Are Rack Pulls Pointless?
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I will explore both rack pulls from below the knee and rack pulls from above the knee. It is important to consider both variations in this discussion.
Are Rack Pulls Pointless?
If you are a bodybuilder, then there is some utility in doing rack pulls to build up the upper back and traps.
Rack pulls from below the knee have some utility in getting your body used to getting into and maintaining back extension. They also strengthen the posterior chain and can help with the deadlift.
Rack pulls from above the knee are the most controversial. Many people are against rack pulls as they can bend and ruin barbells.
Overall rack pulls are not pointless, they serve an important purpose for many people. But there are also many people who are very vocal in their distaste of this exercise.
What Are Your Goals?
There are some people in the strength community like Mark Rippetoe who advocate this exercise as an assistance movement. Mark is talking explicitly about rack pulls from just below the knee. I have performed this exercise a lot in the past and found that the weights used were similar to the deadlift.
It is good for strengthening the posterior chain and for working to keep your back in extension as you pull.
If you are a bodybuilder and your aim is muscle hypertrophy, rack pulls above the knee can be effective in building a thicker upper back. Bodybuilders could also choose to implement rack pulls from below the knee instead of deadlifts from the floor.
Rack Pulls From Above The Knee Are An Ego Lift?
As I mentioned, rack pulls from above the knee are a highly controversial exercise. There are many people who believe that they are pointless and just an ego lift.
Pete Rubish for instance, believes that rack pulls above the knee serve no purpose other than to destroy barbells and ego lifting. There is some merit to what he is saying. Rack pulls can destroy barbells by bending them when you drop them down onto the pins with heavy weight.
Bent barbells are dangerous for other gym members. If you try to bench press with a bar that is really bent there is a high risk of injury. You are more likely to lose control of the bar and even drop it on yourself.
As for ego lifting, there is some credence to this. Ego lifting is very common in a lot of gyms. I have talked about this in my article on “why do people go so heavy on leg press?“.
The rack pull from above the knee is an exercise where you can use huge weights. You can pull substantially more than your max deadlift and it is highly taxing on the central nervous system.
You can see Pete’s thoughts about this in the video below. Pete is a well known powerlifter who was one of the strongest deadlifters in the world at one point, deadlifting over 900lb.
Rack Pulls Above The Knee Build Big Traps
On the flip side, rack pulls from above the knee can help you build big traps and thicken your upper back.
AlphaDestiny, who is a popular content creator in the fitness community swears by this exercise for helping him to build bigger traps. The traps grow when you use heavy weight and you stretch them, this is why many strong deadlifters have good trap development.
With the rack pull above the knee you are using really heavy weights – far heavier than your max deadlift. As a result, you are getting a serious stretch on your traps. This will help to grow them significantly over time.
I have friends as well who perform heavy rack pulls from above the knee – they all have great upper back development. So there is something anecdotally to be said for this exercise variation. It just happens to cause massive controversy in the lifting community!
There is a good article by The Man Blueprint explaining why rack pulls are good for natural lifters. I do agree that rack pulls serve a good purpose for adding mass to your back. You can read his article here.
Rack Pulls For Lockout Strength
By getting strong in that exercise, you will greatly improve your lockout on the deadlift and strength in the middle of the deadlift.
Rack pulls above the knee don’t help as much in this regard as the range of motion is very small. So there is a useful carryover related to deadlift strength which can make the rack pull useful.
This is why strength coaches like Mark Rippetoe advocate using the rack pull below the knee for advanced trainees. It can be an effective assistance exercise for the deadlift.
The reason many powerlifters don’t perform rack pulls is maybe because they don’t see as much carryover to the deadlift themselves. Also, heavy rack pulls are taxing and they would prefer to do heavy deadlifts from the floor instead.
In closing, I have answered the question “are rack pulls pointless?”. Whilst rack pulls are a very controversial exercise that divides opinion, they are not pointless.
Rack pulls from below the knee are an effective assistance exercise to the deadlift and can strengthen the posterior chain really well. Rack pulls from above the knee can be very effective when it comes to building bigger traps and adding slabs of muscle to your upper back.
It is true that rack pulls can bend and ruin bars though. You should bare this in mind if you are in a commercial gym and ask permission first before performing this exercise.
Some people get carried away and use rack pulls purely to inflate their egos. I have always maintained that ego lifting is bad. When you perform an exercise you should have a certain goal in mind and use weights that are appropriate for your strength levels.
If you would like to share your thoughts on this topic, please leave me a comment below!
As always, stay safe and enjoy your training.
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