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How To Do Cable Kickbacks (From a Personal Trainer)

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: December 15, 2021

When it comes to lower body workout routines, people tend to focus on the quads, hamstrings, and calves through isolation exercises.

And while squats are great compound glute exercises, sometimes you need to isolate those buttocks.

As a personal fitness coach, I believe the traditional cable glute kickback is possibly the most effective way to do this.

But I often see folks at the gym that get this isolation exercise wrong, which could lead to injuries. Like other lower body exercises, it all comes down to the setup and execution.

So, let me show you what it’s about.

Quick Summary

  • Many athletes overlook glute isolation exercises or don't follow a good technique to get the maximum effect. 
  • The cable glute kickback targets the area where hamstrings meet the buttocks to give you the perfectly shaped backside. 
  • People often make common mistakes that can cause damage to the hips and the lower back.

How Do You Set Up Cable Kickbacks?

woman using a cable machine in the gym

Here is how you set up and execute the cable glute kickback on your next leg day.

Step #1: Starting Position

  1. The starting position is with your toes facing the cable machine and the ankle cuff attachment on your right leg. Also, make sure you’re set up for the low cable pulley system as far down to the ground as possible.
  2. Keep both knees slightly bent with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Start with just a few weight plates to get a feeling for the movement, and then set up a heavier weight stack for fewer reps.

Step #2: Slow And Effective Movement

  1. Start the movement and slowly kick the right leg back while keeping your upper body facing the machine. Also, keep the leg straight while you slowly bring your foot up to hip level.
  2. You’ll need to lean forward a bit to create some counterbalance.
  3. As you get close to the top position, squeeze your glutes hard and hold that top position for one second.

Step #3: Maximize Range Of Motion

Range of motion is vital for the glute kickback. That’s why it’s important to regularly do some hip and leg stretching to make sure you can lift your leg as high as possible.

This will also make it easier to squeeze your glutes all the way to build stronger glutes.

Step #4: Switch Legs And Repeat

Yup, don’t just do this for one leg. Your left leg needs to go through the same reps and sets.

I’d suggest avoiding too much of a break as you switch from one to the other leg.

Simply switch the ankle strap and take a break after completing one set on each leg. It’s better for athletic performance and strength building.

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What Muscles Do Cable Kickbacks Work?

woman in gym clothes

As the name suggests, the cable glute kickback specifically targets the glute muscles from the upper hamstring upwards.

The most direct impact will be to the gluteus maximus, which is the largest butt muscle and the one that gives your backside some shape.

But you can also feel the strain in your hamstring and core, especially if you focus on keeping your abs tight during the movement.

And by holding the leg at the top position for a couple of seconds, you can make sure that you maximize the time under tension and see the best results for your backside [1].

“Cable kickbacks offer a unique way to target the muscles within the posterior that won’t necessarily be targeted in our usual routines. They predominantly target the glutes, providing an engaging and challenging workout for the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, all of which are posterior muscles in the upper leg.” - Chris Allsobrook. Personal Trainer at Origym.

4 Common Cable Kickback Mistakes

woman in pain

Here are the four most common errors I see my clients make.

1. Standing Straight

If you keep your upper body vertical, you won’t get the full range of motion and add a lot of strain to your lower spine.

The cable kickbacks movement involves slowly tilting forward to reduce the pressure on your back and get that leg up as high as possible.

2. Using Momentum

Even folks who do glute kickbacks on a regular basis can get caught up in using body momentum to lift the weight.

Typically, this is a forward body movement before you lift the leg, and it reduces muscle tension.

3. Quantity Over Quality

The cable glute kickback will have a lot more impact on your butt if you slow down the movement and maintain proper form rather than force the maximum weight.

It might feel good writing down a large weight in your journal, but it won’t have the same effect as a slow and steady motion.

4. Going For Speed

This is a typical amateur mistake. Lifting weights should never be about speed but maximizing the time under tension.

Aim to count to two as you raise your leg, hold the tension for 1 to 2 seconds, and then count to three on the way back down.

Speed is not your friend.

Cable Kickback Variations And Reps

woman working out

Here are two things to consider when planning your next leg set.

Cable Glute Kickback With Abduction

Along with the regular kickbacks, you can slightly change your starting position. Stand 90 degrees to the cable machine and attach the ankle cuff to the leg furthest away from the machine.

Then, raise your leg to the side as far as possible to target muscles in your thighs and the smaller gluteal muscles.

Choosing The Right Reps

So, do you do 8 to 10 reps or 12 to 15?

That depends on your goals. With good form and where the last two of eight reps are a real struggle, you’ll trigger muscle building for a bigger and defined backside.

But if you want to lose some flabby stuff on your butt, then lightening the load and doing 15 reps will be extremely effective [2].

Can You Do Cable Glute Kickbacks Without A Cable Machine?

Not everyone will have a cable machine at home, but there’s still a way to target these muscle groups. You can do the cable glute kickback by attaching a resistance band to the door frame with a tight loop.

As long as you get good tension on your glutes as you move the leg back, you’ll achieve the same results.

The downside is that you might find it a bit more difficult to raise the tension with multiple bands on the same side, but it’s better than trying to achieve the same results by just climbing stairs.

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FAQs

Are Cable Glute Kickbacks Bad for Your Back?

No, cable glute kickbacks aren't bad for your back as long as you perform them properly. Bad posture and a lower body misalignment can increase the pressure on your lower spine and cause some significant strain injuries.

Should You Do Cable Glute Kickbacks Every Day?

No, you shouldn’t do cable glute kickbacks every day. You can have a designated leg and glute day once or twice a week, but anything more than that will limit the benefits you can get.

Are You Going To Focus More On Your Gluteal Muscles?

Out of all the other glute exercises, the cable glute kickbacks seem to work on the human body and bittocks the best.

When you work on larger muscle groups, especially around your hips, it’s always good to focus on an isolation exercise.

To a lesser extent, you’ll also engage other muscles, which can help you build up a strong core.

Try out the above tips on your next leg exercise day, and see how much of a difference they will make.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3285070/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3544497/

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