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Rack Pulls: Helping or Hindering?

Rack pulls are a fantastic assistance lift for building up the deadlift lockout, as well as a training tool for Strongman competitors who perform raised deadlifts in competitions, such as deadlifts with hummer tires or wagon wheels. However, there are a few ways that different athletes perform rack pulls, and this article will make a case that one of the ways of performing a rack pull can actually make your deadlift worse.

In the video above, I outline the two most common ways I see rack pulls performed. The first three videos involve a rack pull where the lifter “sits” down as they pull the bar up, effectively forcing the lifter to ramp the bar up the thighs for lockout. You can see the rack pull first, and I then I use that lockout form from the rack pull when I take the bar off the floor. As you can see, the lockout doesn’t look strong at all, and you will see a pretty big difference in hamstring activation, especially lower hamstrings and around my knee, when you watch the second round of videos. Ramping the bar up your thighs essentially deactivates what should be the strongest part of your lockout: your hips and glutes. By dropping the knees forward, you rely on a ramp and some quads to lock the lift out. In addition to being an inferior way to lock out, you also run the risk of getting red lights in competition by locking out this way.

The second three videos in the compilation are performed with what I consider to the the proper way to perform a rack pull: essentially performing a rack pull the same way you lock out a deadlift from the floor: with your hips and glutes. You can see the big differences between the two lifts when they are both performed off the floor, and the second videos clearly demonstrate that the second rack pull video emulates a lockout when performed from the floor. I prefer to perform rack pulls the second way, as it will have a direct carryover to a floor lockout.

Some cues I like to remember for deadlift lockouts are LOCKING the knees when the bar passes the knees, followed by POPPING the hips forward, squeezing the glutes (Think: LOCK & POP). Utilizing this sequence can help avoid ramping, as well as avoiding the ugly lockout accomplished by shrugging the bar into a lockout position. Stay over the bar, rather than behind it.

Now, for Strongman competitors, raised deadlifts are somewhat considered to be a different lift, and ramping is allowed in the sport. So, I wouldn’t really ask a Strongman competitor to NOT lift the first way, as the sport involves a “get it up any way you can” mentality.

However, if you are performing rack pulls with the direct purpose of improving your real deadlift lockout, I think it would best be performed by emulating your real lockout. Ramping up your rack pulls, in my opinion, will only hinder your lockout, as you aren’t training the real way you’d normally lock it out. You may get more weight up in a rack pull, but if your goal is a bigger deadlift, what’s the point of doing a rack pull in a way that won’t help you get it?

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.

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