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March 08, 2023 8 min read

Cable machines are highly adaptable gym equipment. It provides a wide range of exercises to incorporate into a workout. It is simple to track your progress by adjusting the weight to the desired level of resistance.

Furthermore, the cable is useful for more than just the upper body. The cable pull-through is a dependable lower-body movement that targets the posterior chain muscles while also encouraging core muscle activation, similar to hip thrusts.

Muscles Activated When Doing Cable Pull-Throughs

Similar to Romanian deadlifts, cable pull-throughs are isolation exercises and not compound exercises. As an isolation exercise, they only involve one joint, the hips, and one muscle group, the posterior chain. The muscles of the posterior chain are listed below.

Gluteus Maximus

Also referred to as the “glutes” for short, the gluteus maximus is the large muscle responsible for the powerful hip extension seen in cable pull-throughs. For maximum benefit of this glute exercise, increase glute activation by tensing your buttocks as much as possible at the peak of each repetition.

Hamstrings

The glutes work together with the hamstrings to extend the hips. The hamstring muscles consist of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. Furthermore, the hamstrings are used to flex the knees, as seen in a leg curl exercise.

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae muscles, which extend along both sides of your spine, are responsible for extending the vertebral column. During certain exercises such as cable pull-throughs, these muscles remain contracted to avoid flexing of the spine.

Core

The muscles located in the middle of the body, such as the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis, are collectively referred to as the core. These muscles help to hold the spine in place and protect the lower back from arching.

Iliopsoas

The iliopsoas is the primary muscle for hip flexion. It comprises two components: the major and minor psoas muscles, and the iliacus muscle, all of which come together to form the iliopsoas musculotendinous unit (IPMU). These muscles can act independently to stabilize the pelvis and lower back during hip movement and help to flex the trunk.

Soleus

Soleus Muscle – Image from Shutterstock

Typically, the soleus muscle is thought of as part of the calf muscle. However, it is important to acknowledge its distinct role, particularly when doing cable pull-throughs. As part of the posterior chain, the soleus aids in plantar flexion, providing a secure base of support when properly standing for the pull-through. This muscle extends from the heel to the knee, helping to maintain proper posture throughout the exercise.

Adductor magnus

Adductor Magnus – Image from Shutterstock

The adductor magnus is basically a thigh muscle. It not only aids in adducting the legs but also in extending and bending the upper legs, as well as providing stability and support to the hip joint – all of which are required when performing a cable pull-through!

Benefits of cable pull-throughs

When compared to the barbell deadlift, cables allow for more movement variations, and they can be done with different angles to target specific muscles.

When compared to Romanian deadlifts, the RDL is better for developing strength, while the cable pull-through is better for targeting certain muscles, such as the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. If you are unsure whether cable pull-throughs are worthy of inclusion in your strength-building toolbox, take a look at the benefits.

  1. An excellent posterior chain exercise: If you're looking to beef up your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles, cable pull-throughs are an excellent choice. Each repetition places a considerable amount of tension on the relevant muscles, producing an intense posterior chain workout. Whether you're into bodybuilding, powerlifting, or just want to look good for those watching you walk away, this exercise can help you get there.

  2. Lower back-friendly: Cable pull-throughs are a beneficial posterior chain exercise for those with lower back issues. The handle remains near your center of balance, resulting in less of a chance of hunching your back in comparison to exercises such as good mornings and straight leg deadlifts. If your physician or physical therapist agrees, this is a great choice for those who experience back pain!

  3. Accessible: This exercise can be done in the majority of gyms, as long as you have access to a low cable machine, such as a cable crossover, and a rope handle. Additionally, pull-throughs can be done with a resistance band, making it suitable for your home gym workouts.

  4. Reinforce hip hinge: This movement is critical for executing deadlifts, squats, kettlebell swings, and bent-over rows securely. The cable pull-through is an excellent option for rehearsing and honing the hip hinge.

  5. Mobility: In comparison to free-weight hip hinge exercises like Romanian deadlifts and kettlebell swings, cable pull-throughs are relatively simple to understand and execute. Even those who are new to weightlifting can start with light weights and master the hip hinge before increasing the load. Despite their simplicity, cable pull-throughs can be used with heavier weights, making them a fit for more advanced exercisers.

  6. Functional Fitness Improvement: Cable pull-throughs are a valuable exercise for everyone, from beginners to experienced athletes, that can be tailored to any exercise program. This exercise helps to form a solid core and posterior chain which are vital components of our day-to-day movements. It also works to increase hip hinge and hip extension, furthering the effectiveness of functional fitness.

How to Do Cable Pull-Throughs with Proper Form and Technique

Adjust the cable pulley to its lowest setting on the cable apparatus.

Starting position

  • Take a standing position facing away from the cable machine, while bending your legs to grip the rope attachment with a normal hand position.

  • Take one or two large steps away from the cable machine to release the weight.

