Cable Face Pulls Will Help Tone Your Back and Improve Your Posture—Here’s How |

Cable Face Pulls Will Help Tone Your Back and Improve Your Posture—Here’s How

Don’t let the name scare you: Cable face pulls aren’t nearly as frightening as they sound, and you definitely won’t be pulling on your face at all. They’re actually a workout move, and the word “face” is only in the title because that’s the body part you pull toward.

An upper body exercise that is great for building strength and toning your back muscles, this move does require a piece of gym equipment. But beyond that, it’s pretty straightforward. We think they’d make a worthwhile addition to your fitness routine, especially if you’ve mastered workout moves for basic muscle groups and want to get into more specific ones.

To learn everything we could about cable face pulls, we spoke with certified personal trainers Caley Crawford and Josh Honore. Ahead, find out what cable face pulls are, how to do them, and whether or not they’re right for you.


  • Caley Crawford is a NASM-certified personal trainer and director of training and experience for Row House.
  • Josh Honore is a NASM-certified personal trainer with Row House and STRIDE Fitness XPRO for Xponential+.

What Are Cable Face Pulls?

Cable face pulls are an upper body exercise that requires a piece of equipment. “This exercise can be done with a cable machine or a band anchored slightly higher than your height,” explains Crawford. It focuses on your upper back. “The cable machine is a versatile piece of gym equipment that uses cables attached to a weight stack to challenge muscles in a variety of ways,” Honore tells us. “The handle is often height adjustable, making this machine easily adaptable to a person’s needs. With several attachments to choose from, the face pull involves facing the machine and using the upper back muscles to pull the load horizontally toward your face,” he adds.

The Benefits of Cable Face Pulls

  • Improved scapula function: Honore says that “better-functioning scapulae can help reduce or prevent shoulder pain and contribute toward better posture.”
  • Stronger upper body: “The main benefits include strengthening your upper back muscles, rear deltoids, and traps,” says Crawford. “[Cable face pulls] are a great exercise to build overall shoulder health, considering there aren’t a ton of exercises that have such a strong focus on the rear deltoids.”
  • Better posture: “Many of us spend much of our day in seated and rounded positions, and this can lead to dysfunction of the muscles of the upper spine such as the pec, traps, and erector muscles,” Honore says. “This dysfunction can often be the cause of pain in the shoulders, neck, and back, especially for individuals who push their body physically regularly. Face pulls are great for restoring the position and function of the shoulder blades and the surrounding muscles, which can improve posture.”
  • Improved range of motion: Honore notes that cable face pulls can increase the range of motion throughout your shoulder joints.

How to Perform Cable Face Pulls

  1. Position yourself at a cable machine, ensuring the weight is right for you and the position is at the correct height. “Stand facing the cable machine with arms extended straight out in front of you, holding the rope attachment,” says Honore. Crawford says that you should “adjust the weight to something light to medium to start. You can always increase if needed.” She adds that you should “adjust the anchor point to higher than your height so that you’re pulling from a high position.”
  2. Grab the handles of the cable mechanism with your hands face down. “Keep your knuckles facing in,” says Crawford, then “walk backward to create some tension on the cables.”
  3. Next, lift your arms. “Bring the arms up so that they’re reaching up at a diagonal toward the anchor point on the cable machine and depress the shoulders so the lats become engaged,” Crawford instructs.
  4. Pull your hands toward your face and your elbows back. “Focus on engaging the upper back and drive the elbows back behind you, pulling the rope back toward your face,” Honore advises. “The shoulder blades should converge toward the spine with as little shrugging as possible and the wrists should land somewhere between the collarbone and the ears. The end range of motion is where the upper back is fully contracted and you can maintain good upright posture.”
  5. Slowly release back to your starting position. “Continue focusing on strength and control in the upper back as you return to the starting position,” says Honore.


This exercise can be done with a resistance band instead of a cable machine, which is convenient for those who may not have access to a gym. “The difference in bands and cables is how the resistance is throughout the movement,” says Crawford. “With cables, the weight is the weight throughout the exercise. With bands, the resistance will increase throughout the movement, so it’ll challenge the stabilizers in the shoulder joint at a greater intensity. This is a fantastic way to build health in the shoulder joint,” she explains. “Using resistance bands is a great and versatile alternative to the cable machine,” adds Honore.

If you have access to a cable machine but want to try the move slightly differently, you can do face pulls on your knees. “Cable face pulls are great when done kneeling,” says Honore. “This can increase overall stability, challenge the control of the trunk, and reduce our instinct to use our hips to perform the movement.”

Cable Face Pulls vs. Reverse Fly

A cable face pull is somewhat similar to a reverse fly, only a cable pull is performed with a machine while a reverse fly is conducted with dumbbells. “It’s similar in the activation of the rear deltoids, however, it differs in regards to the angle at which you perform the exercise,” explains Crawford. “In a reverse fly, you are hinged forward at the hips so gravity helps create resistance. With the cable face pull, the cable with weights creates the resistance.” She suggests the reverse fly for those who don’t have access to a cable machine.

Safety Considerations

While most people should be able to perform cable face pulls, they aren’t for everyone. “If you have a shoulder impairment this might not be the best movement for you, considering where your elbows are in relation to the shoulders and hands,” says Crawford.

“Any exercise that appears to increase joint discomfort or back pain should be modified or avoided until a professional can advise differently,” says Honore. “Individuals with special conditions surrounding the function of the spine may also want to consult a professional before attempting face pulls.”

The Final Takeaway

Cable face pulls are an upper body exercise performed on a cable machine. They build strength in your upper back, specifically in your rear deltoids and traps. They can help improve your posture, the function of your scapula, and overall shoulder mobility. If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can try doing them with resistance bands. Alternatively, you can do the reverse fly with dumbbells. Cable face pulls should be avoided by anyone with shoulder or back injuries. Provided you can get to a cable machine and you don’t have any preventative injuries, face pulls are an excellent addition to your workout regime.


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