Cable machine glute kickbacks are an awesome way to build stronger glutes, hamstrings, and hips. Here’s a deeper look at the benefits of this exercise, how to do it like a pro, muscles worked, and some variations to try.
Glute kickbacks are one of the best exercises you can use to target your glutes.
Because of the way your body is set up and moving through the exercise, it maximizes focus on your glute muscles while still encouraging greater hip mobility and strength in the hip muscles.
Mix it into your workout along with your other favorite glute exercises (like glute bridges, hip thrusts, and glute-ham raises), and you’ll see real progress in developing serious power and resilience in your posterior chain muscles.
When the time comes that just training using your own bodyweight isn’t enough (because you’ve developed sufficient glute strength), you’ll be glad to know you can easily step it up using one of the gym’s most popular and useful machines: the cable machine.
Read on to find out how to do cable machine glute kickbacks like a boss, and get ready to see real strength gains!
What Muscles Do Cable Machine Glute Kickbacks Work?
Glute kickbacks (and their variations, including kickbacks with ankle weights and cable machine kickbacks) work some of the most critical muscles in your lower body:
- Glutes, including your gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and gluteus maximus. The exercise targets all the glute muscles, increasing resilience in the muscle that engages to support your spine whenever you move your legs.
- Hamstrings, which work hand-in-hand with the glutes to support your lower back. This posterior-chain muscles is necessary for any pulling motion your leg performs, including when you walk and run.
- Core, including your lower back and obliques (depending on the angle of the kickback). There is far less focus on the core muscles, but just enough engagement in tandem with the glutes and hamstrings that kickbacks build a more resilient core overall.
- Hips, specifically the hip muscles that engage and rotate your leg.
Benefits of Glute Kickbacks
Glute kickbacks are considered one of the best glute exercises for a number of reasons:
Better posterior chain muscle engagement.
There are few exercises that can maximize engagement of your posterior chain leg muscles like glute kickbacks.
While they do engage the hamstrings and lower back, the majority of the focus is on your glutes, making it one of the best for specifically targeting the muscles that often get under-worked with other exercises.
Better hip extension and rotation.
Because of the way you’re kicking your legs back, you engage the muscles in your pelvis that help to stabilize your legs through this specific range of motion.
Often, the hip muscles are under-trained (just like the glutes), which leads to structural and mobility problems.
By focusing on training the hip muscles and increasing rotation and extension, you improve your ability to move and maintain strength throughout through the full range of motion.
Minimal lower back engagement.
For those who are recovering from a spinal injury or surgery, glute kickbacks are a great exercise to help you through rehab.
The focus is on the glutes, but there’s just enough lower back engagement that it will strengthen the connection between the spinal supporters and glutes.
However, it will be gentle on your lower back muscles and avoid re-injury or over-training. It’s a truly amazing option to help you recover your strength and mobility!
Great for newbies.
The beauty of this particular cable machine glute exercise is that it’s incredibly beginner-friendly. It’s fairly easy to master the form, and because you’re training with the cable machine, you have total freedom of movement.
It’s also a simple matter to keep upping the weight as you develop strength.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to add glute kickbacks into your regular workout routine!
How to Do Cable Machine Glute Kickbacks Like a Pro
Step 1: Set up the machine. Start off by connecting the ankle strap for cable machines. This is a specific accessory that lets you secure the cable machine to your ankle (typically sold separately). Once the ankle strap is connected, set the cable machine to the lowest level.
Step 2: Set up your body. Connect the ankle strap to your right ankle. Stand facing the cable machine, bend at the waist, and lean on the handles/machine for support.
Step 3: Kick back. Keep a slight bend in your right knee as you kick your leg out behind you as far and high as you can. Raise your leg until you feel the tension in your glutes, but stop before it reaches your lower back.
Step 4: Lower. Engage your glutes, hamstrings, core, and hip muscles to lower your leg slowly back from the kick. Lower until your right foot is beside your left ankle. Inhale, pause for a 1-count, then repeat.
Step 5: Switch legs. Once you’ve completed the correct number of reps on your right leg, switch the ankle strap to your left leg and repeat as desired.
And just like that, you’ve mastered the cable machine glute kickback!
Common Mistakes with the Cable Machine Glute Kickback
Mistake #1: Swinging
The worst thing you can do when knocking out glute kickbacks is swinging.
Swinging your back leg switches from only using your muscles to letting momentum do a lot of the work. This means that the weight of your leg will help with the lift, which is “cheating” and decreases the efficiency of the exercise.
