Don’t Miss Out On One The Best Weightlifting Exercises
Most of you will probably have never come across rack pulls above the knee. In fact, unless you mingle around professional powerlifters, you will almost certainly never hear the word rack pull full stop. Rack pulls above the knee just aren’t well known among everyday recreational weightlifting crowds.
Which is a shame because if you ask me, they are probably one of the best exercises you will ever try. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone else doing any form of above the knee rack pull exercises. Ever! They really are rare gems of the weightlifting world. Well, if you are really looking to pack on some size, then rack pulls are something you should really consider adding to your training. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed with the results. In fact I can guarantee you, after a few tries you will become really hooked on them. I know I did!
What Are Rack Pulls Above The Knee?
I am sure you are aware of the full ROM deadlift. In a full ROM deadlift, you pull the bar from the ground then at or around the knee, lockout the body to full extension. Rack pulls essentially offer you a nice way of isolating certain portions of the full ROM deadlift. This might be beneficial for you if you are looking at improving certain muscle groups that are holding back your overall deadlifting performance. That is pretty clever, right? For instance, if someone wants to work on their deadlift lockout, then rack pulls BELOW the knee are on obvious choice. This is because most deadlift lockout problems actually occur just under, or at the height of the knee. The genius thing about rack pulls below the knee is that they reduce the ROM by taking most of the leg drive emphasis out of the actual movement. The beneficial effect for you means that you can utilize more weight than usual and overload more selectively your back. What you will find is that in most cases, the performance will transfer to your full ROM deadlift and you will actually have a better lockout! The question is, is their something even better than below the knee rack pulls? There might just be!
“Rack pulls essentially offer you a nice way of isolating certain portions of the full ROM deadlift”.
Like rack pulls below the knee, rack pulls ABOVE the knee can actually do everything the same, but just that little bit better. Simply put, it just takes the whole partial ROM and muscle overloading stuff to the next level. For you, it means a lot more size gains. I will be honest; rack pulls ABOVE the knee don’t get a lot of love in the weightlifting world. They usually have a reputation for being nothing more than ego boosting. When it comes to weightlifting culture, most people will always tell you: leave your ego at the door! That is sensible after all; you don’t want people injuring themselves just to impress a few people. But, once you actually know more about the fundamentals of rack pulls above the knee, then you quickly realize it doesn’t actually deserve the bad reputation it gets. Although partial ROM stuff is usually associated with cheating, showing off your ego and doing exercises incorrectly, in your case, it plays a pivotal role in the success of rack pulls above the knee. With rack pulls above the knee, the underlying mechanics of the exercise means that you can actually target certain muscle groups to a greater extent than a full ROM deadlift or rack pull below the knee could ever accomplish. In the long-term, this increases your potential for further muscle development.
If you were to ask me what compound movement would be best for back and core development, I will always tell you rack pulls above the knee. I would never tell you a normal full ROM deadlift. Contrary to what you might have been told, when you consider the underlying ROM and mechanics, it just doesn’t make sense to recommend a full ROM deadlift. Sure, there are deadlifters with great-developed backs and insanely strong cores, but can you imagine if they were to do an above the knee rack pull? The results would probably be insane! With a significantly smaller ROM, twice the weight lifted and a more selective emphasis on certain muscle groups, they would just be positively amplifying their results. The only negative thing I can think of is that you would probably need a longer bar to hold all the weight! If you consider partial vs. full ROM, it’s pretty easy to imagine why a rack pull above the knee might be this great. When you carry out a full ROM exercise, you will only be as strong as your weakest point in the lift. No matter how much you practice a full ROM movement, or brush up your lifting technique, you will never be able to outlift your weakest point. Still convinced a full ROM deadlift is better? In a full ROM deadlift, you will be recruiting different muscle groups along the path of movement (legs, back, shoulders, core, arms). It just takes ONE weak link in this recruitment chain to hammer your performance.
“Rack pulls ABOVE the knee can actually do everything the same, but just that little bit better”.
