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The Most Common Face Pull Mistake, and How to Correct It

Men's Health logo Men's Health 12/8/2021 Philip Ellis
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Trainer and Athlean-X founder Jeff Cavaliere is a big proponent of the face pull as a an exemplary exercise for building strength and muscle in the upper back, and he programs it into pretty much all of his back workouts.

But you're not going to get the best results out of the face pull if you're performing it with imperfect technique (as is true of every exercise). In a short new video on the Athlean-X channel, Cavaliere demonstrates the most common error that people make when doing face pulls—and just as importantly, how to fix it.

This mistake all comes down to arm and hand positioning. Cavaliere explains that he frequently sees clients doing face pulls with their forearms pointing forward in a movement pattern which more closely mirrors a rowing motion than the desired pull. Instead, the forearms should actually be raised so that the hands are traveling backwards, too.

To cue yourself into the proper movement, think of the exercise as a competition between your hands and elbows. "What wins the race to the back position there, your elbows or your hands? The answer is your hands, and this is where I think people get this wrong all the time. They let their elbows win," he says. "What I need to do is let my hands beat my elbows in a race to the back, because what that ensures is I 'm getting external rotation."

Strength coach and Athlean-X founder Jeff Cavaliere demonstrates the most common mistake people make when doing face pulls and how to improve your form. © Westend61 - Getty Images Strength coach and Athlean-X founder Jeff Cavaliere demonstrates the most common mistake people make when doing face pulls and how to improve your form.

While face pulls help to build the rear delts, rhomboids, and external rotators, Cavaliere believes that the primary movement in this exercise should be from the rotator cuff. "The real race is being won by the rotator cuff in this exercise," he says. "Not by the rear delt in some sort of a row."

Once you can make this shift and begin moving more intentionally, you'll actually reap the intended benefits of the face pull.

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