Rack Pull Vs Deadlift (Exercise Differences + Pros & Cons)

One of the best ways to increase your overall body strength is to perform the deadlift. There are many different variations you may try, but one of the best is the rack pull.  

But, when it comes to rack pull vs deadlift, which is the best? 

This article discusses which exercise is the best between deadlifts vs. rack pulls and shows you the pros and cons of each 

When comparing deadlifts vs rack pulls, some differences should be considered when it comes to your experience and goal.  

1. For Bodybuilding  

The deadlift and rack pull are ideal exercises for bodybuilding as they stimulate huge amounts of muscle fibers, resulting in muscle growth. However, which exercise is better for bodybuilding, the deadlift or rack pull? 

If you’re a bodybuilder looking to target your glutes and erector spinae, you should use the rack pull. This is because the rack pull moves the focus directly to your glutes which activate during the final stages of a hip hinge movement.  

But, if you’re looking for overall muscle development, the traditional deadlift is the better exercise to choose. It has a larger range of motion, creating greater muscle stimulus, and promoting muscle growth. 

In my opinion, both exercises can be successfully implemented into most workout routines and will provide you with excellent results. The deadlift and rack pull complement each other, ironing out the negatives each exercise can have.

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Rack Pull Vs Deadlift (Exercise Differences + Pros & Cons)

2. For Beginners 

Are you a beginner looking to deadlift or rack pull? This section is for you. One of the first movements I teach my clients is the hip hinge. This is usually in the form of a Romanian deadlift, as it's one of the easiest deadlift variations for beginners to understand. 

But, when it comes to the rack pull or deadlift, I believe that you would be far better off learning how to deadlift effectively before you attempt to rack pull.  

If you learn the deadlift first, you’ll develop overall strength, which will help you with other lifts you’ll be performing in the gym, such as the squat. As a beginner, you want to develop your entire body and not focus on specific areas before you need to.  

Regular deadlifts give you the most bang for your buck and are brilliant for beginners. Once you’ve mastered the deadlift, feel free to add the rack pulls to your training, they’ll help you develop your deadlift even further.  

Read More - Romanian (RDL) Vs Conventional Deadlift

3. For Hypertrophy 

When it comes to muscular hypertrophy, you want to perform exercises that will provide certain muscle groups with the stimulus they need to grow. The deadlift works pretty much the entire body as you lift the weight off the floor. It’s a tough lift to perform but is one of the best muscle developers around.  

You’ll primarily work your hamstrings, glutes, quads, lats, traps, and rhomboids during the deadlift. Your core is also activated to help stabilize your body throughout the movement. Even though the deadlift promotes hypertrophy, the rack pull helps shift the movement’s focus to fewer muscles with more intensity.  

While performing the rack pull overloads the glutes and upper back (usually with a larger than normal load); this helps increase hypertrophy in these areas more than the deadlift would.

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4. For Lockout Improvement 

During the traditional deadlift, one of the most challenging parts is the lockout. One of the best ways to improve your lockout is to step away from the deadlift and use rack pulls.  

Rack pulls are highly effective at improving your deadlift lockout, and they place huge amounts of stimulus on the glutes and hips, which are crucial for locking your body out at the top of the deadlift. 

As rack pulls let you lift more weight than you would during the regular deadlift, they do let you overload your muscle groups, increasing power and strength. If you use rack pulls correctly, there’s no reason why they can’t help you improve the lockout of your deadlift.

Learn More - Romanian Deadlift Vs Stiff Leg Deadlift

5. For Grip Strength 

One of the main reasons deadlifts fail is weak grip strength. If your grip is weak, you’ll hit a point where you can’t keep hold of the barbell any longer; this prevents you from progressing. A way around this problem is to perform heavy rack pulls.  

Rack pulls are fantastic forearm and grip strength developers. The exercises allow you to overload your body with more weight than you usually lift during the deadlift. 

Due to the increased load, your body is forced to adapt, stimulating muscle growth. I have used rack pulls many times to bypass deadlift sticking points, and when it’s done correctly, you’ll get excellent results.  

man doing a rack pull

6. For Back Strength & Thickness 

As both the deadlift and rack pull are hip hinge movements with a significant focus on the back, they’ll both increase your back strength. However, strength is often relative to the number of reps you perform. So if you're looking to develop back strength, focus on performing lower reps with high weight.  

