Here's How to Do Cable Machine Glute Kickbacks with Proper Form

Fitness instructor Emily Skye shared the mistakes that people tend to make when performing this glute exercise. Here's how the glute kickback is done.

Cable Machine Glute Kickback
Courtesy of This Is Why Im Fit.

If you're iffy about your form while doing glute kickbacks on the cable machine, you're not alone. But something as simple as a bit too much weight can lead to, at best, failure to isolate and properly work the glute muscle, and at worst, injury. Read on for a full run-down of the cable machine glute kickback exercise, including how to do it, the benefits of the exercise, and common mistakes to avoid.

How to Do a Glute Kickback

For a great example of proper form, check out this Instagram post from Emily Skye, Australian Institute of Fitness–certified master trainer. She noted in the tutorial that she often sees people do this exercise with poor form, and showed a comprehensive breakdown of how to do the move to clear up all your questions.

In the video, Skye clipped an ankle-strap attachment to a cable machine and wrapped it around one ankle. (You can get one on Amazon if your gym doesn't have one.) She began the exercise leaning forward slightly, feet together, with her back straight and core engaged. Then, with her glutes engaged and leg slightly turned out, she kicked her leg up and back with control, paused at the top, then lowered it back down.

Here's how to do a cable machine glute kickback, step by step:

A. Attach an ankle strap to a cable machine, then loop it around ankle. Add desired amount of weight to the machine. Stand with feet together and lean forward slightly, keeping back flat and core engaged throughout the entire movement.

B. Squeeze glute to activate the muscle, then lift leg attached to the machine back behind body with control.

C. Pause at the top of the movement, then lower back to the starting position slow and with control.

The Key Glute Kickback Benefits

So, why should you add the glute kickback on the cable machine to your routine? The exercise offers some powerful perks.

Isolates Each Leg Separately

ICYDK, everyone has a dominant (read: stronger) side of the body, but isolating and working one side of the body at a time (called unilateral training) helps even out your strength and smooth out those asymmetries. "Unilateral training is one of the most overlooked training styles out there, but it's so important, Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., the founder of Training2xl, previously told Shape. "Yes, it can build a more symmetrical body, but it can also help prevent injury, give you the extra strength you need to bust through a plateau, and improve stability and mid-section strength," she added.

The glute kickback is a great way to challenge each glute separately so that your strength is even throughout your entire peach.

Improves Overall Fitness Performance

Work your glute muscles effectively, as you do with the glute kickback, and you'll see an improvement in other exercises where you might use those muscles — namely, your squats, lunges, and deadlifts. Just make sure that, if you're those compound exercises on the same day as the glute kickback, you do those bigger movements before this glute isolation exercise

Glute Kickback Muscles Worked

No surprise here: The glute kickback works your glute muscles, and the American Council on Exercise has called out the glute kickback as one of the best glute exercises out there. More specifically, it has been shown to activate the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius more effectively than other go-to glute moves, namely squats. You'll also get the added bonus of working your hamstrings, and since you're engaging your core if you have proper form, you'll be working it too.

Glute Kickback Exercise Variations

Note that while Skye demonstrated glute kickbacks on a cable machine, some gyms also have a dedicated glute kickback machine. That said, there are easy ways to modify the movement to make it more or less challenging, depending on your level of fitness.

Glute Kickback Modification

If this is the first time you're trying this move, go lighter in weight than you think you can handle. This will ensure you have proper form so that when you do progress, you have a solid foundation.
If you don't have access to a cable machine or glute kickback machine, you can also perform glute kickbacks with a long or mini resistance band, or with just your body weight (either standing or on hands and knees), and get a similar glute workout.

Glute Kickback Progression

The best way to progress a glute kickback? Adding on some weight. Once you have a solid understanding of the move and your low starting weight or simple body weight feels too easy, add on resistance to make the move harder. You might also try adding a glute kickback to another exercise to make a compound movement, such as a squat glute kickback. The above form tips still stand, regardless of which type of kickback you're doing: It's important to make sure you're engaging your glute and not arching your back.

Common Glute Kickback Mistakes

In her video, Skye said she often sees gym-goers doing cable machine glute kickbacks with less-than-stellar form. For starters, people tend to go too heavy on the weight, she explained. "You want to start with a weight that is fairly light. A common mistake people make is they put too much on the pin machine and it's way too heavy and then they're using their body to get their leg up. Then the glute's not doing all the work so it defeats the purpose of the whole exercise," noted Skye. Many people also allow their back to curve, which can lead to a lower back injury, she added.

How to Add Glute Kickbacks to Your Routine

In her caption, Skye stressed that if your main goal is glute muscle growth, you shouldn't just be relying on glute kickbacks. "I think it's definitely a bonus exercise you can add into your glute day (providing you have good technique) but don't expect much glute growth if it's the only exercise you're relying on 'to grow your butt,'" she wrote. "In my opinion, nothing beats hip thrusts, lunges, deadlifts, squats, step-ups, bridges, split squats, etc. for glute building and strengthening!!" (And remember, focusing too much of your efforts on butt workouts can lead to muscle imbalances.)

So, to recap: Stay light enough with cable machine glute kickbacks to keep your back straight and core engaged, and don't expect huge growth from kickbacks alone.

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