Cable Donkey Kickback: 4 Benefits & Muscles Worked

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 17, 2022

A resistance exercise performed with the assistance of a cable or pulley machine that has a step or single-hand handle affixed to the carabiner, allowing the exerciser to place the arch of their foot in said handle.

The cable donkey kickback is commonly performed by exercisers wishing to improve the appearance and function of their posterior chain or physical rehabilitation patients wishing to reinforce the connective tissue located next to the hamstrings or around the hip joints.

This particular exercise provides a myriad of benefits not solely reserved for athletic or rehabilitation purposes, with a variety of other positive effects being imparted from the cable machine assisted lower body exercise, such as improved flexibility apart from its muscular hypertrophy and neuromuscular adaptation benefits.

What is the Cable Donkey Kickback?

The cable donkey kickback, in the strictest definition, is a lower body compound exercise of the open kinetic chain movement pattern variety, with a distinct focus on the adduction of the entire leg while the individual is in a push-up or forward leaning position.

cable donkey kickback

This particular exercise is primarily performed for the purposes of inducing both muscular hypertrophy and neuromuscular strength adaptations in such muscle groups like the ones located in the buttocks, hamstrings and calves, all of which are part of what is referred to as the posterior chain group of tissues.

Who Can Perform the Cable Donkey Kickback?

The cable donkey kickback is perfect for individuals wishing to sculpt their buttocks and legs, such as fitness models or individuals with a particular aesthetic appearance in mind.

Apart from this, the cable assisted donkey kickback exercise is also quite useful in physical rehabilitation routines – particularly when used with a lower resistance and the assistance of a licensed physical therapist or similar professional.

The cable donkey kickback may additionally be used by athletes or individuals wishing to strengthen their gluteus minimus, medius and maximus muscles, of which are among the primary mover muscle groups involved throughout the entirety of the cable donkey kickback.

What are the Benefits of the Cable Donkey Kickback?

Like all forms of resistance exercise, the cable donkey kickback presents a variety of positive effects to individuals that repetitively perform the exercise alongside other healthy habits such as a protein-rich diet and adequate rest times.

Considering the fact that the majority of resistance exercises all share a certain set of benefits when performed in the proper manner, we have elected to instead only list the positive effects that may be accrued solely from the cable donkey kickback and its variations of form.

1. Gluteus Muscle Isolation and Activation

The most commonly sought after benefit and as such the primary reason the majority of gym goers perform the cable donkey kickback, activation and subsequent training of the gluteus trio of muscles is a direct effect of performing said exercise in a repetitive and straining manner, thereby inducing muscular hypertrophy and neurological strength adaptations.

Though it is true that gluteus muscle group isolation is not solely reserved for the cable donkey kickback, this particular exercise is quite famous for activating all three heads of the glutes muscle group in a rather beneficial manner, allowing it to fully train the exerciser’s glutes when combined with other glute isolation exercises or intense compound movements.

2. Athletic Improvements

With the gluteus muscle group being among one of the most important primary movers responsible for a variety of movements such as jumping or side stepping, it should be no surprise that subsequent isolation and training of said muscle group can have a directly positive effect on the general functions of an athlete or an individual participating in athletic endeavors.

This is not solely due to an improvement in muscular function, however, as improvements in connective tissue function, endocrinological system function and general mind-muscle connection ability can all enhance an exerciser’s athletic prowess.

3. Highly Targeted Training Stimulus

When performed with the correct form and utilizing an appropriate volume of repetitions, the cable donkey kickback is capable of a highly specific form of muscular exercise activation known as muscular isolation, of which precludes the use of other muscle groups in a larger working capacity.

This is primarily due to the fact that the cable donkey kickback positions the exerciser’s legs in such a way that only the gluteus muscle group is activated to a significant level, though other muscle groups may be used for a moment while the dynamic portion of the repetition is performed.

4. Improved Coordination and Similar Benefits

Being responsible for the movement of the thighs away and towards the hips, the gluteus muscle group and its subsequent training will improve both the coordination and general balance of the exerciser that performs it, aiding not only in their athletic endeavors but also in daily life, reducing the incidence of falls or similar injuries.

