Doing cable pull throughs can offer benefits but you may want something else. Discover alternatives to this exercise with similar effects.
Cable pull throughs are a resistance training exercise that mainly works your glute (butt) muscles and additionally hamstrings and lower back to some extent.
In turn, that means that cable pull throughs can help you build muscle mass, burn calories, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy cable pull throughs, you want to focus on more muscles at a time, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to cable pull throughs can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
Remember that if you are at home and/or don’t have a cable machine available, you can also do pull throughs with resistance bands with a good anchor.
1. Hip thrusts
This first cable pull through alternative is generally considered the number one option when it comes to glute isolation exercises.
Hip thrusts are similar to glute bridges but instead of doing them on the ground, you will need a bench or any other stable object of the right height.
Take the following steps to do a hip thrust:
- Sit right in front of the bench or other object you will use with your back slightly over the edge. Make sure the object is stable. Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width in a position where your knees will be at a 90-degree angle in the next step. You can hold a weight at hip height if it aligns with your training goals.
- Move up your hips until your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Slowly lower your body again.
Similar to cable pull throughs, hip thrusts are an exercise done to isolate glute muscles as much as possible. Inevitably, you also get some hamstring and lower back muscle engagement.
Since these muscles are so strong, most people need some type of extra hip thrust equipment to make this cable pull throughs alternative challenging enough for muscle growth and strength progress.
One downside of hip thrusts is that they can require a good amount of time and equipment to set up. On the other hand, you don’t need a cable machine and you could even do hip thrusts at home.
2. Cable glute kickbacks
For cable glute kickbacks you preferably have a cable machine and an ankle strap attachment. That being said you can also do this exercise with resistance bands and a good anchor but the resistance will be less consistent.
Once you have the right equipment, take the following steps to do a glute kickback:
- Put the cable pulley as close to the ground as possible and preferably use an ankle strap handle. You may be able to get away with a D-grip handle but this option is less safe and typically not recommended.
- Stand with your face toward the cable machine and strap on the ankle band. You can hold the cable machine during the exercise for balance.
- Lean forward to about a 45-degree angle to a vertical line.
- Slowly move the foot with the strap back and with your knee slightly bent until your leg is stretched at an angle somewhat more vertical than just a horizontal line.
- Return your foot to starting position in a controlled motion.
As the name implies, the cable glute kickback is mainly a glute muscle isolation exercise but similar to pull throughs, you inevitably engage a few other muscles like your hamstrings, hip abductors, and hip adductors too.
One benefit of glute kickbacks over pull throughs is that your grip strength cannot be a limiting factor. To train strong muscles like your glutes in sufficient amounts for results, this is helpful.
Another benefit of using the cable machine for glute exercises is that it is relatively easy to increase the amount of resistance. You simply need to switch the weight setting.
3. Rack pulls
As the name implies, for the following exercise you need a rack with adjustable safety bars. Besides that, you will also need a barbell with weight plates.
Once you have the equipment requirements, take the following steps to do a rack pull:
- Set up a barbell rack with the safety bars at a height just below your knees. Put the barbell on it and load it with the desired weight.
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width right in front of the barbell. Grab the barbell with a pronated grip which means with your hand palms pointing downward/backward. Slowly lift the barbell by tilting your upper body back until you stand up straight. Keep your back straight during the movement.
- Lower the barbell back into the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
Rack pulls are another great example of a hip dominant exercise. Similar to cable pull-throughs this exercise will work your glutes and hamstrings a lot.
Additionally, rack pulls work your lower back and erector spinae muscles. This can be both a benefit or downside depending on what type of cable pull through alternative you are looking for.
4. Donkey kicks
This next substitute for cable pull-throughs does not require a machine and can easily be done at home. Take the following steps to do a donkey kick:
- Start with your face facing the floor with your hands on the ground, your arms stretched, and your knees on the ground.
- Move one foot upward until the upper leg on this side is in 1 line with your body. Keep your knees at 90-degree angles throughout the movement.
- Lower this leg back into the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
- Repeat with your other leg.
One potential downside of donkey kicks is that most people need to use extra resistance to make the movement challenging enough for glute muscle growth and strengthening.
You can use fitness equipment like resistance bands, ankle weights, or clamp weights like a medicine ball or dumbbell between the back of your upper legs and calves.
Even so, adding enough extra weight to donkey kicks is just not as convenient as increasing the resistance in an exercise like cable pull throughs.
5. Hamstring curls
Hamstring curls can be done with either a cable machine with an ankle strap or resistance bands, preferably with an anchor close to the ground.
In theory, you could also do a bodyweight version but this will likely not be challenging enough. Take the following steps to do a hamstring curl with a good resistance band loop and an anchor:
- Safely anchor your resistance band close to the ground. Lie on your stomach in front of the anchor with your feet toward it. Put the free end of the resistance band behind one or both of your ankles.
- Slowly fold your legs at the knees until the point where the resistance is stretched the most. This will likely be at about where your lower legs make a 45-degree angle to the ground.
- Stretch your legs again in a controlled motion.
If the resistance band is not challenging enough to do two legs at a time you can do one leg first. Then you do the other leg to avoid muscle imbalances.
