Rack Pulls: Above or Below Knee Level?

Posted on 10 Nov 2014 20:23


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One of the questions I have been asked is whether I believe Rack Pulls should be performed above or below the level of the knees.

I want to state that the perspective from which I will address this question is pure strength related. I am not doing or having my trainees perform Rack Deadlifts (or Rack Pulls) for the purpose of bodybuilding or adding muscle to their frames. If I ever throw this exercise into my regular training it is to hit the deadlift from a different angle and to learn to cope with doing heavier weights for lockouts. I do not fall into the mindset of working on "weak points" on maximal lifts.

So given that, the reason why Rack Pulls are a good addition is because it puts the body in a very compromised situation. In a regular deadlift, when the bar reaches the level of the knee, it is furthest away from the center of gravity of the body. Picture this: you are bent over the bar getting ready to perform the deadlift. There is an invisible line running down from your hips and it is perpendicular to the floor. At the bottom position of the deadlift, this line passes through the barbell resting on the floor. At the top of the movement (once you have locked out) this line also passes close to the barbell. But, in the middle of a deadlift rep, when the barbell is at your knee level, it is furthest away from this perpendicular line. Therefore, you as a trainee are at the point of your most mechanically disadvantaged position. This is not a 'weak point' but a point where the mechanics of the lift is not favorable. Refer to the small diagram below to understand my point.


Rack Pulls Below Knee

Now, some people are stronger in the rack deadlift than the actual deadlift, and some people are weaker. Starting the rack pulls below the knees, although they have no direct correlation to regular deadlifts from the floor, does create more instability in the bar path, while hopefully using heavier weights (although some have more difficulty from this position). This is a good training experience for preparing for the long drawn-out pulls of max deadlifts, which require a consistent output of force from the trainee to get past the sticking point. Because of this I always perform rack deadlifts from below the level of the knee. I have all my trainees do the same thing.

Rack Pulls Above Knee

Rack pulls from above the knees can be good as well, as they require you to hold on to much bigger weights. Many coaches do not realize the importance of getting used to the feeling of heavy weights. Being able to hold onto and pull a a much heavier weight than you can currently deadlift can be a great advantage when you next max out on deads. The big weighs will not feel like such a "shock" to you hands, shoulders, and back. And rack pulls above the knee still train the posterior chain and require a good hip drive.

This may lead to another question: how do I incorporate rack deadlifts into my routine? There are two ways in which I include them in my regular training. The first is when I warm-up to a relative max on the regular deadlift and after that I do 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps of rack deadlifts. There is no formal "progression" scheme on these. The idea is to go up in volume and weight over time. The second option for me is to include them on a separate work day altogether. Whenever I do a second deadlift day (the first is a regular deadlift day and the second deadlift day involves a variation like rack pulls), I drop the intensity on the lift quite a bit. I do 2-3 sets of 5+ reps and every once in a while I will do a heavy double.

Here is a video for the first option wherein I work up to my relative max (at the time) of 500 and then I move over to rack deadlifts within the same workout and I work up to 495.

This is a second video where I have rack deadlifts on a separate day and I combine it with my front squat workout.

I hope this answers the question!

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