Donkey kicks do work your glute and hamstring muscles but many people need weights to make the movement challenging enough for results.
At the same time, it can be hard to come up with weighted variations since your hands have to lean on the ground. Luckily, there are still a few good options that can help you see more muscle growth faster.
1. Banded donkey kicks
Resistance band donkey kicks are basically the most popular option and for good reasons.
Before going into these reasons, resistance bands are basically elastic bands that offer more resistance as you stretch them out.
In donkey kicks, you want to loop a resistance band around your upper legs and close to your knees. This makes the movement harder on your glutes and hamstrings.
The first reason resistance bands are a popular option is that they are simply budget-friendly. Even if you want to anticipate getting stronger over time, a set is not that pricey compared to some of the other weighted donkey kicks.
Secondly, resistance bands are very versatile, easy to store, and easy to take with you wherever you go.
One downside is that you may have to replace your resistance bands every once in a while due to wear and tear.
2. Smith machine donkey kicks
You will likely need to go to the gym to be able to do this next variation since most people don’t have a smith machine at home.
The smith machine is a construction where a bar is attached to a rail system so that it goes through a fixed trajectory. Additionally, there are hooks on the bar so that it can easily be racked at different heights.
To do a donkey kick with this machine, you sit in front of it on your hands and knees and put the heel of your foot under the bar. After that, you do the donkey kick like you would do the other options.
The main benefit of doing weighted donkey kicks with a smith machine is that it is very easy to adjust the weight precisely and use a lot of resistance.
A downside is that you will generally have a slightly smaller range of motion under tension. This is suboptimal for growing and strengthening your glutes and hamstrings.
If you find that the other equipment options are too inconvenient to add enough resistance, you can consider smith machine donkey kicks. If not, you will likely prefer some of the other variations.
3. Cable machine donkey kicks
While they are actually different exercises, kneeling cable glute kickbacks are sometimes called cable machine donkey kicks.
A cable machine is a construction where one end of a cable is attached to weights and the other end of the cable goes through a variety of pulleys and can be used to create resistance.
The difference between donkey kicks and glute kickbacks is that this second exercise involves stretching your leg throughout the motion because the cable would otherwise hit your body in a way that interferes with the movement.
Stretching your legs adds a bit of quadricep (front thigh muscle) engagement. This is not necessarily bad but something to note anyway.
Cable glute kickbacks are often done standing up but you can also do them on your knees to avoid using the rest of your body.
If there is a sturdy flat bench near, you can also “sit” on this bench instead of the ground to avoid the cable rubbing against your body.
Lastly, the main reasons why you would do cable machine donkey kicks are that it is easy to add a lot of resistance and adjust the weight precisely. These things can benefit your glute workouts.
4. Dumbbell donkey kicks
Dumbbells are the pieces of fitness equipment that are handles with a weight on each side. This may not sound like, and is not, the best equipment option for weighted donkey kicks but you can make something work.
To do a dumbbell donkey kick you clamp the weight on the inside of your knee between your upper and lower leg. After that, the movement is the same as the regular donkey kick.
Dumbbell donkey kicks are done relatively often because most gyms have dumbbells, the other machines can be occupied, and that this variation is easy to set up.
That being said, this option is generally not that great.
It is hard to keep a dumbbell that is heavy enough for glute and hamstring muscle growth in position during donkey kicks. Dropping the dumbbell on the leg that is leaning on the ground can be painful.
Because you do need enough resistance and usually a good amount to see results with donkey kicks, most people will prefer other equipment options.
At the same time, if dumbbells are the only equipment options you have available and you have the skills to do this exercise variation safely, you can consider doing donkey kicks this way.
5. Donkey kicks with ankle weights
Ankle weights are simply ankle straps with extra weights attached to them.
These pieces of fitness equipment can be great for lower ab and leg muscle isolation exercises like the donkey kick because your hands don’t have to hold anything.
Additionally, ankle weights are relatively budget-friendly, compact, versatile, and easy to take with you.
One potential downside to keep in mind is that while there are relatively heavy ankle weights, people more experienced with glute training may still find these too easy for donkey kicks.
Since this is so important, ankle weights may not be a good weighted donkey kick option if you are relatively strong.
6. Medicine ball donkey kicks
Medicine balls are basically weighted balls with a somewhat soft outer shell.
These are typically used for throwing and core exercises but similar to dumbbells, you can clamp one between your upper and lower leg during donkey kicks.
Also similarly, a downside of using medicine balls for weighted donkey kicks is that you could drop the weight. In the case of a medicine ball, this will be less painful but will interfere with your glute training anyway.
