Stephen Box is the founder of Team Box, a competition prep coach and physique consultant, and the Winner of Mr Great Britain and UKBFF Model division
You probably already do plenty of face pulls. If you don’t, you should. Once best-known an accessory move for powerlifters, they’ve become a fixture in body-comp programmes for guys who are interested in keeping their shoulders healthy as well as building their bench. They’ll offset at least some of the pressing you’re doing, help out your poor, overworked rotator cuffs and maybe even fix your posture. But the difference between doing them well and sloppily has a huge impact on their effectiveness – especially when it comes to hitting your hard-to-target rear delts. And since you should be doing them anyway, you should make sure you’re doing them effectively, every time. Here’s how to do it.
You probably know this already, but just so we’re on the same page: attach a double-rope attachment to a cable station set at about chest level, hold both ends with an overhand grip, and step back to a staggered stance with your knees slightly bent. To lift the stack, retract your scapulae and pull the ends of the rope slightly ‘apart’ and back towards your face, externally rotating your knuckles as you get near to the end of the movement. Simple enough: now let’s tweak it.
The problem for most people is that the range of motion where they can actually get tension on their rear delts is very small – it might be a tiny part of the movement. Outside of that range, you’re bringing in other muscles, including your lats, and not targetting the muscles that the face pull should. One of the easiest ways to start to fix it is with slow band pull-aparts, done very wide: focus on the ROM where you can actually feel your rear delts activating. For a lot of people, this is a very small range of motion: it might be 15-20˚ at the end of the movement. Do a few reps every time you train, focusing on expanding your ROM.
During the face pulls themselves, think about the angle of tension on your delts. As a general rule, imagine a bullet going straight along the line of the cable and through your body: where it comes out is the muscle group you’re going to target most heavily with the movement. Again, make sure you’re pulling at a range where you can feel your rear delts activate: pinch your scapulae together, and bring the ropes out to the side, keeping your arms flat as you pull. On every single rep.
It’s easy to get into the trap of thinking too much about the exercise you’re doing, and not what effect you’re trying to get with them: but making the switch in mentality will change your training. Rather than just mindlessly throwing a handful of pull-aparts in at the end of bench day, make a conscious effort to improve the ROM where you can feel your delts activating. You’ll improve your physique, and your balance. With a move you’re doing anyway.