The glutes play an important role in how our bodies function. They support activities like running and walking and help power squats and deadlifts. Maintaining strong glutes also plays a preventative role for knee and low back pain while navigating the activities of daily living. And yes, there’s an aesthetic appeal to having defined glutes.
Glute kickbacks are an effective exercise for building lower body strength and definition. Here’s everything you need to know about this powerful accessory exercise and how to add it to your workout routine.
What are Glute Kickbacks?
Glute kickbacks are a glute isolation exercise rather than a compound movement like squats. In other words, this movement focuses on the glutes rather than engaging multiple muscle groups. Bodybuilders and powerlifters will often use this accessory exercise to target the glutes during lower body workout days. Still, athletes from any background would benefit from adding this movement to their cross-training program.
You can do glute kickbacks as a bodyweight exercise, with a resistance band, or using a machine. The general positioning has you on all fours on the floor or standing with one leg engaged in a cable machine, moving unilaterally as you kick back one leg to full extension while bracing your abdominal muscles.
What Muscles do Glute Kickbacks Work?
The gluteal muscles are comprised of three components:
- the gluteus maximus,
- the gluteus medius,
- and the gluteus minimus.
The largest muscle, the gluteus maximus, helps maintain pelvic alignment and keeps the body upright when sitting or standing. This muscle contributes to the rounded buttocks shape that bodybuilders strive for.
The middle muscle, the gluteus medius, aids in pelvic stabilization and leg rotation. The smallest muscle, the gluteus minimus, performs a similar role.
Cable kickbacks and other variations target all three gluteus muscles as the prime mover, the hamstrings as secondary movers, and the core and quads as stabilizers.
The Benefits of Glute Kickbacks
Glute kickback exercises offer several benefits for the entire body. One of the primary benefits of this effective exercise is that it offers better glute activation than squats. Whereas squats only effectively activate the gluteus maximus, this movement strengthens the smaller, supporting glute muscles as well.
Strengthened glutes also help power explosive movements, like jumping, sprinting, or squatting. You need strong glute activation to power your way up from the hole when you have weight on your back in a barbell squat.
The need for core stability and balance in bodyweight kickbacks will also help improve your overall balance. As kickbacks engage all three gluteal muscles, this is an effective exercise for building a balanced lower body physique.
How to Do Glute Kickbacks with No Equipment
For an effective glute muscle activation warm-up exercise or part of a bodyweight workout routine, bodyweight kickbacks are simple and straightforward. All you need is an exercise mat and your own body weight.
Here’s how to get started with a bodyweight kickback:
- Get on all fours with hands and knees evenly spaced at shoulder and hip-width. This is your starting position.
- Keep a neutral spine and brace your core as you extend your right leg back and off the ground. Straighten your knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor.
- Pause and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, then lower back to the starting position.
- Complete all reps on the right side before switching to the left.
As you lift your leg, avoid rotating your hips as you reach the end of your range of motion. This compensation typically happens due to an underlying muscle imbalance. Focus on keeping your entire body stable with a neutral spine.
How to do Glute Kickbacks with Cable Machines
Cable glute kickbacks work the same muscles as bodyweight kickbacks. However, these are completed in a standing position rather than a kneeling push-up position. For this variation, you’ll need a low-pulley cable machine with an ankle cuff.
Here’s how to complete the cable glute kickback exercise:
- Set the cable machine to the lowest setting with an ankle strap secured to your left ankle.
- Take a step back from the machine and lean forward, hinging at the hips while maintaining a flat back. Your back should be almost at a 90-degree angle from the floor. Hold the cable pulley machine for support.
- With a soft bend in your right knee, brace your core and lift your left leg backward until it’s parallel to the floor.
- Pause and squeeze your glute at the top of your range of motion, then reverse to starting position.
- Complete all of your reps on one side before switching to the other.
Slow and controlled movements are the key to success with this exercise. Minimize your momentum and maintain proper form by pausing at starting position between reps.
Common Glute Kickback Mistakes
The most common mistake people make when doing glute activation exercises is moving too fast and letting momentum shift the load away from the primary mover. If you swing your leg, you’re moving the focus away from the gluteal muscles. Avoid this by pausing at the top and bottom of each rep.
Another common mistake is failing to explore the entire range of motion. If you want to build stronger glutes, your leg should end up as high as possible without extending past your glutes. In other words, you’re aiming for a straight line from the top of your spine down to your heel.
If you have a great range of motion, but you’re not feeling that glute activation, check that you’re using proper form. If your body is too upright, you won’t reach the desired exercise range. Hinge at the waist, so that your chest is pointed toward the floor.
Glute Kickback Alternatives
There are plenty of glute exercises that offer similar benefits to kickbacks. The most common variation is donkey kicks, which are performed similarly to kickbacks, but with the knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
Hip thrusts and glute bridges — either weighted or with a mini resistance band — are effective alternative exercises that help build powerful muscles.
Now that you know the benefits of glute kickback exercises consider adding them to your training regimen once or twice per week. These glute workouts can help you improve gluteal muscle activation, improve your lower body strength and power, and contribute to a bodacious physique.