In the realm of strength training, few exercises command as much respect as the deadlift and its close cousin, the rack pull. These two movements are staples in the routines of powerlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes seeking functional strength. But, what’s the difference between rack pulls and deadlifts?
In this article, we're going to answer your question while also taking a detailed look at both exercises. We’ll even look at some of the similarities and pros and cons of both the deadlift and rack pull. By the end, you'll have a clear understanding of which exercise aligns best with your fitness goals.
The main differences between deadlifts and rack pulls are the starting position and range of motion. While both use the glutes and spinal erectors to move the weight, deadlifts start from the floor whereas the rack pull starts at knee height. Rack pulls also have a shorter range of motion than the deadlift, so you can lift a heavier load when practicing rack pulls.
We recommend reading on because we cover other differences later on in this article and also look at how to program both the deadlift and rack pull into your workout.
What are Rack Pulls?
Rack pulls are a partial range of motion variation of the conventional deadlift. This exercise involves lifting the barbell from an elevated position, typically starting just below the knees or at mid-thigh level. The name "rack pull" comes from the fact that the lift is performed inside a power rack or squat rack, which provides stability and safety during heavy lifting.
Due to the limited range of motion, rack pulls allow lifters to handle heavier weights compared to complete deadlifts, making them an excellent choice for developing your hips, glutes, and spinal erectors.
How to do Rack Pulls:
Doing rack pulls isn’t hard if you know what to focus on. Here’s how to do rack pulls with the correct form:
- Begin by positioning the barbell just above knee height in a power rack, squat rack, or on blocks. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out, and the barbell close to your shins. Maintain a strong, neutral spine throughout the lift.
- Choose an overhand grip (palms facing you) or a mixed grip (one palm facing you, one palm facing away). Grasp the barbell just outside your knees with your arms straight.
- Before lifting, take a deep breath and brace your core to stabilize your spine and protect your lower back during the lift.
- Drive through your heels, extending your hips and knees simultaneously. As you lift, focus on keeping the barbell close to your body and your shoulders back.
- Reach a full standing position with your hips fully extended, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement.
- Hold the position briefly at the top, emphasizing the contraction of your upper back and glutes.
- To lower the barbell back to the starting position, push your hips back and hinge at your hips. Bend your knees as the barbell reaches knee height.
- After each repetition, reset your starting position. Take a moment to breathe, engage your core, and ensure proper form before performing the next repetition.
What are Deadlifts?
The deadlift is one of the most iconic exercises in the gym. Not only is it a competitive powerlifting movement, but it’s used by bodybuilders, strongmen, weightlifters and more in their daily workout regimen.
Deadlifts are a fundamental compound exercise that involves lifting a barbell from the ground to a fully upright position. The main benefit of the deadlift is its ability to mimic real-world movements. Any everyday activity that requires you to go from a bent-knee position to standing–think jumps, sprints, squats–benefits from deadlift development.
Because deadlifts have a longer range of motion, you won’t be able to lift as much weight as a rack pull but you’ll be engaging more muscle groups, making it a great compound exercise. Deadlifts also require more knee extension, so deadlifts are able to target the lowre body more effectively than rack pulls.
How to Do Deadlifts
If you’re not sure how to do a deadlift, don’t worry. Below is our step-by-step guide on how to do the exercise properly:
- Approach the barbell with your feet hip-width apart. The bar should be close to your shins. Use an overhand grip (palms facing you) or a mixed grip (one palm facing you, one palm facing away) to grasp the bar just outside your knees.
- Before lifting, engage your core muscles by taking a deep breath and bracing your abs. This will stabilize your spine during the lift.
- Hinge at your hips and slightly bend your knees to lower yourself down while keeping your back straight. Your hips should be higher than your knees, and your chest should be up.
- With your arms straight, grip the bar firmly. Your hands should be just outside your knees, and your grip should be shoulder-width apart.
- Drive through your heels and push your hips forward to lift the bar off the ground. Keep the bar close to your body throughout the lift.
- As you lift, straighten your hips and knees simultaneously until you are standing tall with your shoulders back and chest up. Keep your core tight to maintain stability.
- To lower the bar back to the ground, hinge at your hips again, and push your hips back as you bend your knees. Lower the bar with control, keeping it close to your body.
