For correcting one-sided muscular imbalances of the posterior deltoid or trapezius, few exercises compare to the efficiency of the single-arm face pull.
Even outside of rehabilitating muscular imbalances, lifters who wish to truly maximize their emphasis on the face pull’s target muscles will find training one side at a time allows for greater focus on proper muscular contraction.
Single Arm Face Pull at a Glance
Cable Machine and D-Handle Attachment
Main Muscles Targeted
How to do Single-Arm Face Pulls
- To perform single-arm face pulls, the lifter begins by standing facing the cable pulley with the working arm gripping the handle in front of the chest.
- They then push the chest out, square their shoulders into a neutral position and stack the neck over the rest of the cervical spine.
- Now in the correct position, the lifter will pull the handle towards the side of their head, rotating the upper arm until it is parallel with the side of the shoulder as the handle begins to pass the head. The elbow should also bend as this occurs.
- While rotating their upper arm, the lifter also retracts the scapula on the same side of the working arm, pulling it into a full range of retraction.
- Now having completed the concentric portion of the movement, the lifter allows the resistance of the cable to slowly pull their arm back around to the front of their body.
- Once back in the starting position, the repetition is considered to be complete. Don’t forget to repeat the movement with the opposite arm.
Sets and Reps Recommendation:
Single-arm face pulls take more time and energy than bilateral face pulls.
If you’re new to them, try 2-3 sets of 6-10 repetitions at a low level of resistance.
Retracting only one side of the scapula may feel odd at first – especially if you’re used to “pinching” the shoulder blades before performing a bench press. It is entirely fine to retract both, but keep in mind that this can cause the torso to move in the wrong direction.
One workaround is to press the non-working hand into the hip, allowing the non-working side of the scapula to partially retract without turning the torso or expending energy on the wrong side.
Common Single-Arm Face Pull Mistakes
To take your single-arm face pull development to the next level, eliminate the following mistakes from your technique.
Twisting the Torso
Lifters may find themselves unconsciously twisting the body towards the direction of the working arm. This will make the movement overall less effective at targeting the rear delts, and potentially lead to torsion on the spine and shoulder joint as well.
Apart from simply paying more attention to the orientation of the body, lifters can stretch out their non-working arm and lean against a nearby object for stability and support while performing the exercise.
Incomplete Range of Motion or Needlessly Fast Tempo
As always, remember that failing to complete a full range of motion can make exercises less effective and even lead to the development of weaknesses and sticking points.
Aim to begin and end each repetition with the working arm fully extended at the front of the torso. Furthermore, ensure that the upper arm is fully retracted and parallel to the shoulder at the end of the concentric phase.
A poor range of motion further ties into having a needlessly rapid tempo, where the repetition is rushed through and not enough time under tension is given to the muscles.
Apart from making sure you complete a full range of motion, also aim to stretch out the eccentric portion of the exercise for up to two seconds, intentionally slowing down as the resistance of the cable pulls your arm back around to the front.
Failing to Engage the Scapula
As mentioned previously, lifters may have difficulty correctly engaging the scapula on the working side of their body.
Ensure that the shoulder blade (or shoulder blades) are properly retracted alongside the external rotation of the upper arm – thereby targeting the upper back musculature as well.
Refer to the additional tips section earlier if you are having trouble with scapular retraction.
Poor Hand Position at Apex of Movement
A mistake more so common with the unilateral form of face pull; pulling the working hand immediately next to the head or over the shoulder can increase strain on the shoulder joint and affect how well the posterior deltoid is targeted.
Aim to pull the hand over the bicep as the upper arm abducts parallel to the shoulder. This is far more ideal than pulling it directly to the side of the head, and should help reduce strain on the internal portion of the shoulder joint.
Are Single-Arm Face Pulls the Right Exercise for You?
In actuality, performing face pulls with both hands is simply more efficient than using only one hand.
The single-arm face pull is better reserved for niche circumstances that require a unilateral muscular contraction, such as the presence of muscular imbalances or more specific training needs than general posterior deltoid development.
Outside of such needs, we advise looking into regular face pulls instead.