Training > 10 Best Face Pull Alternatives For A Strong Mid Back

10 Best Face Pull Alternatives For A Strong Mid Back

Pulling exercises are not great only for building your back, but also for improving posture, shoulder health, and staying injury-free.

Most people in their training tend to focus more on the muscles they can directly see in the mirror. This means they like to train their pecs, arms, delts, and abs more than their back muscles, because they can see results right away and get instant gratification in the mirror.

However, this way of training can cause muscle imbalances and bad posture. So it’s important to include pulling exercises into your workouts, not just for your looks, but for health as well.

One of the best exercises you can do for your shoulder health and better posture is the face pull.

What Is A Face Pull?

The face pull is a great exercise not just for building your rear shoulders and back, but to improve your posture and shoulder health. It can help you with rounded shoulders, and at the same time help you build a more muscular and toned back.

It is mostly done on the cable machine, but it can be done with resistance bands too. The most important thing about face pulls is the proper form and quality reps. The weight shouldn’t be the primary concern. Quality movement and feeling the right muscles is key during the face pulls.

Muscles Used in Face Pull

This exercise works your rear delts, traps, rhomboids, and rotator cuff muscles.

Also, your core gets activated too to keep you upright and stable during the exercise.

What Makes a Good Face Pull Alternative

A good face pull alternative works the same muscles and offers the same benefits, but doesn’t necessarily require a lot of equipment.

Face pulls are most often done on the cable machine, which means the only place you can do them is in the gym. However, not everyone has access to the cable machine, so we bring you 10 Best Face Pull Alternatives to include in your workouts, no matter where you train.

10 Best Face Pull Alternatives

1. Seated Rows

The seated row works the muscles in your back and arms. It works your lats, rhomboids, traps, and biceps. The primary movers are the lats and the rhomboids, while the biceps and traps serve as assistance during the movement.

It is performed mostly on the seated rowing machine. In a seated position, you are pulling the weighted handle by keeping your back straight and engaging the muscles in your upper back. Also, it can be done with a resistance band instead of on the rowing machine.

How to:

  1. Sit on the bench with your back upright and with your knees slightly bent, place your feet on the footpad. 
  1. Tuck your elbows and grab the handle, retract your shoulder blades and brace your core. It’s important to keep your back straight during the exercise. Don’t let your shoulders get slouched forward. 
  1. Pull the handle towards you without flaring the elbows and rounding the shoulders. 
  1. Hold and then slowly let the weight extend your arms, but control the motion the whole time. Then repeat.

2. Inverted Row

When it comes to building upper back and rear delts, inverted rows are one of the best bodyweight exercise for it.

They are mostly done on a barbell placed on a squat rack or on a smith machine. However, you can improvise and do it on any kind of bar that is parallel to the ground. The recommended bar height is slightly under your waist height. 

How to:

  1. Get under the bar and grip the bar with your arms extended. Keep your back straight, and your heels together. Your starting position should look like a reversed push-up position. The bar should be directly above your chest. The grip width should be slightly wider than your shoulder-width. 
  1. Engage your core and pull with your back muscles and bring your chest closer to the bar. The end position should be when your elbows reach about 90 degrees and your sternum gets close to the bar. Don’t arch your back during the movement and keep the abs engaged during the whole time. 
  1. Hold the top position for a few seconds and slowly lower yourself to the starting position.

The Australian Pull Up Guide: Muscles Worked and Benefits

3. Banded Face Pulls

Resistance bands are great for doing pulling exercises. They are cheap, effective, and practical since they can be used almost anywhere. If the cable machine is taken or you want to do your workout at home, banded face pulls are a great alternative to hit your rear delts and the back.

How to:

  1. Find a resistance band and somewhere to hook it. This can be a pole, a door frame, etc. Hook the resistance band around the stationary object and place it at the height slightly above your head.
  1. Grab the resistance band and take a step backward until you feel the tension in the band. Get into a staggered stance with your arms extended at shoulder-width.
  1. Pull the band towards your face by engaging your back and rear delts. Hold the end position for a few seconds while squeezing your shoulder blades.  
  1. Slowly return to starting position without shrugging and bringing the shoulders towards your ears.