This can be quite beneficial for individuals of advanced age or those prone to such injuries, as well as patients with injuries located around the hip joint that must undergo some level of physical rehabilitation so as to retain function and flexibility.

What Equipment Does the Cable Donkey Kickback Need?

True to its name, the cable donkey kickback requires only the usage of an adjustable cable or pulley machine in order to provide a variable level of resistance to the exerciser, as well as a suitable secure enough handle from which the pulley may be attached to the exerciser’s leg.

cable machine

This may take the form of a single hand grip where the exerciser hooks the crook of their foot into the handle, in the form of a specialized ankle strap that wraps around the exerciser’s ankle, or a variety of other handle types that ensure the pulley rope does not snap back to its retainer if it slips.

band donkey kickback

Other auxiliary equipment that may be needed are a suitably comfortable mat or area to lie on if performing lying cable donkey kickbacks or a suitably stable enough object to hold on to if the exerciser or patient cannot maintain their balance with one leg.

What Muscles are Worked by the Cable Donkey Kickback?

Considering the fact that the cable donkey kickback is considered an isolation exercise – one can surmise that only a single muscle group is considered the primary mover muscle or “working muscle."

However, this is not the entirety of the muscles utilized during the performance of a cable donkey kickback, as secondary muscle groups or stabilizing muscle groups are also activated, though not to as intense a level as the glutes themselves.

These muscles are primarily the muscle groups of the hamstrings and the calves, though the quadriceps are also occasionally used as stabilizers during certain portions of the movement, such as the negative during which the exerciser draws their leg back to its resting position.

How is the Cable Donkey Kickback Performed?

The cable donkey kickback is performed by the individual first affixing a suitable handle attachment to the pulley machine, and – if possible – adjusting the height of the pulley’s wheel so as to allow a more comfortable range of motion for the exerciser.

The exerciser will then position themselves facing towards the machine with their foot held securely in the handle of the cable machine’s attachment. The core of the exerciser should be braced as they stabilize themselves either with both arms on the ground or leaning against the machine if they are standing up.

cable donkey kickback movement

Focusing on the activation of the muscle groups located in and around the buttocks region, the exerciser will extend the leg to be exercised backwards, adducting it away from the body as the resistance of the cable machine pulls the foot in the opposite direction.

Once the leg is fully extended or nearly at the point of full extension, the exerciser will then enter the negative or concentric portion of the repetition, wherein they must slowly return the leg to its original position in a slow and controlled manner, focusing on the contraction of their lower body muscles all throughout the movement.

When the leg is returned to its starting position, a single repetition of the cable donkey kickback has been completed, though it is advisable for the exerciser to perform the same motion with the other leg as well so as to prevent the development of muscular imbalances.

How Many Sets and Reps of the Cable Donkey Kickback Should be Done?

For the general purposes of athletic training, gluteus muscle isolation and subsequent muscular hypertrophy, simply performing eight to twelve reps per set of the cable donkey kickback should be more than sufficient, especially when performed with a low to moderate amount of resistance.

This is due to the angle and nature of the cable donkey kickback, wherein the use of lower repetitions but a higher level of resistance may result in injury or overloading of the gluteus muscle group, breaking the exerciser’s usage of proper form or otherwise affecting the effectiveness of the exercise itself.


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2. Boren K, Conrey C, Le Coguic J, Paprocki L, Voight M, Robinson TK. Electromyographic analysis of gluteus medius and gluteus maximus during rehabilitation exercises. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2011 Sep;6(3):206-23. PMID: 22034614; PMCID: PMC3201064.

3. Ebert JR, Edwards PK, Fick DP, Janes GC. A Systematic Review of Rehabilitation Exercises to Progressively Load the Gluteus Medius. J Sport Rehabil. 2017 Sep;26(5):418-436. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2016-0088. Epub 2016 Aug 24. PMID: 27632888.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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