Rack Pulls Or Deadlifts For A Thicker Back?

Which exercise will give you the best back gains?

It’s long been proven that the deadlift is one of the greatest exercises you can perform for a bunch of different reasons. First off, it’s a great back and core routine that can get your back thicker and stronger. It also has the major benefit of offering the lifter some functional strength. It’s the reason the lift is incorporated in so many strength and conditioning programs. Hell, Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman is pretty damn obsessed with them. But say you want to find another exercise for back gains, one that requires a bit less effort and much of the same results. Just what other exercise could you do?

If you haven’t guessed rack pulls by now then shame on you (it’s in the title for God’s sake). Rack pulls for all intents in purposes is essential the cousin of deadlifting. It requires much of the same motion and can be great for building up the back. But there are two schools of thoughts when it comes to this exercise. One group thinks that it’s a great replacement for deadlifts while the other, you guessed it, believes that there is no replacing the deadlift for back gains. So which is the way to go?

The difference is…

Deadlifts and Rack Pulls essentially have the same motion, at least at the tail end of each exercise. The deadlift is a lift that is seen in competitive powerlifting competitions, the rack pull is not. The deadlift also has a greater range of motion, from the floor and lifted up off the ground until the lifter locks out their hips with the motion. Rather than lifting from the floor the rack pull is simply lifted up from the rack, locked out like a typical deadlift and back onto the rack for a shorter range of motion.

Heavy Lifting

So why do the rack pull if you’re not going to get the full range of motion as you would from the deadlift? Simple. You can actually haul more weight with the rack pull seeing as how you start the lift from the rack itself. That means you’re more likely to pack on the weight for a heavier lift. This will help with the lifters lock out when performing the deadlift and fix any possible mistakes.

Massive back from Rack Pulls?

So since you can lift heavier straight from the rack, does that mean the rack pulls will give you a thicker back? There’s the rub. You can certainly get a thicker back from doing rack pulls, but you won’t get as much functional strength as you would from deadlifts. The good news is that if you’re looking to work the back for aggressive gains then the rack pull could be the way to go. It’s shorter range of motion means less stress on the central nervous system and therefore can allow you to throw in more sets of rack pulls into your back routine without the same fatigue as doing deadlifts.

And the verdict is…

The best part of working out is that there are so man different options out there to choose from. These two lifts are a great example of exercises that may seem the same but offers different benefits. But which one is truly better for back gains? Simple answer is that both should be in your rotation. Deadlifts are a classic and essential lift that will offer not only a bigger back but some serious strength as well. It’s the exercise that turned Franco Columbu into a car lifting machine. But on those days where you want to get your back to grow without having to put your body through as much stress, it’s a great idea to throw some rack pulls in the mix.

generation iron
Evan Centopani performing a rack pull.

So what do you think? Are rack pulls the way to go or are deadlifts all you need? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow Generation Iron on Facebook and Twitter.



  1. There is no replacing Deadlifts, I recently started doing rack pulls at the end of my squat day. It’s at the opposite end of my weekly routine from Deadlifts and am using it to build lumbar stability for bigger Deadlifts.

  2. I’m 42 and consider myself in decent shape. 3 months ago I attempted and completed my first set of deadlifts ever in my life with a weight of 135 pounds.
    I also started doing rack pulls with the same weight. Fast forward to last week and I completed a set of 3 rack pulls with 405 pounds and my deadlift 5×5 working weight is 280. I like rack pulls. My back is growing fast and when used effectively rack pulls can be a great compliment to the training schedule.

  3. My concern is bending the barbell with rack pulls, which happens often. Does anyone see a major difference in development by doing box pulls (which won’t bend the bar) rather than rack pulls?


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