What Muscles Do Face Pulls Work?

Face pulls are a great exercise to improve shoulder health and scapular stability to prevent injuries for athletes of all levels. Here, we will focus on what muscles face pulls work, along with benefits and our top tips. 

What muscles do face pulls work?

Face pulls work the muscles at the back of the shoulders, upper back and external rotator cuff muscles, more specifically:

  • Rear deltoids (back of the shoulders)
  • Rhomboids & lower trapezius (upper back)
  • Infraspinatus, teres minor, teres major (external rotator cuff muscles

Rear Delts

The rear delts are the primary muscle worked in the face pulls, pulling the upper arm bones backward and the shoulder blades together towards the spine. This is important as it reduces the shoulders hunching forwards, helping to improve posture. 

Rhomboids & Lower Trapezius

Your rhomboids and lower traps act as stabilisers and work together to pull the shoulder blade back and down (retract and depress the scapula) and maintain proper scapular positioning throughout the movement. By doing so, they help to improve scapular stability, which is important for maintaining healthy shoulder function and preventing injuries. 

Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Teres Major

The Infraspinatus, teres minor, and teres major muscles work as external rotators of the shoulder joint, which means they rotate the upper arm bone away from the body. This action helps to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and improve shoulder stability, particularly during overhead activities or throwing motions. 

These muscles also work together with the rear deltoids to help pull the shoulder blades back (retract) and stabilise the shoulder blades, improving overall posture and reducing the risk of shoulder injuries. 

Muscles worked for variations of face pulls

What we’ve covered above are the muscles worked for most face pulls. Below, we’ll cover some of the most common variations of face pulls and how it alters the emphasis on the muscles that are targeted. 

Cable Face Pulls

Cable face pulls work the rear delts, rhomboids, lower traps, infraspinatus, teres minor and teres major. They involve the use of a cable machine and a rope, or handle attachment. This allows for continuous tension throughout the entire range of motion, providing a consistent stimulus to the targeted muscles. 

On a side note, the cable provides a smooth and controlled movement, which can help to reduce the risk of joint stress or injury. 

Banded Face Pulls

Band face pulls work the same muscles as other face pull variations, such as the rear delts, rhomboids, lower traps, infraspinatus, teres minor and teres major. However, there is more variable resistance, with the band’s tension increasing as you pull the band closer to your face, but very little when your arms are straight at the start of the movement. 

Half Kneeling Face Pulls

Half kneeling face pulls also work the same muscles as other face pull variations. Yet, the half kneeling position requires greater activation of the obliques and hip musculature, to maintain stability and balance. This offers a more stable base of support for pulling, enabling better control and focus being placed on the rear delts, rhomboids, lower traps, infraspinatus, teres minor and teres major, without compromising form. 

Seated Face Pulls

Seated face pulls work the rear delts, rhomboids, lower traps, infraspinatus, teres minor and teres major, while requiring the front (anterior) of your core to work.

The seated face pull minimises the involvement of the lower body and limits the potential for using momentum to perform the exercise. This variation may be beneficial for individuals who may have difficulty with balance or stability during standing or kneeling face pulls. 

Bent Over Dumbbell Face Pulls

Bent over dumbbell face pulls target the same muscles as other face pull exercises, such as the rear delts, rhomboids and external rotators. However, it involves bending over at the hips while holding dumbbells and performing face pull motion. This engages the muscles of the lower back and glutes to a greater extent due to the position.

However, if you are looking to engage the lower back and glute muscles, we would recommend completing other variations of the face pulls and a deadlift variation separately. 

Why face pulls are a great exercise

Face pulls are an effective exercise for correcting posture, improving scapular stability, enhancing shoulder strength, and reducing the risk of shoulder-related injuries. 

They achieve this by targeting and strengthening the muscles responsible for scapula stability, such as the rhomboids and lower traps. Improved scapula stability helps maintain proper shoulder mechanics and reduces the risk of shoulder injuries. 

Face pulls also work the rear deltoids and rotator cuff muscles, promoting balanced development of shoulder muscles and improving overall shoulder stability. This can prevent imbalances and reduce the likelihood of common shoulder injuries like rotator cuff strains and impingements, which will contribute to long-term shoulder health. 

Training Recommendations

It’s recommended that you perform face pulls 2-3 times per week aiming for 2-3 sets of 10-30 repetitions with a moderate weight or resistance, this will allow you to build muscular endurance in the targeted muscles whilst focusing on achieving good control and muscle activation. 


Face pulls are a great exercise that targets the rear delts, rhomboids, lower traps and external rotators. They improve scapular stability, posture, and reduce the risk of shoulder injuries. Variations like cable, banded, kneeling, seated and bent over dumbbell face pulls offer slightly different benefits. 

Try incorporating face pulls 2-3 times per week, with 2-3 sets of 10-30 reps into your training.

Happy face pulling! 

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Golf Insider UK | Website | + posts

Will is a sport scientist and golf professional who specialises in motor control and motor learning. Will lecturers part-time in motor control and biomechanics, runs Golf Insider UK and consults elite athletes who are interested in optimising their training and performance.