4. Barbell Bent-over Rows

Bent-over rows engage your back muscles and work your lats, traps, rhomboids, and your rotator cuff muscles. Since this exercise is done standing, for stabilization, your glutes, legs, and lower back get activated too.

The form is extremely important for bend-over rows. Also, make sure the amount of weight you are using is appropriate to your strength level. Too much weight can affect your form and put too much stress on your lower back and cause potential injury.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend your knees and lean forward by pushing the hips backward and get into a hinge position. Your spine should be neutral. Don’t lean forward from the back but your hips. Your back should be straight during the whole exercise. 
  1. Grab the bar slightly wider than your shoulder width and get into a hinge position. Keep your arms extended and your spine neutral and without shrugging your shoulders. Find a comfortable position and make sure the weight isn’t too heavy.
  1. Brace your core, and by pulling the bar towards your sternum, engage your upper and middle back. Think about pulling the elbows behind your back to engage more back muscles. Don’t pull only from your arms and biceps. This way, you are missing the benefit of the exercise and this could cause possible biceps injury at heavier loads.
  1. Hold at the top for a few seconds and slowly return to the starting position. Don’t let your shoulders and back get rounded on the way down. Keep your back muscles engaged during the whole time on the way down.

5. Dumbbell Bent Over Reverse Fly

Dumbbell reverse fly is a great exercise for building rear deltoids and upper and middle back muscles. 

The most common mistake in this exercise is using momentum and swinging the dumbbells instead of pulling them. Also, another mistake is using your traps as compensation for lack of strength.

In other words, you are shrugging your shoulders instead of pulling with your rear delts. So don’t go too heavy for this exercise in order to avoid these mistakes. Quality is far more important than quantity.

How to:

  1.  Grab the dumbbells and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend your knees and drive your hips back into a hinge position while keeping your back straight and neutral.
  1. Slightly bend your elbows and raise your arms until they are parallel to the ground. Make sure you are pulling from your shoulders and that you’re keeping your hands parallel to the ground in order to keep your shoulders externally rotated. That way you will activate targeted muscles better.
  1.  Hold at the top position and slowly lower the dumbbells without losing tension in your muscles. Then repeat.

6. Gymnastic ring or TRX face-pulls

The gymnastic rings or TRX face pull is a great and effective alternative for everyone who doesn’t have access to the cable machine but wants to do face pulls.

Gymnastic rings and TRX are pretty cheap and are a great investment for everyone who enjoys outdoor training. They are practical and convenient for all kinds of workouts and offer a lot of variabilities.

How to:

  1. Find an anchor for the TRX or gymnastic rings and adjust the height according to your strength level. The higher the height, the more upright you stand which makes the exercise easier. The lower the height, the more parallel to the ground your body is, so the harder it gets. Remember, quality reps are more important than quantity. So choose the right position, appropriate to your strength level. 
  1. Grab the rings or TRX with both of your arms extended. Bring your feet closer and lean backward until your arms are fully extended. Find a comfortable and stable position. Slightly tuck your pelvis and engage your abs. Don’t let your lower back overarch at any point of this exercise.
  1. From this leaned back position, pull the rings or TRX towards your ears while keeping your elbows pointed out to the side. Keep the body and your back straight during the whole rep. 
  1. Hold at the top position and slowly lower yourself until your arms are fully extended. Then repeat.

7. Seated Cable Face Pull

This exercise is very similar to standing face pull. However, the seated position puts the cable higher above your shoulders.

This allows greater horizontal abduction of the shoulder. In other words, this position allows you greater rotation of the shoulders and thus better muscle activation. Also, the seated position demands less body stabilization than the standing version. This allows you to focus purely on the pulling with fewer distractions.

How to: 

  1. Attach a rope to the cable machine and place a bench underneath it. Grab the rope with both hands and sit on the bench. Make sure your arms are fully extended and your palms facing each other. 
  1. Make sure your back is straight and you are not rounding your shoulders forward. Your arms should be above your shoulder level. 
  1. Pull the rope towards your face, and externally rotate your shoulders by driving the elbows out and down at the end position.
  1. Once at the end position, squeeze the upper back muscles and hold this position for a few seconds. Without losing control and tension in your back muscles, slowly return the rope to the starting position. Repeat.

