Cable Face Pull

We use our shoulder and back muscles to maintain posture during everyday activity. When we look at our computer screen or down at the steering wheel, they help us maintain an upright position.

The cable face pull targets your posterior deltoids and upper traps. Both these muscles play key roles in your posture. Alongside being a good exercise for shoulder health, it also helps us build bigger shoulders

In the guide below, we’ve looked at the correct form, programming, and main muscles worked. We’ve also described the best uses and main benefits so you can add them to your workout routine.

How To Do

  1. Stand in front of an adjustable cable machine with your body parallel to the adjustable rail. 
  2. Set the adjustable cable anchor point to eye level and clip on a double rope attachment.
  3. Grasp a handle with each hand. Ensure your palms are facing inward. 
  4. Take a couple of steps back until your arms are fully extended.
  5. Bring your shoulder blades back and stick your chest out. Take a deep breath in and engage your core. This is your starting position. 
  6. Bring both handles straight back towards your face. Drive your elbows behind your shoulders while pulling both handles apart as they reach your eye level. 
  7. Once your hands reach your ears, pause briefly at the top position. 
  8. Slowly bring the rope ends back towards the machine in a straight line. Breathe out as the rope ends come back together. 
  9. Keep your shoulder bladed retracted and arms extended. Repeat the same steps.

Tips From Expert

  • As you pull the rope towards you, think about exposing your inner arm to the cable machine in front. 
  • Make sure to keep your shoulder blades retracted and chest out when pulling. This allows you to isolate your shoulders and traps. 
  • The rope should stay at eye level throughout the movement. Avoid letting your elbows drop down. 
  • The cable face pull isn't meant to be performed with heavy weight. Use a slow and controlled movement with a weight that you can use for the technique cues above.
  • Ensure your hands are against the ends of the rope. If you notice your grip slipping, drop the weight.

Optimal Sets and Reps

The correct number of sets and reps will vary according to your chosen training style. Use the table below as a general programming guide.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 4–6
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–10
Endurance Training 3–4 12–20
Power Training 3–5 1–3

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The cable face pull is a versatile upper-body exercise. This means that it has several useful applications and uses the muscles in the upper half of your body. More specifically, it targets the muscles of your upper back; your posterior deltoids, and your upper trapezius. 

Both of these muscle groups play key roles in shoulder stability and health. They also form a large proportion of your upper back. 

When programming the cable face pull, you can include it using different workout splits. The correct one to choose will depend on your training goals and preferences. 

  • Dedicated shoulder workout — Your posterior deltoids are the primary movers. Therefore, program the cable face pull as part of a cable shoulder workout. Include it after your compound shoulder movements. These are the ones that use multiple muscle groups. 
  • Full-body workout — As part of a full-body workout, program them after a compound shoulder movement. They can be performed as a part of a superset if you want. This is where you perform one movement after another. 
  • Upper/lower split workout — The cable face pull is an upper-body exercise. Program it on your upper-body day with a pressing exercise. A good example would be the barbell military press. 

To figure out your correct training intensity, you can use your one repetition max (1RM). This is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one repetition. You can work this out by yourself or with the help of a personal trainer if needed. 

For example, if you can do 10 pounds for one repetition, 50% of your 1RM would be 5 pounds. 

Once you know your training style, use the guide below to find your workout intensity. 

- Strength Training:

    • High-intensity training focus.
    • 80%100% of your 1RM.
    • Two to three minutes rest between sets.

- Hypertrophy Training: 

    • Moderate to high-intensity training focus. 
    • 60%80% of your 1RM.
    • 45 to 90 seconds rest between sets.

- Endurance Training:

    • Light to moderate intensity training focus. 
    • 40%60% of your 1RM.
    • 45 to 90 seconds rest between sets.

- Power Training:

    • High-intensity training focus. 
    • 80%100% of your 1RM.
    • 2 to 3 minutes rest between sets.

*Expert tip — The cable face pull isn’t meant to develop power. It’s an isolation exercise that’s good for hypertrophy and improving shoulder health. Use the hypertrophy training and endurance training intensities. 

Primary Muscle Groups

Upper Trapezius

Triangular shaped muscles located between your neck and shoulder blades.

Posterior Deltoid

Muscles located at the back of your shoulder. Helps with posture.

Posterior Deltoid

Your deltoids are made up of three heads; your anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids, and posterior deltoids. Your posterior deltoids are located at the back of your shoulders. 

The primary function of your posterior deltoids is to draw your arms backward. As you bring the rope handles toward your face, they retract and rotate your shoulders. 

As a primary mover, the cable face pull is a great way to develop strength. It also improves the function of your posterior deltoids. 

*Expert tip — You can include the cable face pull as part of a shoulder machine workout or free-weight workout. The main thing is to ensure it’s programmed after your compound movements. 

Upper Trapezius

Your trapezius muscles, also known as your traps, are located in the middle of your back. More specifically, they’re above your lats and below your neck. They consist of three parts; your upper traps, middle traps, and lower traps. 

Your upper traps are located just below your neck. Their primary function is to move your arms and neck and stabilize your shoulders

As you pull your arms back, your upper traps help to stabilize your shoulder blades. They help your arms to move back in a straight line while keeping your elbows up. 

As a key stabilizer muscle, the cable face pull helps to improve the strength and function of your upper traps.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Biceps Long Head

Most outside part of your bicep.The front of your upper arm.

Biceps Short Head

Most inside portion of the biceps. Located at the front of your upper arm closest to your chest.

