Do Rack Pulls Help To Increase Your Deadlift?
March 10th 2020
One of the most common deadlift accessory exercises you might see people doing is the rack pull.
The rack pull is very similar to the deadlift but is only part of the entire range of motion of the deadlift.
It is performed with the bar and weights in an elevated position so that you are not starting entirely from the floor.
This decreases the number of muscles you use in getting the weight off the floor which may sound bad but the benefit of doing so is that you can put more weight on the bar.
Because of the decreased range of motion, the rack pull is easier than the deadlift so you can add more weight to it.
As a result, you are able to train with a higher intensity but without injuring yourself.
With that being said, is the rack pull something that beginner lifters should focus on?
I would say no because beginners (those who have just started lifting weights) should primarily focus on performing the big 4 exercises (squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press) with proper form and full range of motion.
As we’ll discuss later, implementing an exercise like the rack pull when you are just getting started will not give you the benefits that the rack pull will provide for an intermediate lifter.
In addition, implementing the rack pull when you haven’t learned how to deadlift is a recipe for disaster and can negatively affect your deadlift form, increasing your chance of injury.
Are rack pulls harder than deadlifts?
If you have two bars of the same weight, the rack pull is always easier because of the decreased range of motion.
Due to the decreased range of motion, and because the range of motion loss is the toughest part of the deadlift (breaking from the floor), you are able to lift more weight with the rack pull.
The amount of weight you can lift will depend on how high (or how less range of motion) you are setting the bars during the rack pull.
The higher the bars, the easier the pull.
What makes the rack pull unique is that it gives you the opportunity to overload the weight with weight that you probably are not ready to deadlift yet.
This can provide a good stimulus for your lower back and musculature (as you are still performing most of the deadlift, just without the beginning portion), and at the same time, it can also help to get you mentally prepared for lifting heavier and heavier weight.
As you will find out for yourself down the line, our mental state plays a big role on whether or not we are able to lift a weight.
It’s similar to boxing.
Once you show weakness or doubt to your opponent during the match, you will most likely lose.
If you show weakness or doubt of lifting the weight, you may unconsciously alter your form because you don’t believe that you are able to lift the weight so are trying to mitigate any potential damage, which is what is causing you to miss the weight in the first place.
By doing heavy sets of rack pulls, you are priming your mind to being able to lift heavier weights.
As a result, once you actually perform the deadlift with the same weight, it will seem less intimidating, and you will feel more confident that you are able to get the weight up.
However, if you are a beginner who just started deadlifting recently, then you might not see these benefits by implementing the rack pull.
Instead, you should just continue to work on perfecting your deadlift form and performing the deadlift in the gym.
Do rack pulls help your deadlift?
As mentioned in other articles, as a beginner, you will be progressing fast regardless so performing the rack pull won’t be very beneficial for you.
The rack pull is a deadlift accessory that is best used by intermediate and advanced lifters who have already reached a plateau in performing the deadlift.
Majority of lifters need to just deadlift more and fix their form
If you are thinking about doing rack pulls to help your deadlift, most lifters would benefit more from just doing more deadlift volume.
This means that they are training their main deadlift form.
Now, once you finished up your main work, some lifters may want to do secondary movements.
This is where rack pulls may come into play.
And again, for most lifters, I would suggest skipping this unless you know for sure what you are doing.
If you are following a program or getting coached, continue what you are doing.
For most beginner and intermediate strength programs, they would not have you adding in rack pulls.
Depends on you though.
This is a case for adding in rack pulls
If you need a compound movement to overload your deadlift day, rack pulls may be something in your wheelhouse.
Rack pulls are “easy enough” to add more weight so that you can fire up your neurons and get your nervous system awake.
Again, depending on your goals, this may be something you want to do when you are working on improving your deadlift max or you are training hard within a cycle.
Now, why does this work?
Because really, a rack pull is a partial deadlift and for nearly all lifters, they should be able to rack pull more weight than they deadlift.
As a result, with more weight, this means more stimulus for your body.
Your body needs to create more neural connections to meet this new demand.
A second option your body can do is to fire your neuron more efficiently so that your existing neural connections can be activated a lot quicker.
This is where strength comes into play.
Ideally, you would want both of these situations to occur and one way to force your body to change is by lifting more weight than you are used to.
And the rack pulls may be just that exercise for you.
Are rack pulls safe?
Like everything else in the gym, the rack pull is a safe exercise, but it can be unsafe if you are performing it incorrectly without proper form.
Form is crucial for all weights in the gym and is the most important skill you need to hone as a beginner lifter.
Having proper form will allow you to lift more weight because it puts you in a more mechanically advantageous position as opposed to improper form.
And having proper form will make the exercises safe and will help you to prevent injury.
It is crucial to have proper form, even when performing the rack pull.
How to perform the rack pull
To perform the rack pull properly, you will first need to understand how to perform the deadlift properly which you can learn in our separate article here.
In order to perform the rack pull, you need a squat rack or power rack with pins that allow you to adjust the height.
You want to set the height of the pins so that the bar sits right around mid-shin level.
Anything higher, it will just be too easy and anything lower will make the exercise more like a deadlift rather than a rack pull.
The set up is slightly different in that your shins should be directly touching the bar.
This is contrary to the starting position of the deadlift where the bar is around your lace level.
The reason why you want your shins to touch the bar is because when you perform a regular deadlift, and the bar is around mid-shin, the bar should be touching your shins.
To put it simply, the proper form for the rack pull is simply a deadlift but eliminating the bottom-most portion.
So, the rest of the rack pull should be very similar to the deadlift in terms of body positioning, lockout, and the eccentric phase.
Warm up using a comfortable weight and then increase the weight to an intensity you are comfortable with.