There’s also the risk of jerking suddenly, which can put your lower back in danger. While the exercise is typically safe, incorrect form and abrupt, jerky motions can lead to spinal injuries.
Keep your movements slow and controlled, and pause between each rep. This will ensure that you don’t swing or jerk, maximizing the effectiveness and safety of the exercise.
Mistake #2: Raising Too High
The idea is to kick your leg out behind you using your glute muscles to raise the leg. If you raise the leg too high, however, your lower back muscles will have to engage, and the focus is shifted away from your glutes.
Ideally, in the proper position (leaning forward, bent at the waist), you’ll only have to lift your leg to roughly waist height (until it’s parallel to the floor) and no higher.
Mistake #3: Standing Up Straight
If you stand up straight, it will decrease your range of motion and increase engagement of your lower back. Ultimately, it makes the workout less effective and puts you at greater risk of spinal injury.
Focus on keeping enough bend in your waist that you’re leaning far forward, which in turn allows your leg to move through a much greater range of motion and largely removes your lower back from the equation.
Mistake #4: Not Extending Enough
Extend until you feel the tension in your glutes—that’s how you know you’ve gone far enough! You don’t want to extend so high you shift to lower back engagement, but you do want to move through the full range of motions to work all three of your gluteus muscles (maximus, medius, and minimus).
Try to lift your leg until it’s roughly parallel to the floor, extended straight out behind you.
That’s a full range of motion and will shred those glutes like a boss!
Variations of the Cable Machine Glute Kickback
While cable machine kickbacks is one of the all-time best glute exercises, it’s not the only one to include in your Glute Day/Leg Day training sessions.
Here are a few glute-focused variations and alternatives to consider:
Cable Machine Donkey Kickback
Instead of performing this exercise standing, you can get on your hands and knees to perform the Donkey Kickback.
This is another excellent one to isolate the glutes and hips, and can do wonders to remove your lower back from the equation.
Ankle Weighted Glute Kickback
Instead of using a cable machine, slap some weights on your ankle and get kicking that way.
It’s a great variation if you don’t have a cable machine in your home gym, or if the cable machines at your gym are all occupied.
The cable pull-through is one of my favorite glute-focused exercises, because it does wonders to work your glutes along with your hamstrings and lower back.
It’s gentler on the hips than kickbacks, though, so it’s a good option for those who are trying to train their hip muscles but don’t yet have sufficient strength for very heavy weights.
It will help to strengthen all the same posterior chain muscles kickbacks do, leading to better kickback performance.
Resistance Band Kickbacks
If you don’t have ankle weights or a cable machine, try using resistance bands!
All you have to do is wrap the resistance bands around your legs at roughly shin/calf height, and raise/lower the back leg to the full extension.
The tension will increase the farther your extension, leading to better strengthening of your glutes, hips, hamstrings, and lower back.
Plus, you’ll be able to pay better attention to your form, so you can improve your mobility significantly.
Glute presses involve a glute press machine, which engages your glute muscles to push backward in a similar-yet-slightly-different motion than glute kickbacks.
You’ll still develop more hip and posterior chain muscle strength, but there will be greater engagement of the quads. It’s a great exercise to help you transition between training your quads and switching to glutes and hamstrings on the back half of Leg Day.
Last but not least, one of my all-time favorite bodyweight exercises: glute bridges.
Glute bridges need no equipment (other than a mat or pad beneath you for cushioning) and involve no additional weight. You can start training using just your bodyweight, and you can adapt it according to your conditioning.
For example, if you’ve struggled with lower back issues, you can turn it into a static/isometric exercise, where you hold the bridge pose for a full 30 seconds. On the other hand, if you want to increase mobility, you can switch back to the standard form of glute bridge with repetitions of thrusting your pelvis upward to form the bridge.
However you do it, know that it’ll be an amazing option for strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and hips, just like glute kickbacks.
The Bottom Line
Glute kickbacks are one of the best exercises you can do to strengthen your lower body posterior chain muscles and improve hip mobility/resilience.
By adding in the cable machine, you can increase the weight and resistance on your legs, making the exercise even more challenging and ultimately building strength.
Follow the advice above to get the form just right, and pay attention to the way you move throughout the exercise. Controlled, precise, slow movements are crucial for maximizing muscle engagement and reducing your risk of lower back or hip injury.
Do glute kickbacks (or any of the variations I shared) correctly, and you’re all but guaranteed to see big glute growth!
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