You may be wondering why you need alternatives to the rack pull - the perfect exercise for strengthening the posterior chain.

Well, there comes a time in every fitness regime when change becomes necessary.

Pain, no power rack or squat rack in the gym, lack of progress, or different sport-specific needs are just some of the reasons that can make you modify your exercises to ensure a safe and effective workout.

In this guide, I will introduce you to the best rack pull alternatives I use with my clients to help them get their desired results.

I have selected the 11 best alternatives to the rack pull exercise.

Each of these movements is uniquely beneficial and challenging, giving you a chance to further improve strength and muscle development.

Let's add some variety to your workout program!

1. Romanian Deadlift

man doing romanian (RDL) deadlifts

If I had to choose one exercise for the posterior chain I like the most, there is no doubt that it would be the Romanian deadlift.

No other movement allows me to target the hamstrings so well throughout their entire length. Lower back and glutes are also significantly engaged - meaning you are working on the whole posterior chain.

Romanian deadlift, or RDL, is halfway between the traditional deadlift and rack pull.

Unlike the regular deadlift, which requires you to squat down to a certain extent, during RDL, you do not change the angle of your knees.

However, the knees must be bent slightly, so Romanian deadlifts are different from the stiff-leg deadlift, although many think these two exercises are almost identical. They target the same body parts, but knee flexion makes RDL safer.

If you can't perform this exercise you can try RDL alternatives.


  • Injury prevention
  • Deadlift progression
  • Posterior strength

How To Do It

  1. Load the barbell and take it with your hands shoulder-width grip, overhand grip (or mixed grip - one palm facing forward and the other backward)
  2. Place your feet hip-width apart or slightly wider.
    Knees slightly bent, about 10%.
  3. Engage your core and retract your shoulder blades as you initiate the movement.
  4. Lean forward (hip hinge) without changing the angle of your knees.
  5. Lower the bar approximately to the middle of the lower leg or a bit lower, but the barbell should not touch the floor.
  6. Initiate an explosive forward motion from your hips to return to the starting position.
  7. Don't lean back excessively.

Tips From A Trainer!

Reduce the weight by at least 20% compared to the rack pull because muscles work at longer lengths, making the RDL more challenging. 

2. Cable Pull Through

woman doing Cable Pull-Throughs

Cable pull-throughs target the same muscles as rack pulls, but there are significant differences.

First and foremost, cable pull-throughs are low-taxing and won't burden your lower back and forearm muscles/hands. Second, time under tension is longer.

Of course, like any cable exercise, it is not so great for developing strength. Use it to target the hamstrings and glutes, not for 1RM. My glutes are on fire whenever I do 4 or 5 sets.

Remember that two common mistakes significantly reduce the effectiveness of this exercise - using the quads too much and hyperextending the glute/hip region.

If you notice that this is happening to you, reduce the weight because usually, weak glutes contribute to poor execution of the exercise. Also, make sure that your starting position is proper.

If you don't have access to a cable machine, try doing cable pull through alternatives.


  • Low-impact exercise
  • Good for mastering hip hinge
  • Glute emphasize

How To Do It

  1. Fix a rope attachment to the lowest position on the cable machine.
  2. Turn away from the machine and take the rope through your legs.
  3. Take a few steps away from the machine, facing away.
  4. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. (you can also kneel)
  5. Engage your core to maintain a straight back.
  6. Hinge forward to stretch your hamstrings.
  7. Push through the floor to extend hips.
  8. Once you return to the starting position, squeeze the glute muscles briefly.

Tips From A Trainer!

Remember, this is not a weightlifting exercise! Too much resistance can only be counterproductive. Focus on the movement and engaging all the major muscles, with strength training being the primary goal. 

3. Kettlebell Swing

men and women doing Kettlebell Swings in the gym

Many of you will be surprised that I included this exercise. What is the similarity between kettlebell swing - exercises mainly for HIIT and CrossFit workouts and rack pulls - powerlifting exercises?

Think about which muscles they activate and what are the main kettlebell swing benefits. They are similar, right?

The kettlebell swing is the supreme explosive movement for the posterior chain you can do even at home gym. Athletes use it, too, because it improves balance, speed, overall athleticism, and spinal stability.

