Cable Pull Through Alternatives: How to Target the Same Muscles

Published by Debbie Luna
Last Updated: October 18, 2021

The cable pull through is a compound exercise that focuses on and strengthens the muscles of the posterior chain including the glutes, hamstrings, back, and core. The benefits that come with performing cable pull throughs, however, are also provided by alternative exercises. These alternative exercises include workouts that mostly use weights or barbells as equipment but without the need for a machine.

There are several exercises that may be performed in place of cable pull throughs. These exercises strengthen the posterior chain muscles with particular attention to the gluteal muscles, and include the following: kettlebell swings, barbell hip thrusts, banded pull throughs, deadlifts, and dumbbell squats. Alternative exercises are especially useful when a cable pull through machine is not accessible.

Understanding the what and how of a cable pull through allows individuals to perform the workout optimally. This also allows proper execution of alternative exercises that helps provide variety to workout routines.

What is a Cable Pull Through?

The cable pull through, also known as glute pull through, is an exercise that trains the posterior chain muscles which include the glutes, hamstrings, and the muscles in the lumbar area. It requires a hip hinge motion controlled by the gluteal muscles and promotes hypertrophy through progressive overload. Progressive overload may be achieved by increasing intensity, duration, frequency, or tension. 

A cable pull through involves the use of a cable machine with a rope handle attached. The desired weight is set on the machine with the pulley set on the lowest setting before starting the activity. The individual positions themselves facing away from the machine and grabs the rope handle from between the legs. The rope is pulled forward as the individual walks away from the machine until the weight is off the stack. The weight should not come in contact with the stack at the bottom of the movement.

cable pull through

The movement begins by positioning the feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and the knees slightly bent. The hips are hinged backwards while keeping the spine in neutral extension. The hips continue to move backward until a stretch is felt at the hamstrings area and the torso is almost parallel to the floor.

Upon reaching the bottom of the movement, the upward motion is initiated by extending the hips while maintaining the neutral extension of the spine. As the hips drive forward, the gluteal muscles are squeezed until the individual is standing tall to complete one repetition.

The cable pull through is an excellent exercise for increasing time under tension, and overall gluteal and hamstring activation. Because of the muscle isolation of this activity, it can often be done in higher repetitions without having the participant tiring out prematurely or causing lower back stress.

Cable Pull Through Alternatives

The alternatives to the cable pull through are exercises that mainly target the gluteal muscles without the need of a machine. These exercises include the banded pull through, kettlebell swing, barbell hip thrust, deadlift, and dumbbell squat.

Banded Pull Throughs

One of the most common reasons to look for alternatives to certain workouts is equipment unavailability. In these cases, a resistance band may prove useful for a lot of workouts. The same is true for cable pull throughs where a resistance band may take the place of a cable machine. 

To do a banded pull through, the resistance band should be anchored to a pole or any immobile object. The band is grabbed by reaching backwards between the legs, and the individual moves forward until there is constant resistance even at the bottom of the movement. The individual assumes the same position and executes the same movement pattern as that in a cable pull through but adds and reduces resistance by switching out resistance bands.

Kettlebell Swings

The kettlebell swing, like the cable pull through, is a compound exercise that enhances total body strength, stamina, and cardiovascular endurance. It is a low impact exercise that engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Although the kettlebell swing appears as if it is an upper extremity workout, the movement is reliant on the hinging of the hips rather than the lifting of the arms to drive the weight upward, thus making it a glute-predominant activity.

A kettlebell swing begins with the participant grabbing the kettlebell, their hips hinged, and knees slightly bent. To create momentum, the weight is positioned between the legs and pulled backward. The kettlebell is then driven upward by pushing the hips forward while maintaining a neutral spine. The weight is allowed to move upward until it reaches shoulder height before letting it fall to return to its position between the legs.

kettle bell swing

Swinging a kettlebell mostly works the gluteal muscles. The core, grip, shoulder, quadriceps femoris, adductors, hamstrings, and calf muscles are all strengthened by this exercise. Because this exercise requires strong hip extension, the gluteus maximus acts as the primary mover while the hamstrings aid in the movement.

Barbell Hip Thrusts

A barbell hip thrust involves the placement of a barbell on the anterior hip in order to act as a resistance against the muscles working to drive the hips forward. Aside from a barbell, this exercise also makes use of a bench.

