Cable Upright Row vs Cable Face Pull

Cable Upright Row vs Face Pulls (Is One Better?)

Cable upright rows and face pulls are two exercises that target the muscles of the upper back and shoulders. While both exercises involve pulling a weight towards the body, the key difference between the two is the position of the hands and the path of the weight.

In cable upright rows, the hands are placed close together and the weight is lifted vertically, whereas in face pulls the hands are wider apart and the weight is brought towards the face.

Both exercises can be effective in building strength and muscle in the upper body, but face pulls may be a better option for those with shoulder injuries or mobility issues.

In this article, I’m going to go into detail on how to do each exercise. I’ll also explain which exercise may be better for specific goals like developing strength and increasing muscle.

Cable Upright Row

Cable Upright Rows

Equipment Needed

  • Cable Machine

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Attach a straight handle* to a cable machine and lower the attachment pin to the bottom of the beam.
  • Grab the handle with an overhand grip and stand tall with the handle starting right in front of the thighs.
  • Flex your knees slightly and stand upright with good posture.
  • Pull the cable handle upward along the abdomen and chest toward the chin.
  • At the top, the elbow should be higher than the wrist, and above the shoulders.
  • Lower the handle under control back to the front of the thighs.
  • Do not ‘jerk’ or ‘rock’ the weight up and keep the handle close to the torso throughout.

Coaching Points

*You can use multiple different attachments other than a straight handle. The Rope Attachment is another popular attachment for Cable Upright Rows.

Don’t stand too far away from the machine. Try to stay close to the tower so the row is as vertical as possible.

Related –> Don’t have a cable machine? Here are 10 Cable Upright Row alternatives that don’t require a machine.

Cable Face Pulls

Cable Face Pulls

Equipment Needed

  • Cable Machine
  • Rope Attachment (can also be done with a straight bar attachment)


  • Face Pulls can also be done with a resistance band if you don’t have access to a cable machine (Band Face Pulls)

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • To begin, adjust the cable machine to a high setting and attach a rope attachment to the pulley.
  • Stand facing the cable machine with your feet shoulder-width apart and grasp the rope with both hands, using a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
  • Extend your arms in front of you so that the rope is taut, and step back slightly to create tension in the cable.
  • Engage your core and maintain a neutral spine as you pull the rope towards your face, keeping your elbows wide and your hands level with your ears.
  • As you pull the rope towards your face, squeeze your shoulder blades together and imagine that you are trying to pinch a quarter between your shoulder blades.
  • Hold the contraction for a moment, then slowly release the tension in the cable and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.

Coaching Points

Be sure to maintain good form and avoid using momentum to swing the weight. If you find yourself rocking forward and back when doing Cable Face Pulls, lighten the weight.

Keep your chest up and avoid rounding your shoulders forward as you perform the exercise.

Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and engaging your upper back muscles, rather than just pulling the weight with your arms.

Experiment with different grip positions (narrow, neutral, wide) to target different muscles in your upper back and shoulders.

Cable Upright Rows vs Face Pulls: Which is Better?

Now let’s take a look at how these two exercises stack up depending upon the goals you’re trying to accomplish.

Better For Building Muscle: Toss Up

It is difficult to say which exercise is better for building muscle between cable upright rows and face pulls, as both can be effective in building strength and muscle in the upper body.

Cable upright rows are an exercise that targets the muscles of the shoulders, upper back, and arms. By using a narrow grip, cable upright rows can place more emphasis on the muscles of the shoulders, making them an effective option for building shoulder strength and size.

On the other hand, cable face pulls are a more specialized exercise that targets the muscles of the upper back and shoulders. This exercise involves pulling a weight towards the face using a cable machine, with the hands positioned wider apart.

By using a wider grip, face pulls place more emphasis on the muscles of the upper back, making them an effective option for building strength and hypertrophy in this area.

Overall, both exercises can be effective in building muscle in the upper body, but the best choice may depend on your individual goals and strengths.

Better For Developing Strength: Cable Upright Row

I give the nod for developing strength to Cable Upright Rows. Because of the angle of the lift, the lifter has much better leverage and is therefore able to move more weight doing upright rows compared to face pulls.

Generally speaking, if you’re able to move more weight you can build more strength.

Better For Beginners: Toss Up

I’m also calling this a toss-up because I believe both exercises are very easy for beginners to learn and execute.

Just remember, if you are a beginner, it is always best to start with a light weight and focus on proper form to avoid injury. As you become more comfortable with the exercise, you can gradually increase the weight and intensity.

Final Thoughts

I’ve just half an article comparing which is better – Cable Upright Rows or Face Pulls. However, the truth is, there is no reason you shouldn’t have both exercises in your strength training program.

Both are excellent exercises for developing strong shoulders and a strong upper back. Incorporating both exercises into your training program can also add variety and keep your workouts from getting stale.

So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Cable Upright Rows and Cable Face Pulls in your training plan.

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