8. High Cable Pulley Lateral Extension

The Cable High Pulley Lat Extension recruits your rear deltoids, lats, middle and lower traps, and rhomboids. It is a great exercise to improve your posture and shoulder health and to warm you up for heavier back workouts. You will need a pulley machine for this exercise. 

How to:

  1. Find a pulley machine and remove all the attachments. You need just the cables for this exercise. Set the pulley to the highest settings so the pulleys are above your shoulders.
  1. Grab the end of the cables with the opposite hand. Grab the left pulley with the right hand, and the right pulley with the left hand.
  1. Get into a square stance with your feet shoulder-width apart while holding the pulleys.
  1. Pull the pulleys by extending both arms in a diagonal direction while keeping your arms straight. The end position should be when your arms reach beside you.
  1. Hold for a few seconds, and slowly return to starting position without losing contraction in your muscles.

9. Dumbbell Incline Row

Dumbbell incline row is a great starting point to build your back and learn proper pulling mechanics before jumping to more complex exercises, such as barbell bent-over rows. Unlike bent-over rows, which are done standing, an inclined row is done with your chest supported on a bench. 

The bench offers you support and helps you find different rowing angles. Also, it keeps you accountable and helps you focus purely on rowing mechanics with less room for compensation. It keeps your lower back from overarching and it forces you to initiate the rowing mechanics purely from your mid-back, which allows you to better activate those muscles.

How to:

  1. Find a pair of dumbbells and lean into an incline bench with your chest resting on the bench. 
  1. Grab the dumbbells off the floor, keep your back straight on the bench and retract your shoulder blades.
  1. Pull the dumbbells towards you without flaring your elbows. Keep the elbows close to your body and think of bringing the elbows behind your back in order to activate your back muscles better
  1. Hold for a few seconds on the top position and slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position without losing muscle contraction on the way down. Then repeat.

10. Dumbbell YTW

Dumbbell YTW works your rear delts, mid and lower traps, and rhomboids. This is a great exercise to maximize your back development and improve your shoulder health. This exercise shouldn’t be done with heavy weights. 

The goal isn’t to lift as much as you can, but to work the small muscles that often get neglected in many exercises. This then can lead to muscle imbalances, poor posture, and a greater risk of injuries.

YTW exercise can be done from a standing position or with your chest supported on a bench.

How to:

  1. Stand up and get into a hinge position with your back straight. If you’re doing the bench-supported version of this exercise, lie with your chest on the bench. You can also do this exercise on the incline bench.
  1. Grab the dumbbells with your arms extended. Then raise your arms in the shape of a “Y” formation. Squeeze your shoulder blades and don’t let your shoulders shrug towards your ears.
  1. Slowly lower your arms. Then raise them up again and make a “T” formation with your arms. Lower them, then make a “W” formation by raising the arms again. Then repeat.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should you do the face pull? 

Face pull is an exercise you can’t really overdo. Since most of us spend the majority of our day slouched at the desk, it affects our posture in a bad way. So it is great to include something like face pulls in your daily routine.

You can include face pulls in almost every workout. Face pulls are not so energy-demanding, so they won’t affect your training quality. You can do them at the end of your workouts, as the warm-up, between sets, etc. Whatever suits you best. 

It is a great idea to include face pulls after push exercises, such as bench press. Since mostly our push muscles are more developed than our pulling muscles, including face pulls in our push workouts can help us fix our current muscle imbalances, and help us avoid further imbalances.

Final Thoughts

Face pulls are a great way to build your back but also to improve your posture and shoulder health.

However, they are not the most practical exercise since they can be done only in the gym. With this list of the best face pull alternatives, you can get the same benefits no matter where you train and no matter the equipment you have.

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Wasim Kagzi

Hi! I’m Wasim Kagzi and this is where my team and I write and research about everything fitness. On MuscleLead we share all the helpful tips, techniques, and advice we've learned over the years. Personally, I've been lifting for more than 10 years and hope to eventually become a Certified Personal Trainer. My goal is to compete in weightlifting and train to be the strongest version of myself.

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