Take a lighter kettlebell until you determine the optimal weight for you. A kettlebell that is too heavy can cause many serious injuries. The primary thing is to work on velocity and power, not pure strength, so forget about ego lifting.


  • Cardiovascular health
  • Great exercise for fat loss
  • Improvement of hip flexion and extension

How To Do It

  1. Take a kettlebell with both hands.
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Moderately bend your knees.
  4. Engage your core and hinge until the kettlebell is just past your knees.
  5. Powerfully push your hips forward while keeping your arms straight.
  6. Raise a kettlebell to your eyes and pause for a moment.
  7. Simultaneously lower the weight through the legs and squat slightly.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you want to increase the range of motion, try the American kettlebell swing. You don't finish it at the usual height but overhead. This is an advanced kettlebell swing variation and should not be attempted until you have mastered regular kettlebell swings or if you have a shoulder injury. 

4. Barbell Hip Thrust

man doing barbell hip thrusts

Men often neglect hip thrust because they think it is an "exercise for women" since it hits the glutes bridge.

I insist that all my clients do this highly effective barbell exercise, which is a regular part of my workout routine as well.

Hip thrust has many benefits. This position gives you the stability to lift heavy weights and thus simultaneously build strength, muscle mass, and explosiveness.

It is essential to position the feet so they are neither too close nor too far from the bench. Also, avoid hyperextension of the lower back. Those two mistakes are common and undermine the effectiveness and safety of this exercise.

If you can't perform this exercise, try doing hip thrust alternatives.


  • Easily adjustable for different fitness levels
  • Strengthening of hip flexors
  • Glute hypertrophy

How To Do It

  1. Load the barbell with weight plates and put a pad on it.
  2. Place a comfortable (thick padding) and stable bench next to the barbell.
  3. Sit on the floor and lean back against the bench.
  4. Roll the barbell roughly to the top of your quads, bend your legs, and place your feet flat on the floor.
  5. Push your feet into the floor to initiate the movement.
  6. Lift your hips until your upper body and thighs are parallel to the floor.
  7. Squeeze your glutes and pause for a second.
  8. Slowly lower yourself to starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Several exercises can help you reach the required level for performing barbell hip thrust. If you are a beginner, start with glute bridge and bodyweight hip trust before continuing with Smith hip thrust and resistance band hip thrust. Once you master the barbell hip thrust, try one leg variation. 

5. Good Morning

Woman Doing Good Mornings In The Gym

This amazing exercise doesn't look like a rack pull but has many of the same benefits.

The good morning is primarily an exercise for the hamstrings. This is a compound movement, so it is not possible to isolate just one muscle, but let's say that the hamstrings take 70% of the tension when you do standing good mornings.

Good morning is not an exercise for beginners because it can strain the lower back too much. - so give good morning alternatives a try.

If you're wondering why it's called a good morning, it's because it resembles the bowing motion that is the greeting in the morning in Asia.


  • Lower back and hamstring injury prevention
  • Strong grip is not required
  • Improved mobility

How To Do It

  1. Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell resting on your upper back, like for squats.
  2. Hold the barbell with your hands.
  3. Keep your chest up and shoulders back.
  4. Brace your core and bend your knees slightly.
  5. Push your hips backward to start the movement without further bending your knees.
  6. Lean forward with your upper body while maintaining a spine in a straight line.
  7. Once you are almost parallel to the ground, push your hips forward to return to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Seated barbell good morning is one of the best exercises for isolating the erector spinae muscles. 

Related Article - Good Morning Vs Deadlift

6. Block Pulls

man doing block pulls in the gym

Block pull, often called deadlift from blocks, also focuses on the top portion of the deadlift movement, like rack pulls, but the range of motion is larger.

What I really like about block pulls is the adjustability. You can use just one block and almost do the entire deadlift, or take a few blocks and reduce the range of motion, almost like rack pulls.

It is up to you to choose depending on goals, injuries, and flexibility.

Hip extension and glute engagement are the main benefits, and as a result, this exercise can be perfect for breaking through strength plateaus and improving overall deadlift/rack pull performance.