Personally, if I wanted overall back strength, I’d focus on performing the deadlift over rack pulls. The deadlift is an excellent all-around back developer and works the muscles through an extensive range of motion. Yet, when it comes to back thickness, you want an exercise to work your upper back as much as possible.  

Rack pulls are excellent for upper back development, targeting areas such as your traps and rhomboids. Working both of these muscles will improve your overall back thickness; this is something rack pulls are far superior at doing.  

Also Check Out - 7 Best Lower Lat Exercises

7. Lifting Technique 

As the deadlift and the rack pull are similar movements, great care is needed when it comes to your technique. If you fail to use the correct technique, you’re opening yourself up to injury, setting you back in your training.  

You need to move the barbell through a more extensive range of motion during the deadlift. This requires mobility in your hips to assume the correct position, which is sometimes tricky if you have longer limbs.  

The rack pull, on the other hand, moves through less range of motion and requires less mobility, but still requires good form. During the rack pull movement, you’ll be lifting increased loads, so you must avoid lifting heavier than you can handle.  

Neither rack pull nor deadlift form should be taken for granted; you should aim to perform each rep with the best lifting technique.  

Deadlift: 

  • Stand with your toes under a loaded barbell with your feet hip-width apart.  
  • Roll the barbell so it’s touching your shins.  
  • Created tension in your shoulder blades.  
  • Maintain a straight back and hinge from the hips.  
  • Place your hands outside your knees and grip the bar with an overhand grip.  
  • Take a deep breath, brace your core and fire your hips forward.  
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement as you lock out.  
  • Lower and repeat. 

Rack Pull: 

  • Place a loaded barbell just below knee level on a squat rack.  
  • Pull the bar toward your shins.  
  • Place your feet hip-width, toes pointing forward.  
  • Create tension in your shoulder blades.  
  • Hinge forward with a straight back. 
  • Use an overhand grip and grab the barbell.  
  • Brace your core and push your hips forward, lifting the barbell. 
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top and lower.  
  • Repeat. 

8. Ease of Execution 

If you’re wondering what’s easier to perform, the deadlift or rack pull... it depends. Usually, the rack pull is performed with a much heavier weight than the deadlift, so I’d be cautious not to overload the barbell during this movement, making it more difficult than it needs to be.  

However, I do think the reduced range of motion during the rack pull makes it slightly easier to perform, especially if you lack the mobility to do the traditional deadlift. The key here is having the barbell heavy enough to stimulate your muscle fibers but not having the barbell so heavy that it affects your form.  

If you’re a newbie, I’d always recommend learning to deadlift first, as the rack pull is a deadlift variation, so learning the base movement is a must. But, if you’re determined to perform the rack pull, so long as you use excellent form, you won’t have a problem with it.  

man doing a heavy deadlift

Rack Pull Overview  

The rack pull is a partial deadlift variation that removes most of the knee extension from the traditional deadlift. Rather than starting from floor height, the rack pull begins just below the knee.  

As with the deadlift, the rack pull is a hip dominant exercise that primarily works your glutes, hamstrings, and back. During the rack pull movement, your spinal erectors are activated, making it a brilliant back strengthening exercise. 

Generally, during the rack pull, you can lift heavier loads than you would during the regular deadlift. This is mainly because of the reduced range of motion from the rack pull.  

While most gym-goers will benefit from the rack pull, I think it’s best suited for those of you who’re intermediate or advanced. Beginners would be best spending time learning how to deadlift before starting to increase loads and performing rack pulls.  

You can use the rack pull to improve your deadlift lockout ability and increase your overall strength. To perform the rack pull, you need an Olympic bar, weighted Olympic plates, and a squat rack. If you don’t have a squat rack, you may elevate the barbell off the floor using weight plates, but this isn’t ideal, especially when you start increasing the weight.  

