High Pull – What You Need to Know

If you are wanting to develop a thick, rugged, powerfully muscled upper body, then you need to be doing the high pull. This deceptively simple exercise will pack on mass through the delts, pecs and traps faster than almost any other. 

As well as maxing out your T-shirt, the high pull will give you that impressive wide thick back structure that simply oozes manly power.

What is the High Pull?

The high pull is a combination between a dead lift and a high upright row. It is an excellent exercise for Olympic weightlifters to improve their clean technique and weight. Those who are wanting to improve their dead lift will also find this a useful training exercise.

In addition, this is a fantastic exercise for hypertrophy. It will help you to build thick mass through the top of the upper body, with an emphasis on the shoulders, upper chest, trapezius, and rhomboids.

Muscles Worked During High Pull

The barbell high pull effectively works the posterior chain, these being the muscles that run along the back of your body, including the latissimus dorsi, teres minor, and major, trapezius, rhomboids, erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

On the front side of the body this exercise directly stimulates the front deltoids, the upper pectorals, the quadriceps and the forearms.

High Pull Benefits

The high pull is one of those exercises that has been shown to add thickness and ruggedness to the male physique. That is because it emphasizes the top portion of the torso. If you want to build a physique to impress, you need thick slanting traps, cannonball sized rounded shoulders, and thickness through the rhomboids. That is precisely what you can achieve if you consistently perform the high pull exercise.

As well as adding width and thickness to your upper body, the high pull exercise will develop the muscles of your posterior chain. These include all of the back muscles, as well as the glutes hamstrings and calf muscles. Having a strong posterior kinetic chain is extremely important when it comes to living a pain-free, functional life.

As a result of our technology-based lifestyle, many of us end up spending an inordinate amount of time stooped over a computer screen. As a consequence, we develop poor posture.

This has a flow on effect to the spine. It can cause ongoing back pain. When you perform an exercise like the high pull, you are able to pull your spine and your back muscles back into their proper alignment. In this way, you will be correcting your postural problems and helping to eliminate lower back pain.

High Pull FAQs

When should I add high pulls to my routine?

If you are training on a bodybuilding type schedule, you should add high pulls to your upper body or shoulder workout day. Use it as either the first or second exercise, as it is an intense compound movement that requires a lot of energy. 

As an Olympic lift assist movement, build this auxiliary exercise into your weekly training schedule specifically to help you to improve on all of your clean related exercises. The same thing applies if you are wanting to use it as an assist to improving your dead lift.

How many reps and sets should I do on this exercise?

The answer to this question depends on your training goal. If you are using this as a mass builder, your reps will necessarily be higher than if the exercise is added to your routine as an auxiliary to your other lifts. Bodybuilders should train within the 6 to 15 rep range. Start with 50% of your one rep max for a set of 15, and then add poundage each set until you max out at six reps. You should perform a total of 4 to 5 sets.

Olympic lifters and power lifters should train within the 2 to 5 rep range for a total of 4 to 5 sets. Every couple of weeks you can perform single rep sets.

Should I perform high pulls from blocks or from a hanging position?

The high pull can be performed from blocks. It can also be done without the full lowering to the floor on every rep. This is referred to as the hanging position high pull. This latter version of the exercise is better suited for bodybuilders or those whose primary goal is to put constant stimulation on the muscles of the deltoids, trapezius and rhomboids.

When you lower down to the floor you are taking stress off those areas and so the high pull keeps tension on the working muscle group. The more time and tension, the more stressed the muscle will be, and the greater potential there will be for hypertrophy.

Performing the high pull from blocks will allow you to be more explosive, especially if you are new to this exercise. It can be useful to start with high blocks and then transition to having the bar on the floor as you become more proficient in the technique of the movement. 

What is the difference between a high pull and a clean high pull?

The difference between these two exercises is that the clean high pull is specifically designed as an auxiliary to the clean and, as such, is basically the first half of that movement. In contrast to the standard high pull, the clean high pull involves a jump shrug movement. This involves jumping directly into the air as if you were trying to get your head to touch the roof of the building. Be sure to go directly up rather than tilting forward or backward.

How can the high pull improve my clean?

The high pull allows you to concentrate on the initial part of the clean without having to worry about catching the bar. You will also be able to use heavier weight on the high pull, which will allow you to develop more power.

Many lifters are held back from developing their power due to not getting the technical part of the catch right. Performing the high pull as a separate movement that will allow you to continue developing power while you work on your technique for the catch separately.

It has also been shown that training the separate components of the Olympic lifts helps to improve the athlete’s proprioception and kinesthetic awareness. This makes them less prone to injury, while being more coordinated and, ultimately, more proficient in the goal exercise.

How to Do a High Pull

  1. Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and your toes pointed slightly outward. You want your shins to be a couple of inches from the bar and the line of the bar cutting over your midfoot.
  2. Bend your knees to come down to the bar, grabbing it about a hand’s width to either side of your lower legs. Use a double overhead grip to firmly grasp the bar.
  3. In the bottom position, push your hips back and keep your torso straight as you look at the floor about 18 inches in front of you. Now explode up to bring your body and the bar as high as you can. Your elbows should travel up and out, with the bar coming up above the level of your elbows to a point roughly in line with your forehead.
  4. Lower to the starting position and repeat.

Intensity

This is a measure of the degree of effort and is expressed as a percentage of your one-rep max (1RM). This is the most weight you have ever lifted in the exercise with proper form for one repetition.

The following chart shows how percentage of 1RM relates to training intensity.

%age of 1RMIntensity LevelUsefulness
60-70LightTechnique
70-80Light-mediumTechnique, Speed work
80-85MediumPower, muscle gain
85-90Medium-HeavyStrength
90-95HeavyStrength
95-100MaximumStrength
How percentage of 1RM (one rep max) relates to training intensity

Key Form Points

High Pull
  • Do not lean either forward or backward throughout the movement. Instead, you want your torso to remain in an upright position throughout.
  • In the start position, squeeze your shoulder blades together, imagining that there is a pencil between them that you have to support.
  • Keep your chest elevated throughout the movement.
  • Maintain looseness in your arms; do not think about pulling with your biceps or triceps.
  • Think about pulling the bar up to your neck.
  • Focus on the bar being as close to your body as possible as it comes up.
  • Concentrate on generating the majority of your explosive power from your hip action.
  • You should perform the complete repetition as one seamless action. Do not pause in the top position but move directly into the descent as you prepare for the next rep. 
  • Maintain a tight core and squeeze your glutes as you explode up with the bar.
  • Be sure to keep a natural arch in your lower back as you perform this exercise.

Conclusion

The high pull is a versatile exercise that has a number of applications. When performed in its full version, bringing the weight from the floor to the level of your forehead, it makes a great compound move that puts the emphasis on the quads, shoulders, traps and upper back muscles. When used as an auxiliary move for Olympic and powerlifting, it can help you to increase power without having to concentrate on the technicalities of the clean. However you utilize this exercise, make sure that you follow our form points to make sure that you get the most out of the effort you’re pouring into your workout. 

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