- After each repetition, reset your starting position before lifting again. Take a moment to breathe, engage your core, and ensure proper form.
Deadlifts vs. Rack Pulls: The Main Differences
Similar to how we comparedhang cleans versus power cleans, here are the main differences between deadlifts and rack pulls.
Both rack pulls and deadlifts work the posterior chain muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae. However, because rack pulls are essentially the latter-half movement of the deadlift, they primarily target the upper portion of the posterior chain, focusing on the mid-back and upper back muscles.
Deadlifts, on the other hand, engage the entire posterior chain throughout the entire range of motion, including the lower back and lower body muscles. The longer range of motion by deadlifts requires the lower body to generate enough force to reach a full knee lockout at the end of the exercise.
Deadlifts are much more effective at building functional strength than rack pulls. The full range of motion involved in a deadlift mimics real-life lifting situations, such as picking up heavy objects from the ground.
This can also be applied to other areas like sports. Many athletes train deadlifts, because this helps improve their vertical as well increase bone density. That’s why you’ll see heavy-contact sports, like football and basketball, place an emphasis on doing deadlifts during conditioning.
Rack pulls do not promote functional strength. Instead, rack pulls focus on building back hypertrophy since you can handle higher reps and heavier loads with the smaller range of motion. This makes the exercise great for isolation days where you’re specifically targeting the lats, rhomboids, traps, and erector spinae.
Lifters typically find the deadlifts more difficult to complete than rack pulls. For one, deadlifts are a full-body exercise, requiring multiple muscle groups to be activated in order to complete the movement. Its long range of motion also makes the exercise risky, so the margin of error is much lower.
For beginner lifters, it might take some time to master the deadlift since you’ll need to learn proper form, positioning, and weight to be able to lift correctly. There are also multiple variations of the deadlift you’ll need to mater, with the three most popular being the sumo deadlift, Romanian deadlift, and stiff-legged deadlift.
On the other hand, rack pulls are considered less technically demanding than deadlifts. The shorter range of motion and elevated starting position make it easier for lifters to handle heavier weights and focus on specific muscle groups. If you’re a beginner, focus on using rack pulls to perfect your form and mechanics before moving to the deadlift.
Range of Motion
We’ve already mentioned this multiple times throughout the article, but deadlifts have a larger range of motion than rack pulls. Rack pulls are sometimes called partial deadlifts because the movement is similar to the latter half of a deadlift.
Starting from your knees, you extend upwards to a straight back by pushing through with the hips. However, rack pulls do not incorporate the initial movement of a deadlift where you pull upwards to bring the bar up from the ground.
Therefore, rack pulls are often used in conjunction with deadlifts to help them polish the deadlift movement. This doesn’t mean that rack pulls aren’t effective for building muscle and body strength. Its limited ROM means you get more back and hip activation, leading to a more developed upper body.
Here are some other differences we looked at between the deadlift and certain exercises:
- Stiff-Leg Deadlift vs. Romanian Deadlifts
- Deadlift vs. Romanian Deadlifts
- Sumo Deadlift vs. Deadlift
- Squat vs. Deadlift
- Power Clean vs. Deadlift
Similarities Between Deadlifts and Rack Pulls
Despite their differences, rack pulls and deadlifts share some common ground. For one, both exercises are hip-hinge movements that focus on targeting the posterior chain and upper body. Deadlifts and rack pulls also require solid grip strength, especially as you increase the weight over time.
Because both deadlifts and rack pulls utilize the same form of movement, there is also an emphasis on core engagement to keep you stable and in control during the lift.
Pros and Cons of Deadlifts
There are benefits and disadvantages to deadlifts. Take a look at the pros and cons to see whether or not this lift is for you.
- Full-body Exercise: Deadlifts work multiple muscle groups, promoting overall strength and muscle development. It also gives a greatmuscle pump all around.
- Great for Time:Because deadlifts are a full-body exercise, you can practice this movement if you’re short on time and can’t isolate different muscle groups during your session
- Functional Strength: Deadlifts carry over to everyday activities and athletes use the exercise to improve aspects of their game, like their high jump.
- Rehabilitation Exercise:Deadlifts can be great for individuals who are recovering from lower-limb surgeries. The unlimited resistance restores core stability and strengthens key areas of your back.
