Rack Pull vs Deadlift: Which is Better For You?


Main Differences BetweenRack Pull vs Deadlift

The Main Differences Between Rack Pull vs Deadlift are:

  • Rack Pulls are a partial extension power lifting activity, whereas Deadlifts are full extension
  • Rack Pulls target the upper shoulders and back, whereas Deadlifts do a better job of targeting mid to lower back and quads
  • Deadlifts provide overall toning and are great for intermediate to advanced gains, whereas Rack Pulls are more beginner friendly

When it comes to a home workout, many of us think about cardio, whether that’s from a treadmill, indoor rowing machine, or even a stationary bike like Peloton. But a new study suggests that strength training, whether from a rack pull, deadlift, or even resistant bands, is just as important–or more–for staying fit.

I’ve also liked to mix up cardio and strength training for my personal routine, the new study, published in Springer, convinced me that I may need to pay even more attention to exercises like rack pull and deadlift.

The study concluded that, compared to cardio, strength training (which also included free weights) improves muscle mass, bone density, and is even associated with a lower risk of diabetes, heart attack and early death. It’s also neglected: only 20 percent of us get the recommended two days a week.

That certainly convinced me. But it can be hard to know where to start, or what strength training exercise is right for you. In this article, I’ll compare the pros and cons of rack pull vs deadlift, and help you decide which at home workout is best for you. I’ll also give some recommendations for the best at home gym equipment for rack pull and deadlift.

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Why is Strength Training So Important?

Rack Pull vs Deadlift

Chances are you know strength training is important, and you’ve heard that it helps build muscles and overall strength. But just how much strength training helps us get in shape is simply incredible, and it can also help with other workouts.

Muscle Growth and Toning

No matter if you’re a professional athlete or new to strength training, anyone can build and tone muscles. It’s actually a little odd how muscles are built: strength training causes muscle breakdown.

The micro breakdowns then are repaired, and the body is thought to overcompensate. Muscle toning and growth, though, can only occur with both strength training and adequate protein.

Cross Training

I love cardio, especially as a former varsity distance runner. But I know how important it is not only to take a break but to implement cross training. Strength training, combined with resistance and cardio, prevents injuries and also improves performance all around. Plus, it’s simply more interesting to do a variety of workouts, and you’re getting a more full body workout experience.

Bone Density

This one is very important: I’ve always been told that weight bearing cardio can help build bones, and while that is true, strength training is especially important. Strength training, whether it’s a rack pull or deadlift, builds bone density much the same way muscles are built, by applying pressure and increasing strength over time.

Healthy Weight

While cardio treadmill or rowing workouts burn more calories than you’ll get out of a rack pull or deadlift session, strength training has a longer calorie after burn, meaning you’ll continue to burn calories after the workout ends. Even more so, increasing muscle mass increases your overall metabolic rate, meaning your body burns more calories at rest than if you only do cardio.

How Do I Decide What Form of Strength Training to Do?


Before we jump into the differences between rack pull vs deadlift, there are several factors I consider when I’m looking to incorporate strength training–factors you need to consider, too. The fact is that, while strength training is beneficial for nearly everyone, like cardio, one size doesn’t fit all.

Equipment Needed

Let’s face it: not all strength training is easy to do when you’re on the go or if you’re in a small space. So when considering what exercises to do, I try to consider the gym equipment needed in terms of both space and expenses. How much space, and budget you have, for equipment at home may determine what you go with.

Fitness Level and Experience

While you can start slow on any strength training program, some exercises are more or less friendly to beginners, while others may help you advance further in your fitness goals.

Plus, I always consider how easy it is to learn how to perform the exercises correctly (which, of course, is important for injury prevention. Finally, under this same category, health conditions and age can play a role in what form of strength training is most appropriate.

Benefits vs Risk for Injury

Speaking of benefits, strength training trains different types of muscles depending on what you select, whether you want to focus on overall toning, building muscle mass, or even targeting specific muscles. Additionally, the risk for injury is also something to keep in mind–though that risk can be mitigated through proper form.

Rack Pull or Deadlift: Which is the Better Exercise?

