I’m a certified personal trainer, and I love telling clients about the exercise that enables a person to lift the most weight possible: the rack pull. I myself perform this exercise twice a week as part of my fitness regimen.
The exercise in which you can truly lift the most weight possible is the rack pull, also known as the “top” deadlift. It’s impossible to cheat; you either lift the barbell off the support bars or you don’t. And it’s “all you.”
How to perform a rack pull/top deadlift:
Set a barbell on support bars in the squat cage. The height can be anywhere between mid-calves to knee level.
The form that you use for the rack pull should be identical to the deadlift form, in that precise attention should be paid to your lower back; keep an arch. And do not round any portion of your back. Keep the shoulders relaxed; don’t tense them up. Finally, keep arms straight; do not bend at the elbows.
Each rep of a rack pull means you can “touch and go” the barbell to the support bars; don’t let it outright rest there, but do make contact (as briefly as possible) to confirm you’re completing the range of motion.
Each time you set the bar back down on the supports, make sure not to let it loudly crash down. One way to build a lot of strength is to practice setting down a very heavy weight without crashing it down. This technique focuses on the negative or eccentric contraction.
No matter how heavy a weight is, enough practice with carefully setting it down will enable you to do this and develop that eccentric strength. This includes for the last repetition of any set; no need to set off an earthquake. The only exception would be if you were training for a 1RM for competition.
Posterior chain neglect: one more reason for the rack pull
Some fitness experts believe you should do twice the pulling exercises that you do pushing, to make sure that your muscle and strength development is balanced.
How many exercises do you do, combined, for chest, quads and shoulders? Then double that for lats, hams and glutes combined.
It’s hard to go wrong with a lot of back, ham and glute work. Whereas, excessive chest and shoulder work could injure the rotator cuff, and excessive quad work could injure the knees. You don’t want to become anterior chain dominant.
Though that’s the region of your body that you easily see in the mirror when admiring your progress, remember, that what you can’t see, is just as important-maybe even more important. And what you can’t see is what others see when you’re walking away from them.
Slam the back hard. One way to do this is with the rack pull or top deadlift. Strong back muscles from top to bottom will do an extraordinary job of protecting your spine from developing problems in older age.
However, make sure you perform your exercises safely, without getting ahead of yourself. You could have a mighty strong back but blow out a disk with an improperly executed lift using very heavy weight.
A rack pull that’s done rather high yields less chance of injury than a rack pull that’s done close to the floor. But no matter what height you do a rack pull, great form is necessary. Practice the rack pull with lighter weight to master form.
And by the way, I do not recommend you replace the standard deadlift with a rack pull. Both exercises can be worked into your program.