When you ask someone what the best exercise to build a massive back is, very rarely would said person respond with “rack pulls of course”.

However, over the course of this article, I will show you how rack pulls help you build a massive back.

We’ll also look at the best reps, sets, tips, and tricks to help you get the absolute MOST of this badass exercise!

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With rack pulls you can expect to see gains in your back as if you were back to your first time lifting with newbie gains! 

But don’t just take my word for it, put them to the test!

So without further ado, let’s jump right in.

What Are Rack Pulls?

Rack pulls couldn’t really get any simpler as to what to do, as it’s quite literally in the name…

You set up a barbell with good weight at a rack, and you pull similarly to a deadlift. That’s it.

The reason why you want to set it up in a rack however, is because when you start from that elevated position, you can go MUCH heavier in the weight during the upper portion of the movement.

When it comes to bodybuilding, or weightlifting in general having a MASSIVE back helps in not only aesthetics, but in also pure performance… Something that rack pulls can easily help with.

Only when doing rack pulls can you put your back under such INSANE amounts of weight, and that will be key with this exercise…

Rack pulls will probably be your strongest exercise in terms of weight, due to how incredibly simple the movement is, with such little range of motion.

This heavy weight however, will allow you to work your back, and specifically your traps with a degree of intensity they may have never felt before.

This leads to insane back and trap growth, as well as a narrowing of the midsection, due to heavy rack pulls also engaging the core (specifically the transverse abdominis which is like a natural corset for your body).

Rack Pulls vs. Deadlifts

One of the most common questions people have when it comes to rack pulls are the differences between them and rack pulls.

Which one is better? Depends on your goals…

If your goal is to be an all-around more functional human being, then deadlifts are your best bet, due to it’s ability to target the posterior chain so effectively.

However, if your goal is to get a MASSIVE upper body, and build crazy back strength while you’re at it, then you’re gonna want to switch to rack pulls.

Of course, you could also do both, and simply alternate each time you would normally do one or the other.

In terms of differences in the actual movement itself however, there’s mainly one key difference between rack pulls and deadlifts.

With deadlifts, the bar is set on the ground before the lift. With rack pulls, you’re gonna wanna set the bar to around knee-level.

The lower below knee level you go, the more you’d be working the posterior chain, and the higher above the knee you go, the more you’d be working the back/ traps.

I recommend setting it to about knee, or slightly ABOVE knee level to really target your back muscles, while also being low enough to engage the transverse abdominis.

This helps you get a nice “V-taper” look to your physique, but play around with what works best for you.

How To Perform A Rack Pull

Luckily, using proper form on rack pulls is pretty intuitive, but as you will be able to use a LOT of weight, we’ll go over the best form tips, to maximize both gains and safety.

When you have the bar set up, to be around knee height or slightly above, you’re going to want to take a deadlift stance, so feet are roughly hip-width or slightly wider.

From there, you’re going to want to grab the bar at about shoulder-width, and unless you have some really strong forearms, then it’s recommended to use lifting straps, otherwise you won’t be able to hold onto the bar.

Now, with a slight hinge at the hips, you’re going to lean over with your lower chest above the bar.

From here, you’re going to want to drive the glutes forward whilst pulling the weight up with a straight back.

This is key… You do NOT want to ever do this exercise with a rounded back, as the strain on your lower back would be IMMENSE due to the extremely heavy weight you’ll be using.

Luckily, rack pulls pretty much FORCE your body to be in perfect alignment if you’re using a heavy enough weight, which also makes it a fantastic exercise for fixing your posture.

Once you’ve lifted the weight, slowly lower it all the way back down, let the bar rest on the rack, and execute the pull again… Repeat for the desired number of sets and reps.

Sets & Reps For Rack Pulls

For the sets and reps, we’re going to be keeping both on the LOWER side…

The reason we keep reps on the lower side is because rack pulls are an exercise that will give you the MOST benefit when working with low reps and high weight as opposed to high reps and lower weight, which wouldn’t make much sense with this exercise.

The reason we want to keep sets low is that rack pulls are not only a very taxing exercise on your body, but on your nervous system as well.

If you’re doing rack pulls at the beginning of your workouts like we recommend doing, and you do too many sets, you’ll be exhausted and your numbers will drop for all your other exercises.

For these reasons, we’re going to be keeping sets and reps on the lower side.

Here’s a basic set/rep scheme for rack pulls depending on where you’re at with your fitness journey:

  • Beginner: 2×3-5
  • Intermediate: 3×4-6
  • Advanced: 3×5-8

The reason why advanced has slightly more reps than the others, is again because an advanced lifter’s nervous system will be better equipped to handle the extra load and THEN continue on with the rest of their workout.

Now, you may have caught it before, but I’ll say it again here… Rack pulls are recommended to be done at the very BEGINNING of your workout.

You’ll be able to use far more weight, and it’s a fantastic warmup for the rest of your back exercises.

Bonus Tips & Tricks

Rack pulls is an exercise where there is very little chance of injury, failure, etc. and for these reasons, weight is KING for this exercise.

You can and SHOULD go very heavy with this exercise, as when you go heavy you’ll watch your back transform INSANELY fast.

Another note: It’s recommended to use lifting straps, and if you need to, you can also use a lifting belt for safety, although it’s not necessary.

And that’s pretty much it!

Again, rack pulls are a pretty intuitive exercise, but don’t confuse simplicity for lack of effectiveness, as I know of very few exercises that have the power to DRASTICALLY transform your physique as quickly as rack pulls will.

Focus on adding weight week after week, and you’ll see what I mean.

Rack Pulls: In Summary

All in all, rack pulls are easily in the top 3 exercises for building a massive back FAST! 

It may be a super simple exercise, but its results speak for themselves, plus it just looks plain badass when people see you lifting five, six, SEVEN plates, even if with a reduced range of motion.

Overall however, I thoroughly hope you enjoyed this article and found the information presented within useful!

If you want even more amazing advice on meeting any and all of your bodybuilding or fitness goals then make sure to check out the rest of Herculean Strength.