  • Maintain a straight posture with your feet spread slightly wider than shoulder-width, and a slight bend in the knees.

  • Your shoulders should be aligned over your hips, with a balanced head and neck. Keep your chin tucked in close to your chest.

  • Distribute your weight evenly and anchor your feet to the ground to establish a secure stance.

  • Your arms should be extended with a slight flexion in your elbows.

  • Activate your shoulders and hips and brace your core.

  • All movements should start from this position.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. While keeping a neutral spine, start to tilt your hips until you sense a pull in the back of your legs.

  2. Your knees should remain curved in the backward motion and your shins should be vertical.

  3. Your lower arms should be situated between your thighs.

  4. Your upper body should form a 45-degree angle.

  5. When you finish the downward movement, the weight should be in the center of your foot and heels without allowing your toes to rise from the ground.

  6. While maintaining a neutral spine, begin your upward movement by pushing your feet onto the floor.

  7. As you begin to stand up, squeeze your glutes and allow your hips to travel forward.

  8. As your hips move forward, keep your arms extended, and finish the movement by squeezing your glutes while maintaining a neutral spine position.

  9. At the end of each repetition, your shoulders should finish directly over your hips.

Aim for 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps at first. Increase the number of cable pull-throughs per set as you progress, making sure you can maintain proper form and technique from the first to the last rep.

Tips to ensure your form is perfect

Cable pull-throughs can be effective for muscle hypertrophy when performed with proper form and a heavy enough weight. Cable pull-throughs can target the glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles, along with hip flexion, making them an excellent accessory exercise for building strength and size.

  • When performing a cable pull-through exercise, maintain a forward-leaning posture to prevent the weight from clanking down back on the weight stack at the bottom of the movement.

  • To focus on your glutes rather than your lower back, round the upper back and bend your knees more when doing the movement.

  • Keep your chin tucked and lean forward during the entire range of motion to stop the weight of the pulley machine from dragging you back.

  • Do not select a weight that is too light so that your muscles are not working adequately; conversely, do not choose a weight so heavy that it is impossible to feel it in your glutes, or you risk losing your balance.

  • Maintain a straight back and outstretched arms while executing the exercise.

  • Lift the weight by pushing with your heels and thrusting your hips forward, and then straighten your legs as you rise up.

  • Refrain from using your shoulders or bending your arms.

  • Do not allow momentum to take over, that’s the quickest way to get exercises done without taxing the targeted muscles.

Common Mistakes Made with cable pull-throughs

Begin each series correctly, maintain good posture, and stay away from anything that may negatively affect your technique or increase injury risks.

  1. Wearing the Wrong Shoes:  If you wear shoes with thick, heavily padded soles, you will experience a decrease in strength in your glutes and thighs. Going shoeless, in shoes with a low profile, or those with a flat sole will increase the activation of your leg muscles from the bottom of your feet up to your hips and will boost your overall stability.

  2. Rounding Your Back:  When lifting a heavy load, it is common to arch your back to involve your spinal erector muscles. However, this increases the risk of low back injury and takes the focus away from your glutes. Take care to keep your spine straight and neutral while performing the exercise to ensure the primary focus is on your glutes and hamstrings.

  3. Using Your Arms and Shoulders:  Do not rely on your biceps and forearms or shoulders to help lift the weight. This will reduce the work of your glutes and hamstrings, while also placing an excessive burden on your lower back. Keep your arms limp and allow your hips and legs to do the work.

  4. Jerking or Swinging:  When lifting substantial loads, the inclination to yank or sway can be very strong. If you feel exhausted, and you need a bit of support to finish the last reps, it is alright to do so, but only towards the end. However, keep in mind the last few reps pose the highest injury risk if you allow yourself to disregard proper form and technique. To start, concentrate on keeping your movements steady and try to limit swaying as much as possible.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Before beginning an exercise program, discuss with your doctor any current medical conditions you may have. To ensure you get the best benefits and stay safe, it's essential to be aware of how to perform each exercise properly. Guidance from a personal trainer can be invaluable.

Make sure you can regulate the weight you pick while performing the exercise. During the exercise, pay attention to how your body feels and stop if something doesn't feel right.

Include appropriate warm-ups, rest, and nutrition in your training routine to experience continuing development and increase muscle strength. Your capacity to fully recover from your workouts will ultimately determine how well you perform. To ensure adequate recovery, wait 24 to 48 hours before working out the same muscle groups again.

Taking top quality pre- intra-, and post-workout supplements can increase performance and recovery to blast through plateaus and build muscle to help you reach your fitness goals.

In a Nutshell

The glute pull-through is an ideal exercise alternative to the deadlift or kettlebell swing. Although not as popular as other exercises, the movement pattern is simple to do, safe, and provides a great functional workout. Whether you are a bodybuilder, lifter, or fitness enthusiast, cable pull-throughs will improve proficiency in the deadlift. Cable pull-throughs are an effective method to hone the motion and perfect your technique.