How to do Face Pulls Correctly and Safely [Videos, FAQs and Visuals]

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Prehabilitation is always better than rehabilitation. With an incidence of approximately 10/1000 per year, shoulder injuries have become a common occurrence in athletes and non-athletes alike.

Many of these injuries result from damage to the rotator cuff that results from inappropriate and repetitive use of the shoulder joint.

There are many exercises that strengthen the rotator cuff in a stable shoulder position, but the face pull reigns supreme for shoulder health.




  • Strengthens the posterior shoulder muscles in an externally rotated position

  • Strengthens and stabilizes the four small muscles of the rotator cuff

  • Improves the rounded shoulder posture that is prevalent in our society


  • Posterior Deltoids

  • Rotator Cuff

  • Rhomboids

  • Trapezius

  • Biceps


  • Approach a cable pulley machine and set the apparatus to a height that is roughly at the level of your neck

  • Attach the rope handle to the apparatus. (If you don’t have one, they are pretty cheap on Amazon).

  • Set the machine to the desired weight (start very light)

  • Grab the rope handles FROM BELOW THE ROPE (underhand grip) with your palms facing inward

  • Step away from the cable machine to begin lifting the weights from the weight stack

  • Step far enough so that your arms are completely outstretched in front of you



  • Set your feet roughly shoulder with or you can stagger your stance to improve your balance

  • Set your shoulder blades back into a retracted position and brace your core

  • Begin the exercise by pulling the rope towards your face/forehead while actively trying to separate the rope (Pretend like you are trying to snap the rope in half)



  • The separation is what will create the shoulder external rotation

  • The range of motion should naturally end right before touching your face

  • Your arms should almost be at 90° angles when you reach the end range as if you are flexing your biceps

  • Hold this position for a brief one count and slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position

  • Repeat for the desired amount of reps


Not Keeping the shoulder blades retracted

This common mistake will lead to an excessive motion of the shoulder joint in the shoulder socket. Too much motion can lead to shoulder instability and increase the risk of injury. Keep the shoulders back and do not let them move from this position.


Performing the shrug during this exercise will deemphasize the rotator cuff and emphasize the trapezius muscles. Focus on keeping your traps out of the movement.

Setting Your Grip above the rope (overhand Grip)

This Grip automatically puts your shoulders into an internally rotated position which is what we are trying to avoid. Grab the rope from the bottom and keep your palms facing each other.


Face Pull with Bands

The face pull could also be performed with a closed loop resistance band. I recommend that you get a few different sizes as they vary in strength.

This fourth exercise in this video are banded face pulls


What is the Right Face Pull Cable Height?

  • The cable should be set at a height that is roughly at the level of your neck. You can see the video above for a visual demonstration.

Are Face Pulls For Shoulders or Back?

  • Face pulls are primarily an exercise for the rear deltoids and the rotator cuff. However, due to the nature of the exercise, the upper back does get activated during the movement.

Are Face Pulls Compound or Isolation Exercises?

  • Face Pulls could be considered a compound. They train the rear deltoids, the rotator cuff, the upper back and a little bit of the biceps.

Why does my Hand Position/Grip Matter on Face Pulls?

  • We want the exercise to train your shoulders in an externally rotated position. By grabbing the rope with an overhand grip, your shoulders roll into an internally rotated position which defeats the purpose of the exercise.

Can I Perform the Face Pull on a Seated Row or Lat PullDown Machine

  • The short answer is yes. The weight won’t be perfectly aligned with your neck at the starting position, but if you only have access to a lat pulldown or seated row, then you can perform this exercise as long as you have a rope attachment.

What is a Good Face Pull Rep Range?

  • The face pull is not a primary exercise, and thus you do not need to go heavy on it. The absolute minimum amount of reps you should perform is 8, but you should focus on performing 10-15 reps per set.

Face Pulls vs Band Pull Aparts vs Rear Delt Flys

  • The band pull apart and rear delt flys are other great exercises to train the same muscle groups as the face pull. The face pull is unique because it actually allows you to externally rotate your shoulders to a greater degree, and thus, isolate the rotator cuff muscles more.


Or you can check out a full list of the Best Back Exercises That Actually Work

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, a NASM CPT, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy individuals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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