- Versatility: There are different variations of the deadlift–like the sumo deadlift. Each variation targets different muscle groups, allowing you to switch up the exercise how you like to meet your fitness goals
- Technically Demanding: Deadlifts require more mobility, technical prowess, and an understanding of your body if you want to do the exercise correctly.
- Risk of Injury:Because there are so many different aspects you need to get right with a deadlift, Incorrect technique can lead to back or joint injuries. Furthermore, doing a variation like barefoot deadlifts can put you at risk of freak accidents like a weight dropping on your toe.
- Recovery Time:Deadlifts are taxing on the central nervous system, requiring sound motor control and body positioning. This means that you’ll need ample recovery time between sets.
Pros and Cons of Rack Pulls
The same goes for rack pulls. While it has its strengths, it also has its weaknesses. Take a look below and see if the exercise is right for you.
- Specificity: Rack pulls allow you to isolate the back muscles more than the deadlift, leading to better development of your lats, rhomboids, traps, and erector spinae.
- Heavy Lifting: The elevated starting position enables lifters to handle heavier weights. We recommend doing rack pulls as an overload exercise, which is a great way to increase muscular strength.
- Accessory Exercise:If your deadlifts suffer at the latter end of the movement, then you can do rack pulls as a way to target this issue.
- Limited Range of Motion: Rack pulls may not provide the same functional benefits as full deadlifts since the movement starts from knee-height and does not simulate real-life movements.
- Less Overall Muscle Engagement: Rack pulls are not a full-body exercise so they will not target the entire posterior chain as comprehensively as deadlifts.
- Dependency on Equipment: Performing rack pulls requires access to a power rack or squat rack to be able to set the barbell at knee height
- Risk of Injury: Wrist pain from lifting is very common. Because rack pulls can take on more weight, you have a higher risk of injuring yourself if you do not use proper technique. Try to overload your rack pulls sparingly and combine the exercise with other movements that complement your activated muscles.
- Requires More Grip Strength: As you overload your bar for rack pulls, you might notice it becomes increasingly difficult to grip your bar. Focus on developing your grip strength or use lifting straps to help you get over the hump.
How to Program Your Deadlifts & Rack Pulls
Programming your deadlifts and rack pulls together depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Are you an athlete who is looking to build explosiveness and power or are you a bodybuilder looking to increase muscle mass.
We’ve created three programs below based on your needs, so that you can see the best results from your workouts:
Day 1 - Deadlift
Day 2 - Rack Pull
Day 1 - Deadlift
Day 2 - Rack Pull
Use this workout program if you’re not an athlete or powerlifter with a specific fitness goal in mind. This workout will help you reap the benefits of both the deadlift and rack pull:
Day 1 - Deadlift
Day 2 - Rack Pull
Want to incorporate other exercises into your workout program? Try thesebarbell back exercises.
If you’re just starting out, remember to focus on getting the mechanics of the move down. Your body can handle a significant amount of weight so, as long as you have proper form and technique, you can gradually increase the load.
For powerlifters, core stabilization is critical so try using a lifting belt if you’re struggling with staying upright during the lift. Thepurpose of a lifting belt is to provide extra support and prevent back hyperextension. However, lifting belts only be used if your really need it. Wearing a lifting belt too much can impede core and lower back development so only use a belt whenever you’re doing at least 80-85% of your 1RPM
Lifting straps can also help powerlifters, but they have the same caveats. As you lift more weight, you’ll find that it can become difficult to grip onto the barbell through every rep. Lifting straps make it easier to hold onto the weight while also alleviating some of the load from your hands.
However, similar to lifting belts, lifting straps should be used sparingly. Using lifting wraps on every rep can cause your grip strength to break down, reverting your progress. Our recommendation? Use lifting straps for deadlifts only when you’re lifting weight close to your 1RPM and repping heavy work sets.
Both rack pulls and deadlifts are valuable exercises that you should include in your workout split. While they have their differences, the movements complement each other well and can develop your upper and lower body efficiently.Figure out what your fitness goals are and see which exercise caters to your needs the best. Most times, both deadlifts and rack pulls will make sense. Focus on proper form, listen to your body, and use a lifting belt whenever necessary. Stay Tuff!