  • Builds explosive strength and power
  • Allows lifters to lift heavier loads compared to conventional deadlifts
  • Rather safe for the lower back

How To Do It

  1. Set up the blocks at the desired height, typically just below knee level, and place the loaded barbell on the blocks.
  2. Approach the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart and the bar centered over the middle of your feet.
  3. Grip the barbell with either an overhand grip or a mixed grip.
  4. Keep your chest up, and engage your core.
  5. Position your shoulders slightly in front.
  6. Pull the barbell by moving the hips forward and straightening the knees (neutral back position throughout the lift).
  7. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.
  8. Lower the barbell back down to the elevated starting position with control, maintaining proper form.

Tips From A Trainer!

You can use a trap bar or some other free weights instead of a heavy barbell for even better stability. 

7. Deadlift

Man Doing Deadlifts

I mentioned the traditional deadlift so many times in this article already that I had to include it on the list officially.

In my opinion, it is the best compound exercise.

Your whole body benefits from it. For example, leg muscles, trapezius, and grip muscles benefit from deadlifts, although there are significant distances between them. You strengthen the posterior chain and core, plus improve real-life movements such as jumping, lifting heavy objects, sprinting, agility, power, etc.

Deadlifts will also significantly strengthen your grip, but generally, your grip can also be an obstacle if it is too weak.

If you are doing a heavy deadlift, use wrist wraps to avoid burdening wrists and distal biceps tendons too much.

You can use a barbell or a hex bar (trap bar deadlift).


  • Full-body strength
  • Enhances functional fitness
  • Improves explosiveness

How To Do It

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and feet under the bar.
  2. To get to the starting position, bend at your hips and knees, and keep your back straight.
  3. Grip the barbell with an overhand or mixed grip.
  4. Engage your core and retract your shoulder blades.
  5. Start the lift by pushing through your heels, driving your hips forward, and straightening your knees (but don't lock the knees).
  6. Keep the barbell close to your body.
  7. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings at the top of the lift.
  8. Lower the barbell back down to the ground.

Tips From A Trainer!

Master the hip hinge before attempting deadlifts. Then, start with lighter weights to practice proper form and gradually increase the load as you gain confidence and strength. 

8. Bent Over Row

Man Doing Barbell Overhand Bent Over Rows

The bent-over row targets the upper back muscles, including the lats, rhomboids, traps, biceps, and rear deltoids.

Some of those muscles are definitely not the primary muscles when you do rack pulls, but the bent-over barbell row is an excellent rack pull alternative and complementary exercise.

This popular strength exercise helps build a strong and defined back. It also improves posture and enhances overall upper body strength, so everyone should do it regularly.

Sometimes, I struggle with balance during the bent-over row when the barbell is not perfectly straight. In that case, my advice is to use dumbbells instead or try T-bar rows.


  • Improved posture
  • Injury prevention
  • A functional movement pattern

How To Do It

  1. Place the middle of your feet under the bar, shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a barbell with an overhand or underhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
  3. Hinge at your hips, keeping your back straight and chest up.
  4. The barbell should hang in front of you with your arms fully extended.
  5. Engage your core.
  6. Drive your elbows back to pull the barbell towards your lower chest.
  7. Keep the elbows close to the body.
  8. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
  9. Slowly extend your arms back to return to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Jerking the weight is useless and potentially dangerous, so avoid using momentum to lift the weight. Instead, go with a controlled tempo. 

Related Article - Pendlay Row Vs Bent Over Row

9. Incline Dumbbell Row

Man Doing Chest-Supported Incline Dumbbell Rows

The incline dumbbell row is not a compound movement like rack pulls, deadlift variations, or clean.

Yet, it is very efficient for strengthening the back, which will help you do all the other exercises.

By using an incline bench, this variation of the traditional dumbbell row allows for a more isolated engagement of the back muscles and also a larger stretch that exposes the muscle fibers to more stress. This translates directly into improved muscle growth.

It is not technically demanding because the incline bench gives you support, keeps you in place, and puts lower back muscles under less stress.


  • Builds a V-shape back
  • Low injury risk
  • Good for working around injuries

How To Do It

  1. Set an incline bench at a 45-degree angle (a 30-degree angle will do the job just as well).
  2. Place a dumbbell on each side of the bench.
  3. Lie face down on the incline bench, and place your feet firmly on the ground.
  4. Pick up the dumbbells, palms facing up or down.
  5. Pull the dumbbells towards you, leading with your elbows.
  6. Keep the elbows close to the body.
  7. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement, engaging the back muscles fully.
  8. Slowly release the dumbbells back down.

