Rack Pull Alternatives

10 Best Rack Pull Alternatives To Dominate Leg Day

Rack Pulls (also known as Pin Pulls or Partial Deadlifts) is an extremely popular exercise for building lower body strength and for good reason. They work the quads, hamstrings, glutes and back and the elevated starting position combined with the limited range of motion allows the lifter to use some pretty heavy weight.

But, what if you don’t have a power rack with safety pins to lift off of? (Or you may not even have a barbell)

Not a problem because there are plenty of Rack Pull alternatives that you can use as a substitute.

Alternatives for Rack Pulls

In this guide, I will show you 10 different Rack Pull alternatives. Some still use a barbell, but others use dumbbells, kettlebells and other pieces of equipment. Some are advanced movements and others are much more beginner-friendly.

Hopefully, no matter what equipment you have access to or what your level of experience is, at least one of these Rack Pull substitutions will be a good fit for you.


Deadlift Starting Position

It only makes sense to start a list of Rack Pull alternatives with Deadlifts. Rack Pulls are a partial movement of the complete Deadlift from the floor. If you don’t have a rack to be able to do Rack Pulls, this would be my first suggestion.

How To

  • Position your feet hip-width apart, with your toes under the barbell.
  • Bend at the hips and knees to lower your body and grip the barbell. Your grip can be overhand or mixed (one hand overhand, one hand underhand).
  • Ensure your spine is neutral, your chest is up, and your shoulders are slightly in front of the bar.
  • Engage your core and begin the lift by pushing through your heels, extending your hips and knees simultaneously.
  • Keep the bar close to your body throughout the entire lift.
  • Once you’re fully upright, stand tall with your chest out and shoulders back.
  • To lower the bar, hinge at your hips first, then bend your knees once the bar passes them. Return the bar to the ground in a controlled manner.

Coaching Points

For most field and court sports athletes, gripping the bar with an overhand grip is what I would recommend.

The main reason I recommend this grip is that the athlete is deadlifting to gain strength and athletes should be training symmetrically as much as possible.

This is not to say that a mixed grip is bad for lifters. A mixed grip in some cases will help the lifter pull more weight. But again, I must stress, that lifting more weight for “more weight’s” sake is not a good reason.

Deadlift From Blocks

If you don’t have a rack to do Rack Pulls out of, then using blocks can be a perfect alternative that provides the exact same function.

Lack of mobility can make it very uncomfortable, if not impossible, to set up for deadlifts in a good starting position with proper form. This is a big reason why exercises like Rack Pulls and Trap Bar Deadlifts (more on these in a second) are very popular – the elevated handles make them much easier to get into a comfortable starting position.

For athletes struggling to get into a proper starting position (and/or taller athletes), whether for deadlifts or Olympic lifts, moving them to blocks (boxes designed for weightlifting) is usually my first choice as an alternative. It elevates the bar up off the ground, demanding less mobility from the lifter to get into a proper setup.

As mobility improves, the elevation needed can be lessened until the lifter no longer needs to work off boxes at all.

If you don’t have lifting boxes, you can use 45-pound plates if they are flat on one side. Just make sure to sit down each rep as dropping the weights could end up in the weights bouncing and hitting the edge of a plate and rolling hard – potentially into the shins which is no fun.

Trap Bar Deadlift

Trap Bar Deadlift Setup

Using a trap bar for Trap Bar Deadlifts can provide some of the same functionality of a Rack Pull. Depending on the height of the handle, Trap Bar Deadlifts will raise the starting point where you grip the bar.

While this may not completely replace a Rack Pull, a Trap Bar can also be elevated on blocks for additional height.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Load the trap bar with the desired weight and stand inside it.
  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, aligned with the bar’s handles.
  • Bend at the hips and knees to grab the handles, palms facing your body.
  • Take a deep breath and brace your core, keeping your back flat.
  • Push through your heels while extending your hips and knees to lift the bar.
  • Fully extend your hips and knees, standing upright with the bar.
  • Reverse the movement, lowering the bar back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Easily the most common mistake for deadlifts of any kind is allowing the back to round, placing unnecessary stress on the back. Keep the back flat throughout the movement and the core braced.

