I originally found out about rack pulls when I watched Eric Bugenhagen pulling a crazy amount of weight (~500kg) and screaming to the tune of heavy metal music and was inspired to incorporate them into my training.
In essence, a rack pull is the top part of the deadlift, and involves placing the barbell on top of the safety bars in a rack and pulling it until lockout. There are a variety of different ways this can be performed, and obviously the higher you place the safety bars, the less range of motion you can do, therefore the more weight you can load.
Below you can see me performing an “above the knee” rack pull.
There are quite a few proponents of heavy rack pulls in the fitness community, namely Eric Bugenhagen, as well as AlphaDestiny who provides excellent bodybuilding and powerlifting information supported with proven sports science and the owner of “Naturally Enhanced”, a program that seeks to give natural lifters an “enhanced” look by focusing on building huge traps, neck, and glutes.
Since this movement requires very heavy weight, grip strength will be a limiting factor. I highly recommend using straps for this exercise so that you are able to hold at the top for longer, and don’t rip your hands to shreds.
This movement involves a slight hinge movement in the hips which has a tendency to place pressure on the spine. I recommend using a powerlifting belt as well as proper breathing and bracing techniques covered in my Deadlift Exercise Spotlight.
Use appropriate footwear, such as flat sole deadlifting shoes when performing this exercise to provide proper stability and a solid foundation for your entire body. Running shoes with spongy soles are probably not a good idea.
The rack pull places a very heavy load on the upper back and as a result is a great way to strengthen your tendons and ligaments and overload your central nervous system. This will however, not improve your strength off the floor, so for a deadlift accessory exercise it is not that useful.
The rack pull above the knee has been referred to as “one of the best trap builders of all time” because it builds the upper back and traps through hard stretching and isometric contraction. Just holding a heavy weight in an upright position will be enough to tear muscle fibres in the traps and upper back and this is proven because heavy deadlifts and farmers walks are shown to increase hypertrophy in the traps and why? Because of the hard stretch and isometric contraction at the top of the movement. Now imagine taking a weight far exceeding your max deadlift and doing the same thing!
I greatly encourage you to try out this exercise and see how sore your traps are the next day.