movement, they are primarily used to bend the arm at the elbow.

elbow extension biomechanic


The biceps brachii and other elbow flexors are considered stabilizer muscles, as they are not meant to exert significant force or contract to a wide range during a face pull repetition. 

Although the biceps will indeed shorten as the movement is performed, it is entirely passive movement and the biceps should not contract in any other manner other than isometric.

Functions During a Face Pull Repetition

These muscles stabilize the arms and the handle as the repetition is performed.

Tips for Better Muscle Contraction When Performing Face Pulls

To maximize how well your delts and upper back are targeted, aim to derive most of the movement’s force from your shoulder blades retracting. Keep the torso straight and upright, with the pulley at the same level as your head for a more optimal angle of resistance.

  1. Thomas R. Baechle, Roger W. Earle (2019). Weight Training: Steps to Success. Human Kinetics, Inc. p. 64. ISBN 978-1450411684.