Barbell High Pull Exercise Guide

With seemingly endless options of exercises, finding the right one for your goals can be a challenge. When you're stuck in a position like this, exercises that can target several muscle groups at once are a great relief.

The Barbell high pull is a powerful, high-intensity move that helps you train the poster chain -- from the lower body muscles such as hamstrings and glutes, to the shoulders and back -- and prepares your body for other explosive exercises like the snatch and push jerk. It is designed not only to work these muscles but also to improve stability and power. If you are a lifter who aims to blast your body and carve up your shoulders and back, the Barbell High Pull is a fantastic choice for you.

In this article, we'll walk you through how to do barbell high pulls correctly so you can get the most out of this challenging exercise. We will also discuss the alternatives you can do to mix up your routine so can get the variety you need while working the correct muscles. So, be sure to read on for all the info you need.

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How To Do Barbell High Pulls

Setting Up

To prepare for a barbell high pull, assume a standing position with feet shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back and bend the knees while grabbing the barbell with an overhand grip, keeping it roughly two inches in front of your shins. Your hands should be positioned slightly wider than your feet. This is the starting position.

Exercise

While engaging your glutes and core, pull the barbell upwards in one explosive and controlled movement while keeping it close to your body.

As the bar rises high, shrug your shoulders powerfully to bring the barbell as high up towards your chin as possible with elbows held high. Then quickly lower it back down to the initial position. This is one rep. Repeat movement until desired number of repetitions is achieved.

Tips

  • Keeping your core and glutes engaged all throughout can reduce the chances of any strains or injuries, especially in your neck and back area.
  • Avoid leaning too far forward by maintaining a straight and neutral back and an elevated chest.
  • Majority of the momentum and power should come from the hips instead of the upper body.
  • Avoid pausing at the top, or at any point during the movement. Maintain a smooth transition between portions of this exercise to get the best out of it.

Benefits

  • Increases strength and weight progression 
  • Improves power that prepares you for other lifting exercises such as deadlifts and bench presses
  • Helps improve your balance and stability as it builds strength in your core and legs

Illustrated Guide

How to do Barbell high pulls

Muscles Worked

Primary Muscles

  • Trapezius
  • Glutes
  • Quads

Secondary Muscles

  • Biceps
  • Brachialis
  • Forearm Muscles
  • Hamstrings
  • Core

High Pull Variations

Dumbbell High Pull

There's something about the simplicity of dumbbell high pull that makes it a great variation to include in your routine. Like the barbell high pull, it works your upper body and posterior chain muscles effectively but with just a pair of dumbbells.

It can also serve as a great warm up for Olympic weightlifting exercises such as the hang clean, push jerk, and snatch. Remember to execute this with explosive movements for an effective extension.

Kettlebell High Pull

This is another simple yet effective variation of the barbell high pull. Do this exercise just like you would with the barbell variation but using a kettlebell. Start with the lightest weight and gradually increase the intensity as you become stronger. Make sure to keep your form correct - do not overstretch or use too much momentum!

Sumo Deadlift High Pull

The sumo deadlift high pull is a part of the nine foundational movements of CrossFit, and is great for developing the posterior chain, starting with the hamstrings and glutes with the large range of motion that it offers.

With this variation, start with a sumo deadlift stance (conventional deadlift with a wider stance) and proceed with the movement. 

Barbell High Pull Alternatives

Upright Row

The barbell high pull is often mistaken for the upright row due to their similarities in their forms and the equipment used. A major difference between the two is that the high pull uses more momentum and power in the hips than the upright row.

Despite this, the upright row makes a great alternative as it targets the muscles on the backside of your body, strengthening your back and shoulders. When done correctly, upright rows can be one of the most rewarding muscle builders for the back and shoulders.

Start with a standing position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold the barbell with an overhand grip down in front of you, and your arms extended. Brace your abdominals by keeping your back straight, chest up, and eyes focused forward.

Lift the barbell up toward your chest until it's just below chin level. Make sure to engage your core and biceps to draw your elbow up and back. Once the barbell reaches below chin level, lower the barbell back down until it rests in front of your thighs again. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Cable Face Pulls

The Cable Face Pull is a great substitute for the barbell high pull as it targets similar muscles groups in the back, shoulders and, to some degree, the arms. It does not involve any internal joint rotation or wrist flexion but needs the use of a cable pulley machine, which will require you to focus on controlling your movements effectively.

To do a face pull, hold onto the rope with a neutral grip with both of your palms facing towards you. Use your core to pull the rope towards your face until they become parallel with your ears.

Avoid moving your torso as you pull. Hold for a second and squeeze your shoulder blades together hard, and then slowly return to the initial position. Repeat this movement until you reach your desired number of repetitions.

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Kevin Harris
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