Additionally, medicine balls are not the heaviest pieces of fitness equipment. The weights available may not be challenging enough for donkey kicks.
Lastly, not all gyms have medicine balls. If these are not available, you can’t use them either.
7. Donkey kick on a hamstring curl machine
The hamstring curl machine is a construction where you fold your leg against resistance. It is not ideal but you can also use this machine in a different position to do a weighted donkey kick.
Two benefits of this option are that you can easily adjust the weights precisely and use a lot of resistance.
On the flip side, it will be challenging to make it so your glutes and hamstrings can be under tension through the full donkey kick range of motion. This is generally suboptimal for getting resistance training results.
Additionally, if you have a hamstring curl machine available, you likely have some of the other equipment options on this list available too.
You can definitely try out donkey kicks with a hamstring curl machine but you will likely prefer different variations.
5 Benefits of weighted donkey kicks
Besides offering the more general benefits of donkey kicks to a larger extent, adding weights also offers a few more unique positive effects for your training routine.
1. Helps you build more muscle faster
To grow and strengthen the muscles you work during donkey kicks, you have to pressure these muscles enough, do the right number of repetitions, give your body enough nutrients, and give your body enough rest.
Since the glutes and hamstrings are relatively strong, most people will need some extra weights to get the “enough pressure” part for donkey kicks.
Even if bodyweight donkey kicks are initially challenging enough for you, as you get stronger over time, you will need to make the movement harder to keep seeing results.
Additionally, adding extra resistance (but not too much) can also simply speed up your results.
Since you are likely doing or considering donkey kicks to actually grow and strengthen your glute and hamstring muscles, you really want to consider implementing one of the weighted variations above.
2. Can help you lose more weight
Most people think about exercises like running, cycling, and swimming when hearing the words weight loss but resistance training exercises for big muscle groups like donkey kicks can be helpful for this goal too.
The heavier you weigh, the more calories you burn throughout the day. In big muscle groups like the glutes and hamstrings, there is a lot of room for gaining weight in a healthy way.
Additionally, your body will use up more energy during the donkey kicks when moving heavier weights.
By burning more calories you can get to a point where your body requires more energy than is coming in from food. At this point, it starts using energy stores like body fat.
These things mean that doing weighted donkey kicks will generally be more effective for losing weight than the bodyweight version.
One important thing you do want to keep in mind is that other lifestyle habits like your nutrition play a big role in whether and to what extent you will lose weight while following an exercise routine.
3. Can improve athletic performance
There are many ways to get better at a certain sport or exercise. Often, you can see big improvements by implementing different activities in your workout routine.
For example, resistance training exercises like donkey kicks can help grow and strengthen leg muscles that are important for performance.
More specifically, your glutes and hamstrings are some of the main muscles you use to run.
By doing weighted donkey kicks instead of the regular version, you can see more strengthening and in turn, you should see more improvements in athletic performance in sports where you benefit from fast running.
4. Helps you build fast muscle
While muscles may look similar from the outside, inside, they can actually be made of different types of muscle fibers. These different types have their own advantages and disadvantages.
These muscle fibers are typically put into two categories. There are the “type 1, slow-twitch muscle” fibers and “type 2, fast-twitch muscle”.
Your muscle groups are not made of one or the other, they are made of a certain ratio of type 1 vs type 2 fibers. You influence this ratio by training in different ways (9).
The type 1, slow-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for longer-duration workouts like jogging, swimming at a low tempo, cycling at a low tempo, etc.
These muscle fibers are basically great for lower-intensity movements that you can do for an extended period of time.
The type 2, fast-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for short-duration, fast body movement workouts like sprints, powerlifting, javelin throwing, etc.
Basically activities at more explosive intensities that you can only do in bursts or for a short amount of time.
Generally, as long as bodyweight donkey kicks are really challenging for you, they can help you build type 2 muscle fibers.
As you get stronger over time, you will have to do weighted donkey kicks to keep building fast type 2 muscle fibers. Whether or not this is important to you depends on things like your training goals.
5. Makes your donkey kicks more time-efficient
Effective workouts do not necessarily take up a lot of time. Especially when it comes to resistance training exercises like donkey kicks.
You likely still need to spend some time to challenge your muscles enough to see results. However, by doing donkey kicks with more resistance, you can really reduce the amount of time this takes.
That means weighted donkey kicks can offer similar or more results than the bodyweight version even if you spend less time working out.
If you have trouble finding enough time throughout the day to do the things you want to do, this can be a huge benefit.