The gluteus maximus (your derrière to put it another way) is the biggest muscle in your body and the main muscle in what is generally referred to as the “glutes.”
The glutes are incredibly important for functional movement and despite social media being filled with “booty” workouts, most of us actually have weak glutes (due to sedentary lifestyles and sitting too much of the day) which can lead to a multitude of issues, such as lower back ache.
So, isn’t it about time you gave this muscle the attention it deserves?
Glute cable kickbacks are the perfect glute isolation exercise for those looking for those booty gains and in this exercise guide, we delve into everything you need to know, including how to perform them safely, muscles worked and the benefits.
How to do Glute Cable Kickbacks
- Attach an ankle cuff to a lower cable pulley.
- Stand in front of a cable pulley machine (about 2 feet away) so your right ankle is in line with the pulley.
- Attach the ankle cuff to your right ankle.
- Set the desired weight on the pulley machine (it’s best to start light and work your way up).
- Hold the frame for support and hinge at the hips to keep your chest upright.
- With your core engaged, and knees slightly bent, squeeze your glutes to pull your right leg backwards.
- Keep your left leg firmly planted to provide balance.
- Slowly return your right leg to the starting position bending at the knee.
- Repeat for repetitions and then repeat on your left leg.
Coach’s Tip – To get the most out of cable kickbacks, really try and “kick” your leg behind you in a controlled yet explosive manner. Hold for a moment to really engage the glutes further, before slowly lowering the leg. By slowly lowering the leg, you really force the glutes and hamstrings to work overdrive (eccentric training). It also ensures you have full control over the movement and avoids injuries associated with jarring caused by the weight crashing back.
Another key consideration is to avoid going too heavy. If you select a weight that is too heavy, your glutes simply won’t be able to lift it, so you’ll naturally engage other muscle groups and perhaps include a slight swinging motion to get your leg off the ground. This defeats the whole purpose of an isolation exercise and consequently you won’t benefit as much compared to if you had kept things lighter.
Glute Cable Kickback Workout
If you want to focus on muscle mass, opt for a heavier weight with lower repetitions, and if you want to focus on sculpting and toning, opt for a lighter weight with higher repetitions.
Between 6-12 repetitions per set is a good starting point and go from there.
It’s worth noting, cable kickbacks do a great job at isolating the glutes. This perfect for training the glutes, but it also means you don’t want to pair this exercise with lots of other glute isolation movements. Instead, including glute kickbacks with squats or deadlifts, for example, would be much better and ensures you are training all parts of your lower body during the workout.
Cable Kickbacks Muscles Worked
Cable kickbacks primarily target the glutes. The movement isolates the glutes, recruiting all 3 muscle groups of the glutes to “kick” the leg back (the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus).
The movement also works the hamstrings and calves, helping to keep the leg stable as it moves back and forth.
The quad of the leg not being kicked back will also be targeted to a certain degree as it is required to stabilize and balance. Similarly, your core will be recruited to further stabilize your body as you perform the kickback.
Cable Kickbacks Benefits
Strengthening the Glutes
Cable kickbacks are ideal for strengthening the glutes. It is incredibly easy to add more weight to the movement, helping you to overload the muscles.
As the movement is focused on isolating the glutes, it removes the ability for other muscle groups to overcompensate during the exercise. This can be a problem with movements like deadlifts and squats, whereby certain muscle groups may overshadow weaker muscles.
If you want to put your glutes to the test… in an environment where there is nowhere to hide… glute cable kickbacks are second to none.
Toning and Shaping the Glutes
As well as strengthing the glutes, cable kickbacks are also great for toning and shaping the glutes. All 3 parts of the glutes are involved, helping provide aesthetic benefits.
The whole movement requires you to be balanced on one leg. This in itself is a great way to improve balance… an area of fitness that often gets ignored.
Reduce Back Ache
Weak glutes and hamstrings are a common cause for lower back ache. When we spend so much time sitting, the glutes become weaker and the lower back, hips and quads end up taking more of the weight.
By strengthening the glutes and hamstrings, your posture often naturally straightens up as the glutes are able to support your body more.
If you do suffer from back ache, it’s always worth speaking to a Physical Therapist or Clinician for specific advice about your circumstances though.
Glute Kickback Variations
A popular variation to the cable kickback is to use resistance bands instead of a cable.
This is usually the preferred choice if you’re working out at home (and don’t have the luxury of a large cable pulley machine!)
Lots of resistance bands now come with ankle cuffs, designed specifically for kickbacks. You can often attach the band to a solid surface and follow the same approach to the movement as you would using a cable pulley.
Alternatively, you could wrap a band around both legs and benefit from the resistance created as you kick one leg behind you.
You won’t be able to add as much weight with bands as you can with a cable pulley, but it’s still better than no resistance so worth using if you’re exercising at home.
Glute Kickback Machine
Some gyms have actual glute kickback machines, making the movement even easier than with a cable pulley. These machines tend to remove the need to attach a cuff to your ankle, and instead allow you to push a plate back and forth.
Standing Glute Kickback
You can do kickbacks with no equipment and simply do it as a bodyweight exercise.
For this variation, try and really focus on slowly lowering your leg back to the floor after the kickback. Even without any weight, this will really engage the glutes and hamstrings.
You could also try not holding onto anything to really test your balance too.
This is a great exercise for fitness over 50 and to really improve functional lower body strength and balance.
Cable Kickback Alternatives
Glute (Hip) Bridges
Glute bridges are another great glute exercise. This movement involves laying on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat. By squeezing your glutes you lift your hips up so your glutes are off the floor.
You can also do single leg glute bridges to add difficulty.
Donkey kicks also feature highly for effective glute exercises. They also leverage a “kickback” but with a bent knee and an upward kick from a quadruped (all fours) position.
The fire hydrant exercise will target the glutes but also help develop better hip range of motion and flexibility.
The fire hydrant involves lifting one leg up outwards from a quadruped position.
Glute trainers are specialist fitness equipment, designed to target… you guessed it… your glutes.
We recently reviewed the best glute trainers in our comparison guide to help you understand what different equipment has to offer (and ultimately, which ones are worth the money and which ones aren’t).
The cable kickback is a great glute isolation exercise that helps to build strength and muscle. Paired with compound movements like squats and deadlifts, this can help create an effective lower body workout.
Opting for heavier weight with lower repetitions will put more emphasis on strength and mass, whilst opting for lighter weight with higher repetitions will put more emphasis on toning and sculpting.