12 Effective Cable Kickback Alternatives (With Pictures)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
July 29, 2022

A gluteus muscle group focused exercise found to be rather popular with individuals wishing to improve the appearance and strength of their upper legs, the cable kickback is an isolation movement that does its job as a glutes and hamstrings training exercise quite well.

Despite this, however, certain situations may require that the cable kickback be substituted with an exercise that either utilizes similar equipment or induces training stimuli in the aforementioned muscle groups in a manner similar to what the cable kickback would do.

Multiple alternative exercises exist to the cable kickback, from rather intense and wide reaching compound exercises like the Romanian deadlift to similar cable machine assisted isolation exercises like the cable pull through exercise.

Cable Machine Alternatives to the Cable Kickback

In the event that a cable machine is available and the exerciser simply wishes to alternate the cable kickback with a similar exercise in their workout routine, several other cable machine related exercises do exist that can recreate the gluteus muscle group activation that is found in the cable kickback.

cable kickback

It should be noted that the following exercises, despite their similarity in terms of equipment and muscles worked, may not entirely act as direct substitutes to the cable kickback, either due to the fact that they are compound exercises and as such activate multiple muscles, or due to the fact that the angle of tension may be quite different.

1. Cable Step Up

A compound cable exercise that targets not only the gluteus muscles but also other muscle groups located in the leg such as the quadriceps femoris, soleus and gastrocnemius in the calves and the hamstrings, the cable step up is an otherwise excellent alternative for inducing proper training stimuli in the gluteus muscles, much like the cable kickback itself.

cable step up

However, the cable step up may require a rather specialized form of the cable machine be present, or at the least a suitably stable enough platform be in place near the cable machine so as to facilitate the exercise.

2. Cable Front Squat

Yet another compound cable exercise, the cable front squat is performed with the exerciser facing the machine and squatting as an attached handle is gripped against their chest in both hands, not only activating the hamstrings and gluteus muscle heads in a similar manner to the cable kickback, but also working the entirety of the posterior chain and other muscles located in the legs.

cable front squat

This may or may not be of benefit to the exerciser, depending on their particular goals, though it nonetheless is far more efficient in terms of intensity and time saving purposes than the cable kickback itself.

3. Cable Reverse Lunges

Somewhat more difficult in terms of form in comparison to free weight reverse lunges, the cable reverse lunge is an excellent alternative to the cable kickback both in terms of a dynamic muscular hypertrophy exercise as well as one that improves the individual’s flexibility.

Cable reverse lunges primarily require a single handed pulley attachment be affixed to the cable carabiner, of which will be pulled towards the torso as the exerciser lunges backwards with a single leg, activating their entire posterior chain as well as the quadriceps, various hip muscles, and certain muscle groups in the arms.

Free Weight Alternatives to the Cable Kickback

For cases where the cable machine is being used or not available to the exerciser, they may instead choose to use certain free weight equipment types that can induce similar or stronger intensities of training stimuli.

However, if the exerciser is meant to perform the cable kickback for the purposes of physical rehabilitation, it is best to first consult with a physical therapist prior to doing so, as it is quite possible that the cable kickback was prescribed due to the fact that it does not activate nearby stabilizer muscles, something free weight exercises regularly do.

4. Straight or Stiff Legged Deadlifts

A barbell compound exercise performed by gripping the weights in both hands in an overhand grip and having the exerciser lower themselves at the hips and torso, the straight legged deadlift is excellent at activating not only the gluteus muscles but also the entirety of the posterior chain, making many consider the deadlift and its variants the “king of lifts”.

barbell stiff legged deadlift

Due to the relative intensity of activating nearly all the muscle groups located in the human body, the stiff legged deadlift may be somewhat unsuitable for individuals that normally perform the cable kickback at a light or moderate intensity, or patients with hernias or similar conditions.

5. Bulgarian Split squats

Performed with any manner of free weight exercise equipment such as plates, kettlebells or even barbells, the Bulgarian split squat exercises the hamstrings and glutes in the form of secondary mover muscles due to the fact that the quadriceps femoris takes center stage during the performance of the exercise.

Nonetheless, the Bulgarian split squat is one among many possible alternatives to the cable kickback due to the similarity in its intensity of training as well as the muscle groups it activates.

As always, of course, the Bulgarian split squat will be rather unsuitable for patients of physical rehabilitation with certain kinds of injuries or disorders, and it is best to first consult one’s physical therapist prior to performing it as an alternative exercise.

6. Glute Bridges

Quite similar to the ever popular hip thrust, glute bridges are performed either with the use of a free weight exercise implement or entirely with the exerciser’s own bodyweight, making it suitable for both callisthenic workouts or free weight resistance workouts.

glute bridge

Glute bridges, true to their name, primarily activate the three gluteus heads as well as the hamstrings, a near perfect replication of the sort of muscular activation pattern found in the cable kickback, though with a somewhat more or less intense level of training stimuli depending on the amount and type of resistance used.