Do not bounce the bar off the floor between reps. Yes, bouncing the plates off the floor into the next rep may make the lift easier to do, but it’s also a good way to allow your technique to break down. Reset for each rep.

Kettlebell Deadlift

Kettlebell Deadlifts

Using a kettlebell for Kettlebell Deadlifts is a good beginner-friendly Rack Pull alternative.

Using one kettlebell on the floor between the feet, get into a good starting position by bending the hips and knees and maintaining a good flat back. Grab the kettlebell with both and then deadlift – no different than you would with a barbell.

If you don’t have a heavy enough kettlebell where deadlifts make sense, consider Kettlebell Swings. Kettlebell Swings are essentially a lighter, more explosive version of a Rack Pull that provides a lot of the same benefits.

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Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell Swings emphasize the posterior chain muscles just like a Rack Pull does, but they do so in a much different way. Kettlebell Swings are more similar to an Olympic lift than they are a Rack Pull.

They’re generally done with much lighter weight and the focus is on driving the weight explosively using power generated from the hips. They may not pack on muscle mass quite as well as Rack Pulls, but a kettlebell can be taken on a road trip much easier than a barbell and 400 pounds.

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Choose an appropriate weight that you can swing with control.
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding the kettlebell with both hands in front of you.
  • Push your hips back, bending slightly at the knees, and lowering the kettlebell between your legs.
  • Powerfully extend your hips and knees, swinging the kettlebell forward and upward to chest height.
  • At the peak, your body should be in a straight line from head to heels.
  • Allow the kettlebell to swing back down, hinging at the hips, and preparing for the next repetition.

Coaching Points

The kettlebell swing is a great movement to train rapid hip extension and flexion. Remember to always keep a neutral spine.

Choosing the proper kettlebell weight is important. Heavier is not always better. Because of the rapid nature of the kettlebell swing, the emphasis should be on velocity, speed, and power.

Romanian Deadlift

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

Romanian Deadlifts, or RDLs for short, are a Rack Pull alternative that takes some of the focus away from the quads and overemphasizes the posterior chain – the erectors, the glutes and the hamstrings.

I use RDLs all the time in my programming on lower body days when there has already been a sufficient amount of quad work already done (squats, single leg exercises, etc).

How To

  • Begin by standing upright, holding a barbell in front of you with an overhand grip.
  • Feet should be hip-width apart with a slight bend in the knees.
  • Keeping a neutral spine and your chest up, hinge at the hips, pushing them backward.
  • Allow the barbell to slide down close to your legs. Your back remains straight throughout.
  • Lower the bar until you feel a strong stretch in your hamstrings or it reaches mid-shin level, whichever comes first.
  • Engage your hamstrings and glutes, then reverse the motion, bringing the barbell back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

The ‘depth’ that each person gets will be different and absolutely solely dependent upon hamstring flexibility.

Do NOT try to ‘reach’ the barbell toward the ground because you believe the plates should touch the floor. If you have tight hamstrings you may be doing well to get the bar to mid-shin.

Trying to reach the bar to the floor will result in the lifter losing their neutral spine and rounding their back, allowing the back to round is the most common mistake I see with RDLs and can lead to injury.

Clean Pulls

Power Clean First Pull
Arms straight, feet flat, knees out, chest out, eyes straight ahead… great first pull.

I love Rack Pulls and Deadlifts and think they are two of the best exercises for building strength and muscle mass. However, I don’t use them very often in my programming for athletes.


