Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fixing Shoulder Pain with Face Pulls

Many of the exercises I see on YouTube are performed with good intent, but fall short on optimal execution. For instance, there is a ton of exercises dedicated to improving shoulder health. And although, I disregard 90% of the videos I see--the one exercise I see butchered in many of these videos is the all important Face Pull.

The Face Pull was an exercise that was introduced by Bill Hartman about 7 years ago. He talked about its usefulness in strengthening the external rotators of the shoulders --mainly the infraspinatus and teres minor--and how it generally looks pretty cool to do. However, here are some basic mistakes lifters make when performing the Face Pull:

Mistake # 1.) When using a cable tower, the pulley is set too high. Ideally  you want the line of pull to run "through" the shoulders as closely as possible. Setting the pulley (that eventually attaches to the triceps rope) too high off-sets the line of resistance, and the external rotators end up contributing very little. Setting the pulley at about forehead height is best. Anything higher is taking away from the muscles you want to target.

Mistake # 2.) The rope is held with palms in a pronated grip. Ideally,  in order to accentuate the external rotators there has to be a rotation of the forearms to a great degree to force the humeral head to rotate. Many lifters cannot  rotate their forearms outwards (away from the body) because the shoulders are extremely tight and don't allow it. Most lifters are protracted in this region and simply lack the range of motion. If this is the case, flexibility is in order before we even talk about getting to Face Pulls.

Mistake # 3.) Initiating the movement from the biceps instead of the shoulders. The Face Pull, when performed correctly should look like your arms are opening up to reveal your face. Ideally, the forearms are close together at the beginning of the movement and then, spread open as you move the cable backwards.  The movement should come from the shoulders--not the biceps. The arms are simply extensions or "handles" for the exercise. You want the Face Pull to be a shoulder exercise and not let it look like a biceps movement.

Check out the video below to see how the Face Pull should be performed ideally.

The Face Pull is a fantastic exercise for anyone looking to improve shoulder function, reduce injury and improve posture. When done correctly, it targets the often neglected infraspinatus and teres minor---muscles of the rotator cuff complex that are often over-powered by the muscles of upper back. With so much emphasis on the front of the body, presses and "mirror exercises" leave the external rotatory weak and inactive. The responsibility of these muscles it to drive the shoulders back and counteract the force placed by the stronger internal rotator (subscapularis).

If you suffer from shoulder pain, the Face Pull is a definite necessity to your upper-body program. It has too many benefits to be omitted from any program. Fixing shoulder pain doesn't stop here. There are numerous exercises that can be added to any program to destroy should pain for good. Mike Westerdahl and Rick Kaselj teamed up to create a product called Fix My Shoulder Pain and it showcases many exercises that can help any lifter overcome shoulder pain. I helped sweeten up the product with a contributing report called "8 Weeks to Indestructible Shoulders". Check out Fix My Shoulder Pain here.


  1. Great illustration and video presentation John. You're the man! Thanks for sharing us this information.

    Keep posting. I am looking forward to reading more of your stuffs.

    Rick Kaselj
    Exercises For Injuries

  2. Nice, simple write-up on the face pulls. I've seen a real spike in face pull and shoulder articles these last two days, so it's good to have some proper instruction out in the world to go along with the hype I'm seeing on other sites.


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