Glute bridges may be used in a direct one to one substitution of cable kickbacks in a workout or athletic training program, so long as the chosen resistance is less or equal to what the cable kickbacks were originally intended to use.

Calisthenic or Equipment free Alternatives to the Cable Kickback

For individuals without access to a gym or exercise equipment, using calisthenic alternatives to the cable kickback can suffice in a pinch, though this may not be entirely suitable in the long term, depending on the particular goals of the exerciser.

Such exercises like the pistol squat compound bodyweight exercise or the more easily performed fire hydrant exercise can readily act as an alternative level of training to the cable kickback while still imparting most of the benefits found therein.

7. Unilateral Step-Ups

Performed either as a bodyweight exercise or with the use of additional resistance exercise equipment, the step-up requires that a suitably stable raised platform be available to the exerciser, of which they will use by literally stepping up with one leg at a time, similar to the movement of climbing a flight of stairs.

This will have the intended effect of inducing muscular activation and training stimuli in the gluteus muscle group as well as the hamstring muscle groups and the quadriceps to an extent, replicating the activation pattern of the cable kickback by some measure.

8. Fire Hydrant Exercise

Normally performed as a calisthenic type isolation exercise, the fire hydrant exercise is a closed kinetic chain movement performed in a suitably comfortable enough part of the ground, with the exerciser resting on all fours prior to raising one leg at a time in a horizontal motion so as to fully activate all three gluteal muscle heads.

The fire hydrant exercise is one of the few calisthenic exercises specifically isolating the gluteus muscle group, and as such is also among one of the most suitable body weight alternatives to the cable kickback for the purposes of physical rehabilitation, athletic training or muscular hypertrophy.

9. Pistol Squat

Considered a more advanced form of the standard callisthenic squat exercise, the pistol squat places the entirety of the exerciser’s body weight on a single leg as it is brought to the peak of its range of motion, placing great emphasis and training stimulus on practically every muscle group located in the leg.

pistol squat

The pistol squat can rival that of the cable kickback in terms of intensity and muscular activation, though with the drawback that it is both a unilateral exercise as well as a compound movement, making its particular muscular activation chain and time under tension quite different.

Miscellaneous Alternatives to the Cable Kickback

The following exercises, while no doubt some form of resistance training, are classified as miscellaneous due to the fact that they do not utilize either free weight exercise equipment, the use of a cable machine or the exerciser’s own bodyweight as a source of resistance.

This is not to say that they are any more or less suitable than the aforementioned types of exercises, however, and whether or not the exerciser should choose to perform the following alternatives to the cable kickback will depend both on the availability of equipment to them as well as their particular goals.

10. Resistance Band Side Squats

Making usage of a type of exercise equipment known as the resistance band, resistance band side squats are performed by the exerciser wrapping the elastic band around the lower portion of their thighs prior to performing a single step to the side and subsequently squatting downwards, activating the entirety of the leg muscles as well as the core and spinal stabilizing muscles.

This creates a rather intense training stimulus that is quite comparable to workout routines incorporating the cable kickback at a moderate to high intensity, with a focus not only on the same muscle groups but also on some that are not normally included in most exercises, such as the hip abductors.

11. Resistance Band Kickbacks

A direct substitution of the cable kickback with the sole difference being the usage of a resistance band instead of a pulley or cable machine, the resistance band kickback activates the exact same muscle groups in a similar pattern and manner to its cable machine based counterpart, also allowing for a variable level of resistance by choosing a stiffer or more elastic resistance band.

Resistance band kickbacks may be used in a direct one to one ratio of substitution in terms of volume in a workout program or physical rehabilitation routine.

12. Yoga Ball Glute Bridges

A variation of the glute bridge that was mentioned previously in this article, the yoga ball glute bridge is simply an ordinary glute bridge with the added resistance and stabilizing training stimuli of a yoga ball incorporated into its benefits.

The yoga ball glute bridge, much like the ordinary glute bridge, is performed with the exerciser laying with their upper back against the floor as their feet rest heel-first atop the elevated surface – in this case, a yoga ball of sufficient size and sturdy enough material.

The exerciser will then form a “bridge” with their hips and legs by raising their thorax upwards, squeezing the muscles in their buttocks and straightening their knees so as to maximize muscular activation of the posterior chain and core muscles.

This produces a muscular activation pattern quite similar to the cable kickback, allowing the yoga ball glute bridge to act as a possible alternative to the cable machine exercise in the event that one is not available.

References

1. Neto WK, Soares EG, Vieira TL, Aguiar R, Chola TA, Sampaio VL, Gama EF. Gluteus Maximus Activation during Common Strength and Hypertrophy Exercises: A Systematic Review. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Feb 24;19(1):195-203. PMID: 32132843; PMCID: PMC7039033.

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.

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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