Tips From A Trainer!

Avoid arching your lower back during the exercise to prevent strain. If you feel you can't do it otherwise, take a lighter weight. 

10. T-Bar Row

Man Doing T-Bar Rows In The Gym

T-Bar Row is one of the few exercises that is a natural mixture of compound and isolation.

You can use heavy weights to build strength because you are in a stable position, and you can also use this movement for isolation and hypertrophy.

Don't worry if you don't have a machine at the gym. You can always take advantage of landmine attachment or just put a barbell in the corner of the room.

Another huge advantage of the T-bar row is the equally effective use of different grips - overhand, underhand, neutral, and wide. So this exercise allows you to target the back from many different angles.

If you're not able to perform this exercise - try doing T-Bar row alternatives.


  • Safe for lower back
  • Multiple grip options
  • Effective exercise for both strength and hypertrophy

How To Do It

  1. Place the barbell in the landmine attachment or T-Bar Row machine.
  2. Load the T-bar with external weights (one weight plate or more).
  3. Straddle the barbell with your feet hip-width apart, bending your knees slightly.
  4. Take the handles with a grip of your choice.
  5. Pull the barbell up towards you.
  6. Keep your chest up, shoulders back, and a neutral spine.
  7. Squeeze your back at the top.
  8. Lower the barbell back down to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

This is not the best substitute for rack pulls if you have tight hamstrings. You should work on mobility and flexibility to be able to maintain good posture during the T-Bar rows. 

Related Article - T-Bar Row Vs Barbell Row

11. Clean Pulls

Man Performing Clean Pulls

And the last exercise for today is clean pulls.

I intentionally left this exercise for the end because it is very advanced and demanding. It's not as hard as the power clean because you perform the movement only partially, but I still wouldn't recommend it to beginners.

Clean pulls are commonly used in Olympic weightlifting and athletic training.

Derived from the clean, a competitive lift in weightlifting, the clean pulls focus on the second phase of the clean movement. The goal is to generate maximum power during the pull portion of the clean without completing the entire lift.

You will undoubtedly enhance your explosive strength, improve hip and ankle extension, and develop a more efficient clean technique.

However, without proper form and technique, the risk of injury outweighs the benefits.


  • Develops explosive power
  • Improvement of power clean technique
  • Full body exercise

How To Do It

  1. Begin with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed outward a bit.
  2. Position the barbell over your midfoot, and bring your shins closer.
  3. Grip the barbell with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Brace your core to maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise.
  5. Extend your hips and knees simultaneously to start the motion.
  6. Once the barbell is just past hip level, shrug your shoulders and pull the barbell vertically.
  7. Maintain an upright posture as you pull the barbell.
  8. Lower the barbell back down to the starting position, avoiding excessive back rounding.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't let the barbell pull you forward while returning to the starting position. You have to maintain control throughout the entire movement. 

Benefits Of Rack Pull Versus Variation Exercises

The rack pull itself has certain benefits compared to the rack pull alternatives I talked about.

Of course, the following benefits do not apply to rack pull versus every great alternative because these alternatives differ significantly in how they are performed and, thus, the muscles used.

So, for example, the rack pull is better for lifting heavy weights than the incline dumbbell row and presents lower injury risk compared to good morning.

  • Specificity
    Rack pulls closely mimic the mechanics of a conventional deadlift, making them an excellent choice for targeting the same muscle groups and movement patterns but with a shorter range of motion.
  • Lifting heavy weights
    Since you go through a significantly shorter motion when you do rack pulls compared to regular deadlifts, this exercise allows you to overload your muscles with more weight, increasing strength gains.
  • Plateau breaker
    Incorporating rack pulls into your routine can help break through deadlift plateaus by strengthening specific parts that you otherwise can't since full ROM prevents you from using heavier weights.[1]
  • Lower injury risk
    The reduced range of motion and controlled movement in rack pulls lower the risk of injury compared to some variation exercises that involve more complex and explosive movements.
  • Confidence builder
    I'm not trying to encourage ego-lifting; on the contrary. Ego lifting is very dangerous and seldom beneficial. However, performing rack pulls with heavier weights than you regularly lift can help build confidence for lifters before attempting full deadlifts or other challenging compound movements.
  • Grip strength
    Grip strength is of the utmost importance because if your forearms and arms are weak, you will not be able to perform many exercises with appropriate weights. Rack pulls will undoubtedly improve your grip strength since you can handle heavier weights than in some variation exercises that challenge grip less.