Rack Pull or Deadlift

Now I’ll jump into my comparison of rack pull vs deadlift. By comparing them, it’s easier to see which one holds the most potential benefits for you and your fitness goals.

How It’s Performed

Let’s start by defining what a rack pull and a deadlift are. Both are considered great strength training exercises that have some overlap in terms of ease and health benefits, so it’s understandable if you aren’t familiar with the distinction.


A deadlift is a form of weight training that is especially popular amongst bodybuilders, but can be used in any strength training routine, nor do you have to stick to one weight category for it to be considered a deadlift.

A deadlift is a type of powerlifting, and is often performed along with two other exercises: bench press and squat form. As a form of powerlifting, a deadlift involves short reps with higher weights. Because it involves heavy weights, form for a deadlift must be paid careful attention to as you perform:

  1. Place your feet evenly apart with toes turned in and under the barbell. Make sure that your arms are held straight and close to your back. Your feet
  2. Grip the bar and bend your knees so they touch the barbell.
  3. Raise your chest, keep your back straight, and hold before carefully setting the bar back down. It’s important to keep your feet in place and steady as you lift.

Rack Pull

A rack pull is actually powerlifting too–moreover, it’s essentially an alternative to a deadlift. Because of this, it too involves heavy lifting and follows a specific form in order to perform the exercise correctly:

  1. Situate your toes under the barbell, but this time pointed straight. As with a deadlift, your feet should be apart as your shoulder width, but your back beads to be arched.
  2. Grip the bar, knees bent.
  3. Lift making sure you’re extending both your knees and hips, pulling the shoulder blades back as you lift to a hold
  4. Carefully set the bat back down, knees bent; at this point, your back needs to be straight until you finish the rep.

Equipment Needed

The good news about the equipment needed for both a rack pull and a deadlift is that it’s fairly simple. The most important equipment you’ll need is a stable dumbbell bar set up with heavy weights.

Benefits & Muscles Targeted

Since both a rack pull and a deadlift are forms are powerlifting, you might imagine that the benefits are the same, but, because the muscles targeted are slightly different, so are the benefits of rack pull vs deadlifts.


A deadlift is considered an extension exercise, meaning that it opens up and strengthens, in this case, a full back and hips. In general, properly performed deadlifts target quads; glutes; hamstrings; calves; abs; and most of the lower and upper back.

Deadlifts are popular for building strong leg and back muscles while improving both posture and grip. Some studies even suggest that traditional deadlifts can encourage growth hormones, leading to greater muscle gains.

Rack Pull

Again keeping in mind that a rack pull is a form of a deadlift, you’ll see a number of the same benefits. While the lower back is worked most heavily, you’ll still see gains in the glutes, quads and hamstrings. You’ll also have the same possible benefits for hormone production.

Key Differences

The main difference between a rack pull vs deadlift is not the muscles worked, but the emphasis. A rack pull targets the upper back and shoulder muscles most (trapezius), through a partial extension. A deadlift, which instead includes a full extension, targets most of the mid to upper back, and does a better job of building leg muscles.

In other words: a rack pull is best if you want to focus on a small region of upper back and shoulder muscles, whereas a deadlift provides overall development for lower back and leg muscles.

Fitness Level and Experience

Powerlifting isn’t easy–you don’t need me to tell you that. The good thing about both a deadlift and a rack pull is that these are customizable based on how much weight you’re using for the barbells. However, there are a few distinguishing features.


A deadlift is a full extension activity, and this means you’re going to be working many muscles at once. It also requires experience lifting and targeting those muscles; in general you don’t want to jump right into full deadlift if you are new to strength training. Because it does target so many muscles, deadlifts are more suited to those at least at an intermediate level and without past injuries.

Rack Pull

Though a rack pull is similar to a traditional deadlift, since it is a partial extension and targets a more precise range of muscles, it’s seen as more friendly for those of lower fitness and experience levels.

Main Differences

Think of it this way: since it’s not a full extension, rack pulls tend to be easier to learn and perform. Rack Pulls can be used to improve typical deadlift strength and grip, but are the better option for those with a history of lower back injuries.