You could also do a hamstring curl while standing up but this can interfere with the main goal of the exercise.
As the name implies, hamstring curls mainly work your hamstring muscles. To isolate these muscles hamstring curls are a great cable pull through alternative. To work your glute muscles not so much.
Squats are one of the, if not the most, popular leg exercises, and for a good reason. They are a great alternative to cable pull throughs if you are interested in more of a compound leg exercise with different equipment.
On top of your glutes, and hamstrings, this exercise will work your quadriceps and calves a good amount. Take the following steps to do a squat:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.
One potential downside of squats is that more experienced exercisers need external weights like dumbbells, a weighted vests, a barbell, etc. to make this exercise more challenging.
When doing something like a barbell back squat (barbell on your shoulders), you will also engage your lower back and erector spinae muscles a nice amount.
7. Good mornings
The good morning exercise is usually done with a barbell but you could use other free weights, resistance bands, and gym machines like the cable machine or smith machine.
Take the following steps to do a good morning with a barbell:
- Find a squat rack and place the barbell at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars adjust them to the right height.
- Stand under the barbell, push your shoulders up so that the barbell rests on your higher back, and hold it there with your hands.
- Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room to squat. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Tilt your upper body forward as far as is comfortable with a good posture (but not farther than a horizontal line). At the same time bend your knees a small amount.
- Return to the position in step 3 in a controlled motion.
- Rerack the barbell after your desired number of repetitions.
The good morning may look similar to a version of the previous exercise called the back squat but you go a lot less through your knees.
This makes it so you focus more on the lower back, glute, hamstring, and erector spinae training and less on leg muscles like your calves and quadriceps.
In turn, the good morning is a cable pull through alternative that targets similar muscles.
One potential downside or upside depending on your training goals and personal situation is that the good morning exercise will be a lot more challenging for your lower back and erector spinae muscles than cable pull throughs.
8. Kettlebell swings
Kettlebells are versatile pieces of fitness equipment. You can even use them for exercises like the kettlebell swing that can serve as a cable pull through alternative at home or in the gym.
Take the followings steps to do a kettlebell swing:
- Stand up straight with your arms stretched and one kettlebell in your two hands.
- Bend through your knees and move the kettlebell backward a small amount to initiate the full swings. Keep your back and shoulders straight throughout the exercise.
- Swing the kettlebell forward until your arms are about horizontally at shoulder height. Stretch your legs throughout this swing.
- Swing the kettlebell downward and backward between your legs as far as you safely can.
- Alternate between the positions in steps 3 and 4.
Before increasing the weight of your kettlebell make sure you can do a swing with the right technique with lighter kettlebells.
Once you get used to the technique, kettlebell swings allow you to give your glutes, lower back, and hamstrings a good workout with slightly more focus on cardiovascular training compared to cable pull throughs.
Another upside or downside depending on your training goals is that kettlebell swings require and train a stronger grip. When working out strong muscles like your glutes and hamstrings this can become a limiting factor.
9. Romanian deadlifts
For the next cable pull through alternative, you likely need external weights, preferably a barbell. You can also use other free weights and even resistance bands.
Take the following steps to do a Romanian deadlift:
- Set up a rack with a barbell at a height just below where your barbell is if you stand up straight with the barbell in your hands. Add the desired number of weight plates.
- Grab the barbell with a pronated grip which means with your hand palms pointing downward/backward. Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room for the exercise. Stand up with your feet at more or less shoulder width and your knees slightly bent.
- Slightly tilt your upper body forward as far as you can without bending your back or knees or until the bar is right below knee height. The weight plates should not hit the ground.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2.
Good technique is important in any exercise to avoid injuries but especially so for Romanian deadlifts. Before trying to deadlift the heaviest weights it is smart to improve your technique first by starting with light or no weights at all.
The Romanian deadlift focuses less on your quadricep and calf muscles compared to the regular deadlift.
The regular deadlift engages your glutes and lower back muscles a good amount too but Romanian deadlifts are an alternative that comes closer to engaging your muscles similarly to cable pull throughs.
10. Glute ham raises
For this next exercise, you need a glute-ham raise bench. This is a lower back gym machine where you can secure your feet behind two pads, rest your hips on a rounded pad, and thus hold a horizontal position.
Because of this rounded pad, you can also fold your knees instead of just doing a back extension. Take the following steps to do a glute-ham raise:
- Adjust the settings on the bench for your body proportions.
- Take place on the glute-ham raise bench facing downwards with your hips on the rouned pad and your feet behind the foot support. Make sure your ankle and hips are in a stable position and let your upper body hang downwards.
- Slowly raise your upper body until it is in a straight line with your legs. Keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
- Fold your knees until your upper body is in an upward position or until further would be unstable.
- Stretch your knees again.
- Lower your upper body in a controlled motion until it is in the position of step 2.
Because folding your knees is part of the movement you also engage your hamstrings extra compared to regular back extensions. The first part of the exercise is very similar.
As the name of this piece of fitness equipment, the movement above mainly works your glute, hamstring, lower back, and erector spinae muscles.
The bodyweight version of the exercise is likely not hard enough for these strong muscles. To overcome this challenge you can hold extra weights like a weight plate, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.