Face Pull Alternatives (12 Best Substitutes For Home Gyms)

The face pull is an under-rated exercise that helps strengthen your shoulder joint, creating stability that carries over into many other lifts.

However, if you don’t have a cable machine in your home gym, you’ll need to find alternatives to face pulls. Luckily, in this guide, you’ll discover the best face pull alternatives and how to do them in your home gym.

If you find yourself in a position where you can’t perform a face pull, plenty of face pull alternatives are available for you.

The list below is some of the best face pull substitutes you can perform in your home garage gym.

1. Band Pull-Aparts 

One of the best face pull alternative exercises is the band pull-apart. The band pull-apart is a fantastic way to train your rhomboids, and it only requires a resistance band.

The band pull-apart movement is the perfect exercise for warming up your shoulder joints before a workout. You can even perform this face pull substitute between your working sets to break up long rest periods without exhausting your muscles too much.

Related Article - How Long Do Resistance Bands Last?

How to do it: 

  • Grab a resistance band with an overhand grip and hold either end (or in a shoulder-width position).
  • Raise your hands, so your arms are level with your shoulders.  
  • Draw your shoulders back and down, creating tension in your shoulder blades. 
  • Open your arms wide and stretch the band until it’s across your chest.  
  • Pause once your arms are at full stretch, then slowly bring your arms back to the beginning.
  • Repeat. 
band pull aparts

2. Wide Grip Inverted Rows 

During most horizontal rowing movements, your rhomboids, mid-traps, and posterior deltoids work hard to stabilize and move the barbell.

However, using a wide grip during the inverted row increases the upper back recruitment due to improved scapular retraction, making this movement the perfect alternative to cable face pulls.

Inverted rows are also a great substitute for pull ups since they allow you to get familiar with the movement and perfect your form.

How to do it: 

  • Set a barbell onto a rack and ensure it’s secure.  
  • Sit under the barbell and hold on to the bar with a wide overhand grip. 
  • Lift your body off the floor and use your legs to support some of your weight.  
  • Straighten your body and brace your core.  
  • Lower yourself, so your arms are straight without rounding your shoulders.  
  • Pull yourself up towards the barbell until your chest touches the bar.  
  • Squeeze your shoulders together and slowly lower your body back to the starting point.  
  • Repeat. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip: If you’re struggling, bring your body more upright by shuffling your feet. The more upright you are, the easier the movement becomes; the lower to the ground you are, the more difficult it is.

Wide Grip Inverted Rows

3. Resistance Bands Upright Row

The resistance band upright row is a brilliant alternative exercise for face pull, and it’s a low impact exercise suitable for anyone who doesn’t have access to a cable machine.

This movement has an increased range of motion compared to the face pull, improving muscle activation. I’ve found this movement primarily hits the traps and delts.

Read Also - 8 Best Resistance Bands For Home Gyms

How to do it: 

  • Get a long resistance band and stand in the middle of the band loop.  
  • Place your feet hip-width apart.  
  • Grab the band with both hands using an overhand grip.  
  • Roll the shoulders back, retract the scapula and let the arms hang straight. 
  • Draw the band towards your face, leading with your elbows.  
  • Slowly control the band back down, and repeat.  
Resistance Bands Upright Row

4. Seated Shoulder Press With Band

The seated shoulder press with a band is an excellent alternative exercise for face pulls. Using a resistance band provides constant tension on your muscles throughout the entire movement, perfect for activating your muscle fibers.

This movement helps promote shoulder health and improves the shoulder joint's stability.

Also Be Sure To Check Out - Dumbbell Vs Barbell Shoulder Press

How to do it: 

  • Sit on a bench or chair with your feet in the middle of a band.  
  • Grab each end of the resistance band with an overhand grip (palms forward).  
  • Press your hands upwards as high as you can.  
  • Pause at the top of the movement.  
  • Slowly return to the beginning.  
  • Repeat the movement.  
Seated Shoulder Press With Band

5. Hand Release Push-Ups

Hand release push-ups are fantastic for developing the chest and shoulders, giving you a solid upper body. The movement has more range of motion than a regular push-up and heavily engages the anterior deltoids.

