Doing face pulls offers positive effects but not everyone likes them. Get similar effects with these face pull alternatives.
Face pulls work muscles like the rear (back) part of the deltoids, upper back muscles like your trapezius, scapular muscles, rhomboids, and to some extent biceps.
In turn, that means that face pulls can help you build muscle mass, improve your posture, improve bone density, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy doing face pulls, you want to focus more on specific muscles, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these face pull substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
Remember that if you are at home and/or don’t have a cable machine available, you can still do resistance band face pulls if you have a sturdy anchor at the right height.
1. Bent-over rear delt fly
For this first face pull alternative, you can use a wide variety of one-handed shoulder workout equipment options like dumbbells, resistance bands, kettlebells, a cable machine, etc.
Take the following steps to do a bent-over reverse fly with dumbbells:
- Stand up upright with one dumbbell in each hand and your hand palms facing each other. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- While keeping your back straight bend your knees and slightly bend forward until your upper body is as close as horizontal to the ground while keeping your posture good. Let gravity do its work on your arms so that they point vertically to the ground.
- Slowly raise the dumbbells out to the side until they are at shoulder height.
- Move the dumbbells back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
You can shift the focus of the bent-over rear delt fly depending on how you do it. If you only move your arms the exercise will mainly focus on the back part of the deltoid muscles.
If you move your shoulders, this face pull alternative will work additional back muscles too.
One difference with face pulls is that the bent-over rear delt fly will also work your lower back, erector spinae, and core muscles to a certain extent. Depending on your training goals this can be an advantage or disadvantage.
In any case, you don’t necessarily need a cable machine for this exercise option.
2. Resistance band pull-aparts
Take the following steps to do a resistance band pull-apart:
- Stand upright with your feet at about shoulder width. Point your arms which are slightly less than stretched horizontally forward. Hold a resistance band in your hands.
- Pull the resistance band apart by moving your hand horizontally outward until your arms are in one horizontal line.
- Move your hands back into starting position in a controlled motion.
You can do the resistance band pull-apart standing or seated. Some of the benefits of resistance bands include that they are relatively cheap, easy to use at home, and can be used to train a variety of body parts.
Resistance band pull-aparts are a good face pull alternative in the sense that they basically work the same muscles.
The only exception is that you don’t get the small amount of bicep engagement and work your triceps a tiny amount more.
Another difference is that the tension of resistance bands is not the exact same throughout the movement.
The farther you stretch out the bands, the higher the tension becomes for your rear deltoids. This is not necessarily better or worse.
3. Reverse pec deck
The pec deck is a gym machine where you sit up straight with your arms folded and your upper arms behind pads. To do the exercise you then push these pads toward each other engaging your chest muscles in the process.
By sitting in reverse on the machine and adjusting the settings of the handles, you can also make this an exercise that works your rear deltoid muscles and in turn, can be a good alternative to face pulls.
Because of this machine, it becomes easier to keep your body in the same position. Additionally, the resistance goes through a fixed range of motion.
These things allow you to isolate your rear deltoids almost completely if that is what you want. You can also choose to work your upper back muscles on top of that by moving your shoulders.
4. Rear delt rows
Similar to the rear delt fly, rear delt rows can be done in a variety of positions with a variety of fitness equipment options.
Take the following steps to do a bent-over rear delt row with a barbell:
- Load the desired number of weight plates on the barbell and stand in front of it.
- Put your feet at about shoulder width and grab the barbell with your hands about shoulder-width apart with an overhanded grip. Lift up the barbell with your legs until you stand up straight. Keep your spine straight throughout the exercise.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle with the ground. Let your arms hang down to the ground for now but hold the barbell tightly.
- Lift the barbell toward your chest as far as comfortable by bringing your elbows outward. Your upper arms are at angles slightly less than 90 degrees to your sides. Keep your spine in a straight line, your upper body still, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Lower your hands again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Regular bent-over rows with your elbows close to your body focus more on your upper back muscles. By moving your elbows outward your rear deltoids have to work. This makes the exercise resemble face pulls more.
One thing to keep in mind is that bent-over rear delt rows are generally more challenging for your lower back and erector spinae muscles than face pulls.
If you keep using the right technique, doing bent-over rear delt rows instead of face pulls can lead to more lower back strengthening. The downside is that it also becomes easier to implement a suboptimal technique.
5. W raises
For the next substitute for face pulls you need an incline weight bench and a type of one-handed resistance, preferably two dumbbells.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do W raises:
- Set up the incline weight bench at an angle of about 45 degrees.
- Lie down on the incline weight bench with your chest in a safe way. Hold the dumbbells in your hands with a neutral grip but let your arms hang down for now.
- Move the dumbbells forward and upward until your elbows are at 90-degree angles.
- Slowly raise your elbows sideways outward and upward until they are horizontal while keeping your elbows at the same angles.
- Lower your arms again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
W raises engage your muscles very similar to face pulls. Two differences are that W raises engage your biceps in a more static way and this exercise engages your scapular muscles less.
A benefit of W raises over face pulls is that you don’t need a cable machine or resistance bands with an anchor. That being said, there are still a few equipment requirements to be able to do W raises.
6. Wide-grip inverted rows
For wide-grip inverted rows, you can use a sturdy barbell rack with a bar, sturdy table, dip bars, gymnastic rings, or trx bands at home or in the gym.
Take the following steps to do a wide-grip inverted row with a barbell rack:
- Sit or lie down with your back on the ground under the barbell.
- Put your hand in an overhanded position on the barbell wider than shoulder width apart.
- Move your body so your arms are stretched, your knees are at about a 90-degree angle, and the rest of your body is in a straight line.
- Raise your body by bending your elbows until your body reaches the bar. Keep your upper arms more or less horizontal with the barbell, your body in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Slowly lower yourself again until you are back in the position of the third step.
A regular rear delt row involves a bent-over position and moving an external weight up and down. With this wide-grip inverted row, you will move your body weight up and down.
By doing this, the wide-grip inverted row works similar muscles as face pulls. This includes the back part of the deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids, and to some extent biceps.