Read More - How Many Weight Plates Do I Need?

rack pull

Pros And Cons Of Doing Rack Pulls  

What We Like 

  • Less stress on the lower back 
  • Improves strength at deadlift lockout  
  • Increases forearm and grip strength 
  • Greater glute and back activation 

Things We Don’t 

  • Heavier weight can lead to longer recovery times  
  • Required a squat rack 

Deadlift Overview 

The deadlift is one of the big three lifts that you’ll see performed in weight lifting competitions and inside most gyms. It’s a hip dominant full-body exercise that primarily builds your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. During the deadlift, huge amounts of muscle fibers are recruited to help you lift the weight, and it’s an excellent exercise for overall muscle development.  

I’m a big believer in performing the deadlift at least once per week as it improves your posterior chain health, reducing your risk of injuries. Most gym-goers will benefit from performing this movement, whether your goal is to increase muscle mass or to remain healthy.  

But, as the movement is complex, you should take plenty of time to learn the correct form before increasing the weight you’re using. Using incorrect form could spell disaster and leave you with injuries. To perform the deadlift, you don’t need much equipment; all you need is a barbell and Olympic weighted plates, making it a brilliant exercise for most home gyms.   

Read Also - 10 Best Deadlift Alternatives

Deadlift

Pros And Cons Of Doing Deadlifts  

What We Like 

  • It’s one of the best compound exercises around
  • Great exercise if you’re stuck for time  
  • It has excellent sports-specific carryover  
  • Brilliant for back health  

Things We Don’t 

  • Requires a lot of mobility  
  • Difficult to perform if you’re uncoordinated

Mistake To Avoid When Doing These Exercises 

Whether you choose to perform the deadlift or rack pull, there are several mistakes you should avoid making. 

  • Don’t Round Your Back
    Rounding your back increases your risk of injuries. Maintaining a neutral spine throughout each movement will help reduce risks and improve your overall back health. 
  • Avoid Overloading The Bar
    While lifting heavy has many benefits for your body, it’s important that you only use the weight your body can handle. If you place too much weight on the bar, your form will suffer. 
  • Don’t Bounce The Weight Off The Floor Or Pins
    Whether you’re doing the deadlift or rack pull, if you bounce the weight at the bottom of the movement, you’re cheating. Using momentum recruits fewer muscle fibers and yields poorer results.
  • The Barbell Shouldn’t Leave Your Body 
    During rack pulls or deadlifts, the barbell should remain in contact with your body throughout the whole exercise. Failing to do so will likely cause your mid-back to round, compromising your form and risking injury. 
  • Don’t Lift Past Vertical 
    At the top of the deadlift or rack pull, you should stand up tall and straighten your body. However, you shouldn’t be pushing your hips forward so much that you’re leaning back. Doing so compromises your spine, risking injury. 

Common Rack Pull & Deadlift Questions 

Should you rack pull more than you deadlift? 

As the rack pull only works part of the deadlift, you have a lower range of motion to move the weight through. The lower range of motion means you should be able to lift more weight during the rack pull than you would during the deadlift.  

How heavy should rack pulls be? 

It depends; on average, you should expect to rack pull 30% more weight than you would do during the deadlift. This is an estimate and will differ between individuals. Be sure to always use a weight you can lift with excellent form.  

How often should I do deadlifts? 

Once or twice a week is plenty for most gym-goers. The deadlift is a highly taxing exercise that works your entire body. It takes several days for your muscles and CNS (Central Nervous System) to fully recover, so you mustn’t overdo it. Performing deadlifts too many times a week will hinder your progress. 

Is a rack pull and deadlift the same? 

Rack pulls are classed as a partial deadlift, and while the exercises are pretty similar, there is a difference. A rack pull has a smaller range of motion than the deadlift, and it’s often used to improve your deadlift performance.  

Can you do rack pulls instead of deadlifts? 

You can do rack pulls instead of deadlifts if you want to focus more on your glute and back extensor activation. But, your program would yield better results if you combined deadlifts and rack pulls to offset each exercise’s pros and cons. 


Conclusion

If you’ve been looking to increase your overall strength & muscle mass, the deadlift and rack pull are excellent exercises for you to use. Neither exercise is better than the other; it all depends on your training goals.  

The deadlift is a brilliant all-around exercise, while the rack pull helps improve your lockout strength (which will improve your deadlift). Try adding the two exercises to your workout program and watch how each exercise complements the other.  

Last Updated on May 24, 2022