Further Reading - Dips Vs Push Ups 

How to do it: 

  • Place yourself on the floor in a push-up position.  
  • Engage your core and lower yourself towards the floor.  
  • When your chest and stomach touch the floor, remove your hands off the floor.  
  • Place your hands back on the floor.  
  • Push yourself back up to the starting position. 
  • Repeat. 
Hand Release Push-Ups

6. Cable Reverse Flys

The reverse cable fly works your rhomboid muscles in your upper back and shoulder regions. By developing a strong upper back, you’ll help improve shoulder stability and strength to help protect the shoulder from injury. It’s a brilliant alternative to cable face pull.

See Also - Best Cable Crossover Machines: Garage Gym Pro's Top Picks!

How to do it: 

  • Set up a cable pulley machine with both handles below shoulder height.  
  • Face the machine and grab each handle with the opposite hand (your hands should be crossed over).  
  • Move back to create tension in the cables. 
  • Bend the elbows slightly and move your arms back and out to the sides.  
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and return to the start in a controlled manner.  
  • Repeat until your set is complete. 
Cable Reverse Flys

7. Supine Y-Raise 

For this alternative exercise for cable face pulls, you won't need much weight at all. Most people will use the smallest plates they can find in the gym (around 5lb), as this weight is more than enough to put your mid-traps, rhomboids, and posterior delts to work.

Learn More - 18 Rear Delt Dumbbell Exercises

How to do it: 

  • Set a bench to 45 degrees and lie face down on it with a weight in each hand.  
  • Allow your arms to hand down and turn your hands so your palms are facing inward.  
  • Raise your arms forward in a V-shape without bending your elbows. Allow your thumbs to point up toward the ceiling.  
  • Lower your arms slowly and repeat. 
Supine Y-Raise

8. Dumbbell Reverse Flys

This face pull alternative is fantastic for developing muscle on your rear deltoids. The bent-over position places your body at the ideal angle to target the rear delts, which is often an overlooked muscle.

Working this muscle prevents any imbalances in the shoulder joint and helps create stability which carries over into your other lifts.

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How to do it: 

  • Select a set of dumbbells with a suitable weight.  
  • Place your feet hip-width apart in a squat-like stance.  
  • Hinge from your hips while maintaining a neutral spine position. 
  • Position the dumbbells under your chest. 
  • Keeping a slight bend in the elbows, raise your arms out until they’re parallel to the floor. All movement should come from your shoulder joint, not the elbow.  
  • Lower the dumbbells back to the start while maintaining tension in your rear deltoids. 
  • Repeat the movement.  
Dumbbell Reverse Flys

9. One-Arm Resistant Band Press 

The one-arm resistant band press is a brilliant alternative to face pulls as it helps challenge the opposing side of your body to create stability.

This face pull substitute is simple to perform and doesn’t require much equipment; all you need is a resistance band. As you don’t need much equipment, this is the ideal face pull home alternative.

Read More - 10 Resistance Band Chest Workouts

How to do it: 

  • Select a resistance band, loop your foot through one side, and stand on the band.  
  • Hold the opposite side of the band using an underhand grip and lift it to shoulder height.  
  • Press the band upwards in an explosive manner, rotating your hand to help activate the anterior and lateral deltoids.  
  • Pause at the top and slowly bring your hand back to the starting position.  
  • Repeat. 
One-Arm Resistant Band Press

10. Lateral Raise 

If you want to develop boulder-like shoulders, performing the lateral raise is a must, and it creates roundness in the shoulders to help fill out your T-shirts.

It’s a fantastic alternative exercise to face pull; it builds the lateral head of the deltoids more than any other exercise and improves shoulder mobility.

How to do it: 

  • Choose a set of dumbbells and pick them up. 
  • Stand up straight and open your chest, drawing your shoulders back.  
  • Let the dumbbells hang at your side with a slight bend in the elbows. 
  • Keep the arms straight and raise the dumbbells to shoulder height.
  • Pause at the top and slowly lower the dumbbells back to the start.  
  • Repeat. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip: Try using a light set of dumbbells and moving the weight slowly, 3 seconds up and 3 seconds down. It’s more difficult than you’d think.  

lateral raise

11. Wide Grip Seated Cable Rows 

Performing the wide grip seated cable row is an excellent face pull substitute to work your mid-trap, rhomboid, lats, and rear delts.  

As this exercise strengthens the posterior chain, it creates a stable platform for the shoulder girdle, which helps prevent injury. 

This exercise is also a great alternative to a rowing machine if you don't have one at home. 