I usually opt for Clean Pulls with athletes. They’re the same basic movement, but Clean Pulls are a lighter, more explosive version. A Clean Pull is an Olympic lift variation that focuses only on the pull and the triple extension – no high pull with the arms and no catch. This explosive triple extension has a better carryover to sport and that is why I often use it in place of deadlifts.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Choose a suitable weight on the barbell and position it over your mid-foot.
  • With feet hip-width apart, grip the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, maintaining a flat back and shoulders over the bar.
  • Lift the bar by powerfully extending the hips and knees, keeping it close to your shins.
  • As the bar passes your knees, explosively extend your hips and rise onto your toes, shrugging your shoulders.
  • The bar should reach maximum height, with your body fully extended and shrugging upwards.
  • Control the bar back down to the starting position.

Coaching Points

*An easy way to get your grip in the right position is to place your hands one thumb length away from the start of the knurling of the bar. This width will work for 90% of lifters. Wider athletes may end up sliding their hands just a bit wider and vice versa for narrow athletes, but it’s a good starting point for anyone.

**One of the biggest mistakes with clean technique is that lifters will shoot their butt up first, locking their knees out and then they end up pulling the bar with their back instead of their legs. This is most often caused by lifters trying to rush the first pull too much. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

Dumbbell Deadlift

Admittedly, the Dumbbell Deadlift wouldn’t be one of my first choices to replace Rack Pulls, but if dumbbells are all you have to work with then they can do the job.

Deadlifting with dumbbells can be done one of two ways.

First, you can use a single dumbbell, grabbing it by the head and using it exactly as you would a kettlebell.

The other way is to use two dumbbells and either hold them by your side or in front of you as if you were holding a barbell. Hinge down until the dumbbells get to about mid-shin and then stand back tall.

The reason I’m not personally a huge fan of Dumbbell Deadlifts is I find holding them while deadlifting to be cumbersome and awkward. However, as I said before, if dumbbells are what you have you can definitely make them work.

Hammer Strength Squat Lunge Machine

The Hammer Strength Squat Lunge Machine (we always called it the Hammer Pull) is a machine that very closely mimics a Rack Pull. The handles sit laterally of the body and are more elevated off the ground than a barbell.

However, the reason I don’t have it listed higher on the list is that most of us probably don’t have access to a Hammer Pull machine.

I’ve had them in a few of the college weight rooms I’ve worked in, but not all. Some commercial gyms may have one if you’re lucky and they’re extremely expensive to buy for a home gym.

But, if you do happen to have access to this machine, I’d highly recommend giving it a try.

Tire Flips

Tire Flips

This last suggestion is admittedly a little more creative than the rest, but I believe Tire Flips can also work as a solid alternative for Rack Pulls.

After all, picking up a tire from the ground uses the same body position and the same movement pattern. So, if you don’t have a power rack, but you do have a tire that you workout with – put that thing to use!

How To

  • Choose an appropriate tire size that you can flip safely.
  • Stand facing the tire, feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Squat down and grip the tire with your fingers under the edge, arms fully extended.
  • Take a deep breath, tighten your core, and keep your back flat.
  • Drive through your heels and extend your hips and knees, lifting the tire off the ground.
  • As the tire reaches knee height, reposition your hands and push it forward.
  • Extend your arms and hips fully to complete the flip.

Coaching Points

The biggest key to Tire Flips is perhaps in finding the right tire.

Every school I’ve ever worked at had big tires that were used for Tire Flips. However, the size and weight of these tires have all been drastically different. They’ve ranged from tires that were barely heavy enough to be worth using to tires that took two and sometimes even three football players to flip.

Just like with Deadlifts and Power Clean, it’s extremely important to drop the hips, use the legs and keep the back flat. Once fatigue starts to set in I generally see athletes resort to using more back than legs. If form reaches this point then it’s time to stop flipping the tire.

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Final Thoughts

For any exercise or piece of equipment, there are almost always alternatives you can use as a substitution. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t have access to something listed in your workout program, just figure out how to adapt the movement. This is why I list alternatives for almost every exercise in my Exercise Library.

So, if you want to do Rack Pulls, but find yourself without a proper rack to do them in, I hope one of the Rack Pull alternatives I’ve listed in this guide works well for you.

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