Some people get the impression they are the same but glute kickbacks and donkey kicks are different exercises. Find out what impact this has on your workouts.
The glute kickback is typically done with a cable machine or resistance bands. In this exercise, you stand bent-over on your feet and move the slightly less than stretched leg with resistance backward and up.
Donkey kicks also involve a similar hip movement but from a position where you sit on your hands and knees. Additionally, the knee of the moving leg typically stays at a 90-degree angle.
Glute kickbacks require less resistance to train the glute and hamstring muscles and allow these muscles to go through a larger range of motion.
This generally makes glute kickbacks a better choice than donkey kicks for muscle growth and strength progress.
Two exceptions include if the glute kickback technique is too hard for you (for now) and if even the bodyweight version is too challenging (for now).
Differences in technique
To get a better idea of each of the steps involved in glute kickbacks and donkey kicks and how they look, you can find walkthroughs and demonstration visuals below.
How to do a glute kickback
Glute kickbacks can be done with a cable machine, resistance bands, ankle weights, and even your body weight. Take the following steps to do the exercise with a cable machine:
- 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 that option is a lot less safe.
- 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.
- Tilt your body forward until it is about horizontal or with your shoulders slightly more elevated. Keep your spine more or less straight throughout the rest of the exercise.
- Slowly move the foot with the strap back and with your knee slightly bent until your leg is about in one line with your upper body.
- Return your foot to starting position in a controlled motion.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions with the other leg.
Besides the hip extension powered by your glutes (butt), you want most of your body to stay in the same position. This can be somewhat challenging if you are new to the exercise.
How to do a donkey kick
For weighted donkey kicks your main options are ankle weights and resistance bands. Take the following steps to do a bodyweight donkey kick:
- Sit on your hands and knees on the floor. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched and your spine about straight.
- Move one foot backward and upward until the upper leg of this side is in 1 line with your body. Keep your knees at 90-degree angles throughout the movement. Keep the rest of your body in the same position.
- Lower this leg back into the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions with your other leg.
If you have any lower back issues you want to make sure you don’t raise your leg too much.
Muscles worked and training potential
Both of these exercises mostly focus on the glutes (butt muscles) and hamstrings (back thigh muscles).
Additionally, the secondary muscles worked with glute kickbacks include the core muscles to keep your spine straight throughout the exercise.
These same core muscles also have to work a bit during donkey kicks but less because the movements are more controlled compared to glute kickbacks.
To grow and strengthen your glutes and hamstrings you have to put them under enough pressure. Since these are strong muscles, most people need some external resistance on top of their body weight to do this.
If you have the budget for some fitness equipment, resistance bands or ankle weights can make both glute kickbacks and donkey kicks challenging enough.
The main thing to note is that banded glute kickbacks will be more challenging than banded donkey kicks with a band of the same amount of tension.
Even if you just do glute kickbacks at home with just your body weight, the stretched leg will be harder for your glute and hamstring muscles to move than the folded leg in donkey kicks.
The same goes for doing each exercise with something like a 20-pound ankle weight.
On the other hand, you also don’t want the movement to be too challenging. You still need to be able to do repetitions to see positive effects.
One of the benefits of donkey kicks is that they are beginner-friendly when it comes to resistance.
Muscle range of motion
Another important factor for muscle growth and strength progress is the range of motion your muscles can do. A bigger range of motion under tension is typically better for these goals.
One of the benefits of glute kickbacks if you do them with a cable machine or resistance bands is that you go through a bigger range of motion under tension than donkey kicks.
From a standing position, it is a lot easier to really move your thigh towards your chest.
That being said, if you only plan to do glute kickbacks and donkey kicks with ankle weights or just your body weight, this is not that relevant.
With these variations, the extra distance your thighs go through will not involve any extra tension on your glutes and hamstrings.