Risk of Injury

Both deadlifts and rack pulls have a risk of injury—one thing I find challenging is making sure everything’s set up properly, but also keeping posture correct from start to finish. Safety measures, especially for beginners and if pushing muscles to their limit is very important as well.

For both the deadlift and rack pull, the risk for injury comes from not using proper form, most notably failing to keep the back straight at the proper times.


Deadlifts require proper form from start to finish. And, as fitness expert Mike Reinold, owner of Champion PT and Performance, says, that means it’s one of the highest injury risk workouts–because many beginners do not maintain proper form.

As a full-extension, keeping the back straight and toes properly placed is essential. Over time, the lack of proper posture also risks spine health. Done correctly, of course, deadlifts could actually strengthen and prevent your reduction of other back injuries–the key is performing it correctly.

Rack Pull

Make no mistake: like a traditional deadlift, a rack pull could also lead to injuries due to improper form. That said, the learning curve is lower, and, because it’s a smaller range of more targeted motion, injury risk tends to be lower.

Key Takeaways: Rack Pull or Deadlift?

should I rack pull or deadlift

Examining the pros and cons of a rack pull vs a deadlift, both are excellent forms of power lifting for gains. They may help even with cardio workouts, and overall muscle tone and strength. Neither is inherently superior, but I do recommend a different activity based upon your current needs and fitness goals.

Choose the Deadlift For

  • Overall muscle strength and toning
  • Targeting leg muscles
  • Already experienced athletes
  • Full extension workouts

Choose the Rack Pull For

  • Beginners to powerlifting
  • Older individuals
  • Individuals with a history of back injuries
  • Targeting trapezius and upper back muscles

Frequently Asked Questions

Are rack pulls worth it?

Rack pulls are great power lifting exercises, especially for targeting upper shoulder and back muscles, and also a nice alternative to traditional deadlifts if you’re new to powerlifting. That said, rack pulls don’t do as good of a job building lower back muscles and quads as deadlifts.

Can deadlifts help you lose belly fat?

No one workout truly targets body fat, but a mix of cardio or high intensity workouts paired with strength training can help tone and increase the muscle mass to body fat ratio.

Is deadlifting bad for your back?

Deadlifting can actually be good for back health, when done correctly. Deadlifting helps strengthen mid to lower back and even extends to shoulders and quads, providing toning and muscle development. In fact, long term deadlift could help with back issues. But done incorrectly, deadlifting also puts you at a high risk for back injuries. And rack pulls are a good alternative to those with a history of lower back issues, as well as older adults and seniors.

Best/ Recommended Equipment for Rack Pulls and Deadlifts

To get you started on rack pulls or deadlifts, here are my recommendations for at home gym equipment. All of these are a reasonable price, are durable, and boast high customer satisfaction.

Best Compact: SML-2 Rogue 90″ Monster Lite Stand

SML-2 Rogue Monster Lite Stand

The Rogue Monster stand is useful for a variety of powerlifting activities, including not only rack pulls and deadlifts, but also squats. Also available in 70” and 190” this size is a happy medium. I love the compact design, steel construction, and easy to adjust bar. Plus, priced at under $500, it’s a good value overall. Buy Here.

Best Value: Vulcan Power Rack (Flat Base)

Vulcan Power Rack

If you’re looking for a good value, I recommend something like the Vulcan Power Rack. The base price begins at $800 though you can customize add ons as you like.

Quality steel construction, safety rods, and even a pull bar are all included. It’s a heavier model and best if you have a decent amount of space and are looking for a valuable way to upgrade your at home gym equipment. I love the many different buying options for other attachments to pursue even more workouts and stretch the use of this purchase. Buy Here.

Best Wall Mounted: Profile Squat Rack with Kipping Bar

Profile Squat Rack with Kipping Bar

The Profile Squat bar is also great for saving space and allows you to perform rack pulls and deadlifts. While it’s a good addition to a home gym, it would even work for less conventional spaces, like a garage. The steel mounted bar is still sturdy, and can handle up to 1,000 pounds. Buy Here.

PRx Performance Profile Squat Rack | Amazon

The addition of the PRx Kipping Bar to our standard Profile Squat Rack allows for kipping movements including bar muscle-ups and toes-to-bar.

Check price Buy at Amazon.com
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

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