Performing face pulls in a seated position can open up a whole host of opportunities, even in the absence of a regular cable machine.
Whether you’ve only got a cable row machine, find yourself “cheating” the repetitions by swinging your hips or have just come off a tough leg day – the seated face pull is an excellent option.
Seated Face Pull at a Glance
Cable Machine and a Rope Attachment
Main Muscles Targeted
How to do Seated Face Pulls
- To perform a seated face pull, adjust the seat or pulley until the cable is parallel with the face. Grip both ends of the handle in a neutral (palms facing inwards) grip.
- Retract the shoulders so that they are neutrally rotated and keep the neck aligned over the rest of the cervical spine. Push the chest out and ensure that the hips are ground into the seat.
- Now positioned correctly, begin to pull the center of the handle towards the face, spreading the elbows out wide until the upper arms are parallel to the shoulders and the hands are over the biceps.
- As the arms rotate parallel to the shoulders, retract the scapula alongside this movement so that they are fully pinched together at the top of the movement.
- With the concentric phase now complete, the lifter slowly allows the resistance to pull their arms back around to the front, extending the elbows and disengaging the scapula.
- The repetition is now considered complete.
Sets and Reps Suggestion:
Seated face pulls are otherwise identical to conventional face pulls, if not somewhat better for maximizing loading.
As such, aim for 2-3 sets of 12-20 repetitions at a low or moderate amount of resistance.
The main point to performing face pulls in a seated or kneeling position is to achieve a more horizontal angle of resistance in situations where an adjustable cable pulley is not present.
That, or to prevent lifters habitually “cheating” their repetitions by generating momentum with muscles other than the shoulders and upper back.
However, remember that lifters can still get other aspects of the face pull form wrong, even if they are not cheating the rep. To maximize muscular engagement, ensure the scapula fully retracts at the top of the repetition, and slowly disengages as the eccentric phase of the rep is completed.
Common Seated Face Pull Mistakes to Avoid
In order to avoid injury and get the most out of the seated face pull, avoid the following highly common mistakes.
Insufficient Range of Motion and Poor Tempo
As is also a mistake in many other exercises, failing to complete a full range of motion will cause sticking points to develop and render the exercise less effective as a whole.
Ensure each repetition starts and ends with the arms fully extended towards the pulley, and that the top of the movement has the shoulders parallel with the upper arms.
A poor range of motion further ties into poor tempo, where failing to control and lengthen the eccentric phase creates a sub-optimal time under tension, also affecting how useful the exercise is as a mass and strength building tool.
Positioning Seat Too Close to Cable
Much like standing too close to the pulley, ensure that the seat is not so close to the cable machine that slack is present in the cable or the ropes being used. This can create a less effective angle of resistance.
Aim to perform the exercise with the cable pointing directly at the face at the start of the repetition.
Doing so will ensure that the trapezius and rear deltoids are properly engaged, rather than the chest or elbow flexors.
Failing to Engage Scapula
To properly recruit the muscles of the upper back, ensure that the scapula retracts fully with each repetition.
Failing to engage the scapula will not only cause these muscles to be contracted poorly, but also result in an overly short range of motion at the top of the movement.
One good cue many lifters use is to imagine pinching a small object between the shoulder blades as the handle is pulled towards the face. This ensures that the scapula is fully retracted as the arms rotate parallel to the shoulders, and will help prevent internal rotation of the shoulders to some extent as well.
Contracting the Elbow Flexor Muscles Excessively
It is important to remember that the seated face pull is primarily a rear deltoid exercise, not a biceps one.
Feeling significant dynamic contraction in the elbow flexors or turning the movement into a bicep curl takes emphasis away from the posterior deltoids, and defeats the purpose of the exercise.
Aim to only contract the biceps (and other elbow flexor muscles) in an isometric manner. The arms should primarily be pulled backwards by the posterior deltoids and other rotator cuff muscles.
Are Seated Face Pulls the Right Exercise for You?
Seated face pulls have much the same use case as regular face pulls, only with a few minor advantages added on top.
If you wish to improve poor upper back posture, rehabilitate the shoulder girdle or otherwise build mass and strength in the traps and posterior delts, then seated face pulls are indeed right for you.
However, if seated face pulls are not quite meeting your training needs, similar movements like the seal row, supinated grip face pull or rear delt fly can also fulfill the same purpose.