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Face Pull Pulley Height

I’ve been doing face pulls for a while and I’ve always done them where I’d do seated cable rows. Today, however, someone was using the cable row station and I felt like finishing up and getting out of the gym, so I decided to do them at the lat pull-down station, as I’ve seen in a number of articles here.

I found that I was able to perform them with the same amount of weight more easily then at the cable row station. Granted, this is likely due to the fact that I usually pull to the bridge of my nose and today was no different. Anyway, this got me wondering what the advantages and disadvantages are of doing face pulls with different heights for the pulleys. I recognize that a higher pulley will make the face pull into more of a downward pulling motion, whereas a lower pulley will make it more upward.

My thinking is that while they both work the rotator cuff and rear delts, using lower pulleys will result in more upward rotation in the scapulae and hit the higher trap fibers, while higher pulleys will cause more downward rotation and hit the lower trap fibers.

Your thoughts?

Last week at my gym I started to do face pulls again. I realized that when adjusted at anything below 16, I felt nothing and it was too easy. I put it up to 17 out of a possible 18 height variation and it is perfect. This I do standing in the dual-stack pulley towers. It works the rear delts and maybe the traps a little bit harder. Still effective and I also do rear-delt lateral raises on an incline.

Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman’s killer article Push-ups, Face Pulls, and Shrugs should give you some good ideas about how to use the face pull:

I generally set the pulley around forehead-height and pull a rope or two with a neutral grip. Pulling on a slight downward angle/with a higher pulley can allow better scapular retraction, which allows better activation across the upper back (rear delts, rhomboids, the hard-to-target-low traps, etc.)

Also, I’ll often hold the peak contraction (almost like hitting a back double bi shot) for a three or five-count, since scapular stability is a key to upper body joint health.

I agree with what Chris said, face pulls are awesome.

1 tip: check your external rotation ROM. I was a thrower (right handed) in high school, so as a consequence I have far greater ROM on my right side. I found that holding the peak contraction (rope to nose, shoulders externally rotated) irritated my left shoulder.

For this reason, it’s not an ego lift, more of a ‘feeling’ lift, which I mostly progress in seconds held before i even think about upping weight/reps

After looking at the video of Robertson doing the face pulls (that is Robertson, isn’t it?), I realize I been getting as much external rotation as I probably could (/should) be getting, especially consider that they’re partly prehab exercises. Next time I do them I’ll try doing them standing up with a forehead level pulley and a greater degree of external rotation. And of course continue holding the peak contraction for two or three seconds with each rep.

Oh, and thanks for the idea about the double back biceps, Chris.