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Are rack pulls safer than deadlifts? [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Dec 28, 2019 9:00:00 AM

Are rack pulls safer than deadlifts

Are rack pulls safer than deadlifts

You would think that they are safer as they go through a smaller range of motion. However the likelihood that you will put too much weight on and the bounce from the pins make the rack pull an exercise which is more likely to blow your back out.


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What is your goal 

The most important thing for exercise selection for your routines is that you are focused about the goals your want to achieve. Most of the times this is easier said than done. Many beginners want everything and nothing: 
  • I want to look like a model, but eat well
  • I want to be strong, but not look bulky 
  • I want to run fast, but I don’t like cardio
These are just some examples of goal sets of beginners. It is completely normal to be timid or unsure about what you want to achieve and can achieve. It always helps to prioritize first what is important to you. The fields usually are: 
  • Looks 
  • Health
  • Performance 
  • Endurance 
You can categorize it in a million different ways, but to keep it simple prioritize these five for yourself. 
Looks are all about what you see in movies, on Instagram and the magazine covers. While these are highly artificial, fabricated images of people, their impact in social life is very real. If you look for fame or financial success based on your looks you can achieve this, just be aware that the choices you will make to get there are not necessarily healthy, make you enduring, strong or well-performing in sports. Eating disorders and steroids might provide an outstanding look, but don’t help you to be strong or have healthy sperm. 
If your main focus is health you will mainly choose moderate diets and exercise regimen. You won’t go crazy on diets or schedules as this means too much stress. This will keep you healthy but probably never get you to the pinnacles is endurance, strength, looks or endurance. But that is ok as long as you are fertile and happy. 
Performance is usually sports related. This means that endurance and strength training are still important, but play a secondary role to skill practice in the relevant sport you pursue. It is of not of a lot of use to be strong like a bull but not being able to skate if you play ice hockey. The good news about sports is that looks don’t matter that much. If you are a blob that can lift a fire truck in a very truck lifting competition, nobody cares that you are not ripped or have shining white teeth. Even though that might help to attract sponsors. 
If you are mainly into strength you can park all efforts and time on endurance and skill practice. You can fully focus on lifting barbells, stones and other heavy objects. You might even toss them in the general direction of people in the gym who get on your nerves. 
If you are mainly about endurance you can spent your time on your long runs, swims and cycles around the country and maybe never look at a rack. Yes, you might not be the strongest or most buff, but who cares when you cycle the Ardennes with a smile. 
Prioritizing these five areas for yourself will help to make it a lot clearer to you, your GP and your personal trainer which exercises to pick and at which intensity to perform. This is where it relates to rack pulls. 


The deadlift is one of the three big lifts of powerlifting beside the bench press and squat. It is also popular as an accessory movement in Olympic weightlifting and part of many workouts of the day in CrossFit. The deadlift is generally considered as one of the ultimate tests of strength because of its simplicity. It is the concept of “see if you can pick up that heavyweight there”. 
The deadlift starts on the ground and ends at full extension of the hips and legs at hip height with extended arms. It is important to remember that the deadlift is a hinge rather than a pull from the arms. All the arms do is hold on to the bar. The strength is transferred from the legs and back. There are two main versions of the deadlift, which are the sumo and conventional deadlift. The conventional deadlift places the hands outside the legs while the sumo deadlift places them inside the legs to pull. An honorable mention is the snatch grip deadlift which works with a very wide grip. You don’t see this variation that often. 

Rack pull 

The rack pull is a variation of the deadlift. You start from a higher position than the ground by using a rack. You set up the safety pins at a height that you deem best and then start to pull from this higher point. This usually means less stress on your lower back at the same weights as you shorten the range of motion. 
The rack pull becomes a hot topic whenever lower back development and trap development are discussed. For the lower back Bodybuilders like to use the rack pull in combination with straps to get more volume in. Your grip is usually the limiting factor in a deadlift pull which can be mitigated by straps. Same goes for traps.
Some other application of the rack pull is go powerlifting. You pick a weight that you would like to be your new one repetition maximum. You start with a minimal range of motion and gradually increase over time. 

Pros of the rack pull 

The pros of the rack pull are that you can do the same weight as with the deadlift, but for more reps or overload to a weight that you can not deadlift. This opens up more possibilities to shock the system for muscle growth and strength gains.

Cons of the rack pull 

To do a rack pull you need the necessary equipment and it is not a compound movement. This basically means that you are wasting a lot of space and time to only train a limited area of your body. This is not ideal when you are time constraint or mainly focused on sports performance. The rack pull will also warp the perception of your strength as you can move multiple plates on each side all of a sudden. This can be especially dangerous to beginners. 

Are rack pulls safer than deadlifts 

Personally, I tend to disagree. There is more material involved which can break or be setup in the wrong way. It is also more likely that the rack pull will be executed which too much weight as it gives a false sense of strength through the shortened range of motion. 

Topics: Deadlift, Powerlifting, Rack, Bodybuilding, Strongman