What Muscles Are Worked When Doing a Rack Pull?

The rack pull is a compound movement that activates many muscles, either as primary or secondary (stabilizers).

This is also the case with most of the alternatives I mentioned throughout this article. Practically none of these exercises are isolation; they are all compound.

I have singled out 5 muscles (muscle groups) that rack pulls predominantly emphasize, but there are other muscles worked as well.

Back muscles – lats, erector spinae, traps

The back muscles, including the lats (latissimus dorsi), erector spinae, and traps (trapezius), are muscles involved in rack pulls and similar exercises.

As you lift the weight and extend your hips, these muscles stabilize your spine and maintain an upright posture. The lats are especially important in the initial pull, helping to keep the barbell close to your body.

The erector spinae muscles support the spine and prevent excessive rounding of the back, while the traps assist in scapular retraction and stability.


Your hips extend during rack pulls while maintaining proper alignment is essential. This is where the glutes come into play and prevent excessive lower back arching.

This exercise will strengthen your glutes but also don't use heavy weights for rack pull if you have "glute amnesia," for example.[2]


The hamstrings are crucial during the hip hinge movement. As you lower the barbell and perform the eccentric phase of the lift, the hamstrings act as stabilizers to control the descent and protect the lower back.

During the concentric phase, when you lift the weight back up, the hamstrings contract to assist in hip extension.


The quadriceps are not the primary movers in these exercises but are still engaged to a certain extent. You have to straighten your knees in order to stand up with the weight. At that moment, the quadriceps help extend the knee joint.

Forearms and hands

A strong grip is an absolute must for all these exercises. The forearms and hand muscles hold the bar during the entire motion. If you are constantly trying to prevent the bar from slipping because your grip is weak, you won't be able to focus on the movement and lift with confidence.

Man Wearing Lifting Straps For Powerlifting

Common Questions About Rack Pull Substitute Exercises

What is the opposite of rack pulls?

The opposite of rack pulls would be an exercise involving a full range of motion, such as conventional deadlifts, or an exercise focusing on the anterior chain. Rack pulls focus on the top half of the lift and posterior chain, while conventional deadlifts engage the entire movement from the ground to the standing position.

Why do bodybuilders do rack pulls?

Bodybuilders do rack pulls during resistance training to target specific body parts and build overall strength. Rack pulls allow lifters to handle heavier weights than regular deadlifts, helping to develop a thick and powerful back, forearms, and legs.

Are rack pulls for back or legs?

Rack pulls are primarily for the upper back, traps, and spinal erectors, making them an effective back exercise. However, a significant portion of the legs is also included, particularly the glutes, hamstrings, and even quads and calves. So, rack pulls are beneficial for legs, too, although the focus is on the back muscles.

Should rack pulls be above or below the knee?

Rack pulls can be performed either above or below the knee height, depending on the training goals. Above-the-knee rack pulls emphasize the back muscles more, while below-the-knee rack pulls engage the lower back and hamstrings to a greater degree.

When should you not do rack pulls?

Avoid rack pulls if you have injuries in the posterior chain, which this exercise targets. Lower back pain can be particularly problematic, as this exercise puts significant stress on the lumbar region, which is often a fragile part of the body. Additionally, beginners should focus on mastering proper deadlift form before incorporating heavyweight rack pulls into their routine.

Summary - Starting Lifting!

Even if you already have a strong back, each alternative exercise brings a new challenge and, thus, load on the muscles, inevitably leading to muscle growth.

Don't forget to listen to your body and prioritize proper form and technique. Avoid using weights you cannot control, especially when trying new exercises.

If you're ready to take your strength training to the next level and build a strong posterior chain, don't wait for tomorrow - start today with at least one barbell rack pull alternative.


Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.