Leg Training – Deadlift Rack Pulls

Exercise Purpose

Deadlift rack pulls help you train the finishing movement for your deadlift. They allow you to pull a significantly higher weight to lockout than you would use for your full range of motion deadlifts. Rack pulls can

  • Build significant lower back strength.
  • By lifting heavier weight, they train your body and central nervous system to recruit more muscle fibers for the lift.
  • To a lesser degree, rack pulls also work your gluteus maximus (glutes) and hamstrings.

For the general strength trainers, lockouts are also a useful lower back compound exercise. By starting the lift just below the knees, rack pulls eliminate much of the leg drive from a full range of motion deadlift. This allows this exercise to focus the work directly on your lower back.

Exercise Technique:

Deadlift rack pull technique is very similar to conventional deadlift technique.

Equipment Setup

  • Rack pulls are performed in the power cage or squat rack provided it has adjustable safety pins.
  • Place the safety pins for the power cage 2 – 3″ below your knees. Rest the barbell right on the safety pins – and pile on the weight.Rack pulls should be performed with a weight above what you use for your normal deadlift working sets.

Exercise Setup:

  • Step up to the bar until your shins touch the barbell.
  • Bend at the waist to grip the barbell at shoulder width with an alternating grip. Your grip should be just on the inside edges of the bar’s knurling.
  • Since you will be pulling heavy, you likely will want to use chalk to further assist with your grip.

Initial setup for the lift: bar against the knees, bend at the waist to get a good grip

Performing the Exercise:

  • Rock back, bringing your hips down to the starting position, and your head and chest up. Because of the position of the barbell on the safety pins, you will not start with your hips as low as with a full range of motion deadlift.

Rock back into the starting position, bring your hips down and keep your back flat

  • Take a deep breath and hold it. Tighten your abs and keep your back flat throughout the exercise.
  • Pull the weight smoothly from the pins, do not jerk it as you begin the lift. Drive down through your heels, and force your hips forward. The barbell will drag across your legs as you complete the lift.
  • Begin to exhale as you pass the sticking point, and through lockout. Make sure you lock the weight out completely, and pause for a moment in the locked out position before lowering the weight to the pins.

Lock the weight out completely with your body erect before starting your next rep

  • Control the weight as you lower it to the pins, but it is unnecessary to lower it slowly. The bar may bounce as it hits the pins, allow it to stop moving completely before beginning your next repetition.
  • Rock back into the starting position as you begin each rep.

Full demonstration of the lift; notice how the back flattens out as you rock back during the set up

Training program recommendations

  • This exercise is meant to be performed at very heavy weights. Repetitions performed should be 3 – 5 reps per set for 3 – 4 sets.
  • When lifting heavy (above 80% of your one rep max), squats and deadlifts take a toll on your body, and you need time to recover. Consider alternating full range of motion deadlifts with rack pulls from week to week.
  • Vary the height at which you perform rack pulls in consecutive training sessions. Begin with the pins several inches below your knee, and in following training sessions raise the pin height, and the weight.
  • Sets performed at the top end (pins at the knees) should be performed with well above your 1RM, although sets performed at several inches below your knee will be below your 1RM.
  • Don’t be afraid to stack on the weight and make some noise. Several hundred pounds crashing back onto the safety pins makes quite a racket, but that is how you get strong!

Common Mistakes

  • Failing to completely lockout: Pull the weight to a complete lockout and pause briefly to get the most out of this exercise.
  • Bouncing the bar off the pins: The bar may bounce a bit when you drop it back to the rack, let bar movement stop completely before starting your next repetition. Reset your starting position for each repetition for maximum effectiveness of this exercise.

Exercise Safety

  • You will be performing this exercise with a significant amount of weight and should make sure you are healthy enough to perform this exercise safely. Consult with your doctor before embarking on any new fitness program.
  • If you are new to strength training, perform this exercise with lighter weight and higher reps (8 – 12 reps) until you have the technique mastered, and your lower back strengthened enough to raise the weights.

Additional Leg and Lower Back Exercises

If you’re new to lifting weights, keep your exercise routines simple. You don’t need complex routines and exercises to build significant strength and size. Your basic compound lifts, such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press will give you a great foundation to build on. Follow my basic rules on strength training:

  1. Work on perfecting your technique – strive for ‘perfect’ form with every repetition.
  2. Set up a balanced training program centered on your big compound lifts (and your individual training goals).
  3. Establish a good diet with plenty of protein and sufficient calories.
  4. Expect steady progression – lift what your body’s ready for.

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