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Cable Setup for Face Pulls


I was thinking about adding this to my workout. I've seen a few videos and read up on it but have a question on how to setup the cables. Should I be pulling directly horizontal to my face or should I be setting the pins on the cable higher so I'm pulling slightly down toward my face. I've seen it done both ways on youtube videos and in this T-Nation article he's pulling down on angle. But is that because his machine does not have adjustable pins for the cable?



Both variations work and have the same effect. I've done them face down flat or inclined on a bench with a sturdy piece of rope wrapped around two DBs.

Just do some and your shoulders will thank you.


They can also be done prone (lying back down) which is necessary when using more weight.

I don't know that my method is optimal but I set the pulley so that with a tricep rope attached, I can just barely reach the rope; and have the bench position a modest distance (I really don't know how far, though it's consistent) from the cable system so that I am a little "overhead" and thus pulling at a modest angle towards my feet as pulling towards my chin.

A plate can be kept on the chest if necessary.

If I were doing them standing I'd do them at the same sort of angle.


One of the top ten reasons why T-Nation is awesome: You can ask the author yourself. :wink:

When I do face pulls, I set the cable up at eye/forehead level and pull with a neutral grip using the rope handle.

It's basically identical to the form Bill Hartman is using in the video in this article:

but I actually hold the contracted position for 3-5 second on each reps, because I use the exercise as a warm-up.


Is this the type of exercise one could expect to increase the weight used ... weekly? OR is it an exercise where a higher number of reps is preferred over how much you can actually pull?


I've found that, as you go heavier, it's easier to (unintentionally) use body english to start the movement which takes some of the work off the prime target - the upper back/shoulder girdle area. Going heavier would also effect the ability to hit that static hold, which I believe is important for scapular health.

I'll usually work them for 2-4x10-15, occasionally adding 5 pounds after the first set if I'm feeling amped, but I don't think I've gone above 30 pounds on these when using the pause technique. I'd work on hitting that static hold for a full count of 5 or so on all reps, and then increase the reps per set, before increasing the weight used.

I use them as a pre-hab/warm-up movement, not a major strength/size builder. If I were to use face pulls as an upper back or shoulder builder, I like Bill's idea above, doing them lying down. That would help to limit, or at least make more obvious, any cheating.


my bad

never mind


I suppose another advantage of doing them prone on a bench is that it completely eliminates the body English mentioned by Chris, above.

Not that it has to be done from a bench, at least not when the weight is not a high enough percentage of bodyweight to create an unworkable leverage. I don't know where the dividing line is but certainly when close to bodyweight or exceeding it, then the prone method does become necessary.


I tried these for the first time today. I used to much weight on the 1st set and I definitely felt my self using body english and pulling with my arms. When I dropped the weight and concentrated on my upper back I got the workout I was looking for.

Foolishly I jumped right on the dip station afterwards and started doing my normal 5x8. Man I know I worked my traps and rear shoulder because I felt them burning on the 1st set of dips. This has never happened before. Lesson learned.


Yes, so far as I know it's impossible to cheat in terms of the body English mentioned.

It is possible to jerk the weight at the start of the movement and thus rob some of the value if actually having the strength at that point to complete the rep smoothly and at moderate tempo, so that should be avoided.

Where desired though it can be a technique for extending a set to do as many reps as possible smoothly and at moderate tempo, generating no extra momentum in the early part of the rep, and then to get a couple more in with the aid of explosiveness. So it's not necessarily a bad thing that one is able to do that: it's just that it shouldn't, IMO, be relied on as how most of the reps are done.

Reps using explosiveness should not done, I believe, past the point where it seems that the last rep was done that could still slowly pull back the final part of the rep, hold the full contraction and lower the weight gradually.

Definitely the most benefit is in the last part of the movement and the full contraction, and so going into that with too much momentum is sort of a form of cheating.


Thanks Chris and Bill, that's what I needed to hear. I usually do front, side, and rear db raises for prehab/warm-up. I like doing facepulls more though.


Hey Bill, can you give a description of setting up the bench for these? I'm trying to imagine it...but having some trouble. Were you sitting on a vertical bench? Lying down and pulling the cables from the tower towards your face? Arching at all?


The bench is completely flat, same as if doing bench press.

As it happens I'm heading to the gym in 15 minutes: though not doing face pulls today it will be easy enough to put a bench in suitable position and approximately measure how far away it is from the cable system.

But for now, generally speaking it's set so that the angle you reach is, relative to your body, same as recommended for standing face pulls. I understand that to be reaching somewhat but not greatly "above" your head: in this case, "above" meaning towards the cable machine as you are lying down with your head towards the machine.


For the sake of measurement, I dropped the pulley so the rope was level with the bench. (In actual use, the rope is as high as you can properly reach.)

The distance I use for the bench is having the edge 16" back from that distance, and then doing the exercise scooted as far "up" the bench (towards the pulley) as still allows the weight bearing part of the head to be edging the end of the bench. The top part of the head is over the end of the bench.

Contrary to my previous guess as to how "high" (towards the cable; if I were standing it would be vertically higher) I am reaching at the top of the movement. It actually is about "level" with the top of the head. However the pulley itself is further back ("above" if one were standing that) than that. But not the rope handles once they are grabbed and pulled into position. So the hands are reaching basically as "high" as the top of the head, more or less (hard to be sure, as my head is leaning back some instead of looking straight up) rather than reaching "above" my head as I had thought.

(Of course lying down it's above, but I mean, more towards the cable than the top of my head is, and what would be "above" if standing.)

I would think other similar but slightly different distances would also be fine, but that's what I use myself.