Wrist Extensors

Muscles that make up the back portion of your lower arm, between your elbow and wrist.

Biceps Brachii

Your biceps brachii are made up of two muscle groups; your long head and your short head. Your long head is the longer of the two, located on the outside of your arm. Your short head is located on the inside of your arm. 

The primary function of your biceps long head and short head is to perform elbow flexion. They also stabilize your shoulder during elbow flexion and help to rotate your wrist. 

When performing the cable face pull, your biceps brachii are activated as you pull toward your face. They also help to stabilize your shoulders, keeping your elbows in a straight line as you pull.

Wrist Extensors

Your wrist extensors and wrist flexors comprise part of your forearm muscles. Your extensors are on the outside of your forearm while your flexors are on the inside. 

Both play important roles when moving your forearms, elbows, wrists, and hands. Your extensors extend your wrist. This means that they help with grip strength

When pulling the rope back, you use a neutral overhand grip. Your wrist extensors ensure you keep a firm grip against the resistance of the cable.

Equipment

Narrow Cable Pulley Towers

Rope Attachment

Narrow Cable Pulley Towers

This versatile cable machine is suitable for a wide range of exercises. It provides constant resistance. Ensure the cable points are firmly clipped in.

Rope Attachment

This offers a great way for you to train your arms whilst limiting the amount of wrist stress. Ensure you grip both parts of the rope from the bottom.

Alternatives

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the different equipment.

Who Should Do The Cable Face Pull?

General Populations

The cable face pull improves shoulder health and supports better posture. Both of these help to reduce the risk of shoulder injuries when performed regularly. It also helps build your posterior deltoids and traps to balance your muscular development.

As a general gym goer, poor posture and uneven muscle development are two common issues. This is due to the large amount of desk-based jobs and the lack of a structured training regime. When programming exercises to address these, the cable face pull makes a perfect addition.

Strength Athletes

As a strength athlete, most of your training consists of heavy pressing and overhead lifts, Examples include the bench press and push press. 

Both of these movements use your shoulder and back muscles. They require good shoulder stability for the primary muscle groups to function correctly and safely. 

The cable face pull helps to improve your shoulder stability and health. Because of this, it’s a great accessory exercise that can be programmed alongside your normal compound lifts. This can improve your overall health and performance when done regularly. 

Bodybuilders

Bodybuilders tend to have one main goal in mind. They want to develop a well-rounded physique that looks great and performs well. As part of this, they need to train each muscle group with the right volume and intensity. This includes the ones they can’t see.

As a bodybuilder, programming the cable pull into your routine is a great way to ensure balanced muscle development. It can help to improve lifting performance and reduce the risk of shoulder injuries. Each of these can help to improve your training quality and quantity.

Who Should Not Do The Cable Face Pull?

Those With Chronic Shoulder Mobility Issues

Performing cable face pulls is a great way to improve shoulder stability. As we’ve discussed above, regular performance can improve posture and shoulder health. However, cable face pulls require a certain amount of shoulder mobility to be performed correctly.

If you’re suffering from shoulder impingements that impact your mobility, the cable face pull might not be suitable. In this case, you would need to consult a relevant healthcare professional. They would most likely give you some stretching and strengthening exercises to perform.

Benefits Of The Cable Face Pull

Promotes Shoulder Health

We use our shoulders in nearly everything we do. Daily tasks such as reaching for a high shelf and lifting our children involve our shoulders. Pressing movements in sporting events such as the snatch and overhead press also involve our shoulders. 

When we move and exercise, our shoulders need to function properly to ensure they move in the correct way. This requires good shoulder strength and stability. When combined, these determine our shoulder health and the risk of injury.

The cable face pull is a great exercise for developing both of these. It helps to build stronger shoulders and develop stability. Both of these improve our shoulder health and prepare us for daily tasks and sports performance.

*Did you know? 37% of injuries caused by resistance training occur in the shoulder complex. This backs up the importance of good shoulder health and function.

Supports Better Posture

As the cost of living increases, we are spending more time working. In industrialized cities, a large proportion of our work consists of desk-based jobs. In a typical day, most of it will be spent sitting down at work on our phones when relaxing.

Sitting for long periods can lead to rounded shoulders and slouching if done over a sustained period. These can lead to neck and back pain, reducing mobility and quality of life.

The cable face pull works two key scapula stabilizers; the posterior deltoids and traps. When sitting down or performing daily tasks, both of these help to keep your chest up and shoulders back. 

By adding cable face pulls into your gym routine, you can improve your posture and improve your quality of life.

Balances Muscle Development

Whatever our exercise goal, a lot of us are guilty of one thing. We tend to focus on the muscles at the front of our body or the ones we can see. While this isn’t the case for everyone, it’s certainly more common among beginners and recreational exercisers.

The cable face pull works our posterior deltoids and upper traps. Adding these into our routine helps to balance our muscular development and ensure we build a well-rounded physique.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are face pulls effective?

Face pulls are an effective exercise to improve your shoulder health, maintain posture, and build bigger shoulders. Ensure you perform them correctly using the guide above.

How heavy should I go on face pulls?

Generally speaking, the cable face pull isn’t an exercise to develop strength and power. Using the programming guide below, stick to the suggested hypertrophy and endurance training intensities.

What is a common mistake with face pulls?

One of the most common mistakes with cable face pulls is allowing your shoulders to drop as you pull. This takes the emphasis away from your posterior deltoids and upper traps.

What height cable for face pull?

Set the rope attachment at around eye level. Ensure you keep your elbows up throughout the movement, pulling straight back.

Resources

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