Consider a possible full ROM deadlift scenario: one, you can’t pull 4 plates off of the ground. The other, you can, but you can’t lock it out. Both of these scenarios will significantly reduce the weight you can lift. If your goal is to develop a super great back and core, then why struggle through parts of a lift that will only hold you back and are anyways not optimal to achieving your goals. Sure, if you are after total body strength development, want to improve your deadlifting skills, and recruit several muscle groups, then yes, you absolutely must utilize the full ROM deadlift movement. But, if your goal is pure back and core development, surely a rack pull above the knee exercise can do this more optimally, while at the same time, avoiding some of the possible problems with full ROM (e.g. weak legs)? If you think about it, if you can’t get the bar off the ground or even to your knees in a full ROM deadlift, then the chances of you actually fully utilizing your back anyways is slim to none. Just something to consider when choosing your compound movements for optimal back and core development.
Let’s Look At Some Convincing Exercise Mechanics
Take a look at the images below. These show the differences between a full ROM deadlift from the ground, a rack pull BELOW the knee and, a rack pull ABOVE the knee. One of the major things to notice in these images is the reduction in ROM as the bar’s staring position goes from the floor to above the knee. This for you is important because it means that as the ROM decreases, your ability to use more weight increases. As the weight you use increases, the potential to overload a muscle group becomes stronger. More muscle growth! Since your goal is to increase back and core development, you want to be able to overload over time. Naturally then, a smaller ROM will increase your chances of this and the rack pull above the knee would be a more logical choice. Another thing to look at is the KHA (Knee and Hip angle). In a rack pull above the knee, the joint angles are much larger than those of a full ROM deadlift or below the knee rack pull. This effectively puts you closer to the line of action of force (which is downwards in all these exercises) and thus in a more optimal position to lift the weight. The closer you are to the line of force action, the more weight you joints can handle. Again, this is exactly what you want! To be in the most optimal body position to pull a lot more weight and thus overload the target muscle groups over time. Lastly, I have also added a TOE (Target Of Activation) to the rack pull above the knee. This essentially highlights which muscle groups you are preferentially targeting in the exercise. Since the joint angles of the hips and knees are greater, your body is in a much more extended and vertical position in the rack pull above the knee. As a result, your legs are pretty much taken out of the equation, while your back and core (and to an extent your shoulders and arms due to supporting the weight in mid air) are emphasized.
If you are looking for optimal back and core development, then rack pulls above the knee seem to win the game. While you can still develop a great core and back through a normal full ROM deadlift (and a below the knee rack pull), it’s more likely to limit your progress over the long-term by potential problems that can arise through a full ROM movement. All three exercises work your back and core, but the rack pull above the knee does it better because it avoids all the problems that the other two can bring.
Rack Pulls Above The Knee Need More Attention
Rack pulls above the knee still haven’t made it into the general weightlifting world. Most of the time, if you ask someone in the gym what you should do to build a really great back and core, they will always say deadlifts. Deadlifts are great! They form an important foundational basis in my weightlifting routine. But if you are after optimal back and core development, there are definitely more optimal ways: rack pulls ABOVE the knee happen to be real game changers for this very purpose. I can understand why weightlifters are still not convinced by rack pulls above the knee. On the surface, it’s easy to see why this is the case: small ROM, lots of weight, looks a bit like a deadlift and offers little transfer of performance to a full ROM deadlift (unlike the below the knee version). The thing is, it all depends on what results you are after.
“I use the rack pull above the knee for a specific purpose; the same reason I utilize the full ROM deadlift for another”.
For me, I use the rack pull above the knee for a specific purpose; the same reason I utilize the full ROM deadlift for another. When you begin to uncover some of the fundamental mechanics of the above the knee rack pull, you actually quickly see why in some cases, it’s better than a full ROM deadlift or below the knee rack pull. The important thing to realize is that although a rack pull above the knee is a modification of a full ROM deadlift and below the knee rack pull, it doesn’t replace them or cheat them. Simply, it does some things better. In this case, build a great back and core. I would never utilize a rack pull above the knee to improve my full ROM deadlift. The same way, I would never utilize just a full ROM deadlift to build my back and core. It just depends on your goals and results!
As you will read about later in my blog, I will be making a lot of articles over exercises that you might have never come across before, but hold great value! (This is just the first one). I am just hoping I can convince you to give these a try because in all honesty, I wish I knew these exercises when I first began weightlifting. There is actually still a lot of hidden value out there! These exercises make an important part of that.
If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below. Have you heard of rack pulls above the knee? Do you utilise any sort of rack pulls in your routine? Let me know!