How to do it: 

  • Sit on a seated cable row machine and place your feet on the footrest. Your knees need to be slightly bent.  
  • Hold the handle using a wider than shoulder-width overhand grip. 
  • Keep your back straight and draw the shoulder blades back and down.  
  • Pull the bar towards your chest by bending the elbows. (Tip: Try to keep the elbows at shoulder height to target the same muscle groups as the cable face pull). 
  • Reverse the movement slowly and repeat to complete your set. 
Wide Grip Seated Cable Rows

12. Resistance Band Face Pulls 

No machine, no problem, all you need is a resistance band and an anchor point.  

The resistance band face pull is a like-for-like alternative to the cable face pull, and it works all of the muscles the cable face pull does. 

This face pull alternative is an excellent option if you're traveling around, as resistance bands are lightweight and easy to transport.  

Learn More - Do Resistance Bands Build Muscle?

How to do it: 

  • Attach a light or medium strength band to a solid anchor point at head height.  
  • Hold one end of the resistance band in each hand and let your arms extend out in front of your body.  
  • Step back to create tension in the band and take a staggered foot position.  
  • Keep your elbows high and pull the band towards your face while sending your elbows and hands backwards.  
  • Control the negative movement and repeat.  
Resistance Band Face Pulls

Benefits Of Face Pull Substitute Exercises (Are They Necessary?) 

The benefits of the face pull exercise go beyond building strength and muscle mass. One of the most important benefits is that the face pull helps develop stability in the shoulders by strengthening the rear deltoids.  

Most gym-goers unintentionally neglect their rear deltoids, causing a weakness in the shoulder girdle, leading to injuries. This situation can be avoided by putting these face pull exercises into your workout routine. 

The face pull also helps develop a thicker looking back, which always looks impressive.


Tips For Mastering Face Pull Alternatives (Mistakes To Avoid)

Proper Form

The posterior delts are a small muscle group requiring concise and controlled movements to target the area efficiently. If you use the incorrect form on any face pull alternatives, you won’t get the benefits of the movements.

Don’t Lift Too Heavy 

More often than not, lifting too heavy can be equally as bad as using lousy form. If you're throwing the weight around with no thought to mind-muscle activation, then you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Keep Arms Parallel to the Floor

By having your arms parallel to the floor, you can easily retract your shoulder blades which helps activate your traps, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids.

Maintain Tension When Returning to the Starting Position

During every movement, you want to ensure you’re getting the most out of each rep. The easiest way to ensure this is to control the movement from start to finish; this maintains tension on the muscles you want to work.


Muscles Worked With Face Pull Substitutes (Back Or Shoulders?)

The face pull exercise is a compound movement requiring multiple joints working together to move the weight. Your back and shoulders are the primary movers during the face pull.  

The main muscles are: 

Trapezius

The traps are a large diamond-shaped muscle in your upper back; they’re activated during the face pull movement as the scapula retracts and depresses. While the upper traps help lift your shoulder girdle upwards. They’re an essential muscle for creating stability in the shoulder joint.

Rhomboids

The rhomboids are located between your scapulae (shoulder blades) and are responsible for drawing the scapula back and together. The two parts of the rhomboids, rhomboid major and minor, are activated during face pulls.

Posterior & Lateral Deltoids

Your shoulders are made up of three deltoid muscles, the anterior (front), medial (side), and rear (posterior). During the face pull, your posterior deltoids are heavily activated.

Biceps

The biceps are a secondary muscle activated during the face pull movement. As the face pull involves elbow flexion, the bicep is needed to help draw the cable towards your face.


Frequently Asked Face Pull Questions

Are dumbbell face pulls effective? 

You can perform the face pull movement using dumbbells; however, I’ve found the exercise more challenging to perform, and they feel inferior to the cable face pull. Partially because the cable face pull creates constant tension on your shoulders and back, and the dumbbells don’t.

Should you go heavy on face pulls? 

To perform the face pull optimally, you need to ensure the weight isn’t too heavy. As a rule of thumb, if the weight pulls you forward, it’s too heavy. Find the sweet spot, and you’ll reap the rewards.

How many reps of face pull alternatives should I do? 

One or two would be ideal; I’d pair two which complement each other such as the resistance band upright row and the lateral raise.


Conclusion

If you’ve been looking to strengthen your shoulder girdle and other neglected body parts such as the rear delts, then face pulls are ideal. 

But, if you don’t have the equipment to perform the traditional face pull available in your home gym, you can use the list above to find the perfect alternative for face pulls. Try some of them out during your next workout; your shoulders and upper back will thank you for it.