The movement begins with the individual sitting on the floor, the knees bent, the back against the bench, and the barbell positioned at the crease of the hips. The individual then lifts the hip, as well as the barbell, by pushing the back towards the bench while the feet drive into the ground.

As the individual reaches the top of the movement, the knees should be flexed close to or at a 90-degree angle. Additionally, the torso should be parallel to the ground during this phase while the scapula is stable on the bench, making a straight line. This position should be held for at least one second before going back to the starting stance and completing one repetition.

Deadlifts

The deadlift is considered a weight lifting workout that has several variations. In general, the exercise involves lifting a loaded bar off the ground to an upright position with the weights kept at hip level.

To begin a conventional deadlift, the feet are placed under the bar at a hip-width distance with the barbell right above the midfoot. The hands then grasp the bar with the palms facing the individual. The distance between the hands should only be wide enough for the legs to fit in between. Mixed grips where the palms are facing opposite directions may be used for heavier lifts.

barbell deadlift

As the bar is grasped, the individual should hinge at the hips with a slight bend in the knees while keeping the shins perpendicular to the ground. The spine should be kept in a neutral position with the core engaged. The individual then lifts the bar off the ground by driving the hips forward.

While all variations of the deadlift activate the gluteal muscles, there are some variations that recruit the glutes more than the others. The sumo deadlift and romanian deadlift are two types that are able to do such.

Dumbbell Squats

Another alternative to cable pull throughs are dumbbell squats. The dumbbell squat stimulates the glutes, quads, and hamstrings in the same way that a typical squat does while also improving leg strength and explosive power.  This variation of the squat is an essential exercise for any athlete looking to improve leg and hip strength and power, especially in the quadriceps and glutes. It eliminates the weight stress on the upper back as when doing barbell squats which can pose technique issues in inexperienced lifters.

To perform a dumbbell squat, the lifter stands with the dumbbells at the sides and feet slightly wider than hip width apart. The spine is kept in neutral extension as the hips hinge backward and the knees flex to lower into the squat until thighs are parallel to the ground. The squat is held for a second before extending the hips and knees to drive up out of the position and stand erect.

What to Avoid When Doing Glute Exercises

Glute exercises are very popular but some individuals still commit a lot of mistakes in performing these workouts. These mistakes may then lead to injuries and suboptimal outcomes. Some things to avoid in doing glute exercises include rounding and caving of the back, non-engagement of the core, allowing the knees to go too far past the toes, and lack of workout variation.

Rounding and Caving of the Back

Rounding and caving of the back is the same as not keeping the spine in a neutral position. This places pressure on the spine, thus possibly leading to injury. Additionally, when the back is allowed to round or curve, the work is taken off the gluteal muscles which does not allow them to work maximally. This means that not keeping the spine in a neutral position decreases the gains from glute workouts.

Non-engagement of the Core

Engagement of the core is often forgotten in glute exercises because it is seen as a lower body workout. However, engaging the core is essential in maintaining the spine in a neutral position in order to help in keeping proper form and balance. Non-engagement of the core may lead to injury same as that seen in rounding and caving of the back.

Allowing the Knees to Go Too Far Past the Toes

Glute workouts often involve a squatting position which places the knees past the toes. However, some individuals allow the knees to move too far forward, thus placing more work on the quads while reducing the work of the glutes. This movement also places more pressure on the knees which may lead to injury. In order to correct this, a slight lean forward should be done to redistribute the weight.

Hinging of the hips is also used in glute exercises. However, some individuals commonly mistake this as a squat, thus allowing the knees to move forward. The problem with allowing the knees to move forward during a hip hinge is that it reduces the work placed on the glutes.

Lack of Workout Variation

Sticking to one glute exercise does not work the gluteal muscles to their fullest potential. This is because certain glute exercises may target one muscle more than the other. Hence, a variation in exercises is important in attaining optimal gains. This is also applicable to adding weights and resistance because sticking to a single weight does not maximize the muscle’s capacity to increase its size and strength.

Final Thoughts

Cable pull throughs are able to target the posterior chain muscles, especially the gluteal muscles, the same way that its alternatives can. A combination of these exercises are useful in growing the glutes as they maximize and mimic basic lower body movement patterns. In order to attain optimal results, proper form and workout variation should be applied by avoiding common mistakes.

References

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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