Kneeling face pulls help prevent the lifter using their hips or legs to “cheat” the repetition while near maximal exertion, and can otherwise angle the body in such a way that a fixed cable pulley is still level with the head.
Apart from this change in elevation and stance, kneeling face pulls are mechanically identical to conventional face pulls.
Kneeling Face Pull at a Glance
Cable Machine and Rope Attachment
Main Muscles Targeted
How to do Kneeling Face Pulls
- Kneel facing the pulley, adjusting it so that the cable is parallel with the head at the start of the repetition if possible. Attach a double-ended handle and grip both ends in a neutral grip, arms extended.
- Keeping the head aligned with the spine and pushing the chest out, the lifter then pulls the center of the handle towards their face, rotating their upper arms out to the sides and bending at the elbows as they do so.
- As the arms come parallel to the shoulders, the shoulder blades should also retract, pinching together until both the arms and the scapula are at the limits of their range of motion.
- With the concentric phase of the movement now complete, the lifter then slowly rotates their arms back around, rotating them to the front and allowing the resistance to extend their elbows as the scapula disengages.
- Now back in the starting position, the repetition is considered complete.
Sets and Reps Suggestion:
Kneeling face pulls are essentially the same as conventional face pulls as far as intensity and difficulty go.
Aim to start off at 2-3 sets of 12-20 repetitions, depending on weight used.
Although generating additional momentum is less of a risk due to the kneeling position, aim to engage the glutes and push the hips forwards to further reduce the chance of “cheating” during higher exertion sets.
Furthermore, it is possible to perform the exercise with only one leg kneeling, allowing for a wider base and greater stability if needed.
Common Kneeling Face Pull Mistakes to Avoid
To get the most out of the kneeling face pull, avoid making the following mistakes.
Poor Range of Motion or Incorrect Tempo
As is the case with most other exercises, ensure that the kneeling face pull is performed in not only a slow and controlled manner, but with a full range of motion as well.
Begin and end each repetition with the arms extended before the chest, and ensure that the upper arms are parallel with the shoulders at the peak of the movement.
This is especially important during the eccentric phase, where a full ROM and slow tempo are vital for building up muscle mass and strength. Strive to stretch out the second half of the rep to at least 2 seconds.
Internally Rotating Shoulders
Even at the start and end of the repetition, keep the shoulders neutral rather than allowing them to rotate internally (towards the front), as this will increase the strain placed on the shoulder joint itself.
One good cue to prevent internal rotation is to “square” the shoulders as the arms rotate while simultaneously ensuring that the scapula does not protract at any point during the exercise.
Failing to Engage Scapula
In order to properly target muscles like the trapezius and rhomboids, it is vital to squeeze the shoulder blades together as the handle is pulled towards the face.
While it is likely you’re already doing this automatically, lifters with poor scapula mobility or control may have difficulty actually fully retracting them.
Imagine pinching a small object behind the back using the shoulder blades – this cue will help maximize scapular retraction while also helping prevent internal shoulder rotation.
Involving the Biceps Too Much/Top Hand Position Too Narrow
It is important to keep in mind that kneeling face pulls are primarily a rear deltoid and back exercise.
Very little contraction should be felt in the biceps or anywhere else in the arms, as the elbow flexor muscles are meant to act solely in a stabilizing capacity.
If you are having difficulty performing the kneeling face pull without recruiting the biceps to an excessive extent, try widening the position of the forearms so that the top of the movement resembles a double front bicep pose. That, or try out pronated grip face pulls.
Are Kneeling Face Pulls the Right Exercise for You?
Because of how similar kneeling face pulls are to conventional face pulls, the only real reason to switch between the two is simply personal preference or equipment difficulties.
The two variants are essentially the same exercise known for building rear delt mass, rehabilitating the shoulder joint and improving overall upper back posture.
Remember to prioritize proper form and time under tension over total load lifted, as these will maximize focus on the otherwise small and underdeveloped muscles targeted by face pulls as a whole.