The glutes are the functional cornerstone of the human body, and anyone who doesn’t agree should review their movement anatomy and gross human biomechanics. The glutes also happen to be one of the most neglected regions for most lifters who are caught up in the hysteria of overly traditional training. Here’s why using the Pull Through movement as a powerful primer to any lower body training day will not only yield superior performances under the bar, but actually target the glutes in a way that makes them work for you in terms of staying healthy and combating injuries to the hips, knees and lower back.
Are You Training The Glutes Directly?
Simply put, if you are not training the glutes directly your program is NOT complete. Neglecting the most powerful muscular region of the body capable of staggering dynamic strength and static stabilization of the hips, pelvis and lumbar spine is a big no-no. This is especially true if your goal is forging strength that not only looks and performs an an optimal level, but also is resilient enough to keep you healthy through heavy bouts of training.
Forget the fluffy functional training guru’s that will tell you that all you need to develop a strong and sexy set of glutes is squats and deadlifts, and the Instagram “models” that preach endless calisthenics that require maintaining a perfect duck face for hundreds of reps per set. What we need is intelligent loaded isolation work on the glutes that produce results while also enhancing the way you look, feel and function.
My recommendation? Start every single leg day with a primer movement that activates the glutes, hones the hip hinge movement pattern that is a common train wreck for most lifters, spares the spine from constant compression and shear forces while also loading the glutes for strength and hypertrophy. What movement am I talking about that fits all these criteria? The Pull Through, of course!
Building A Basic Base of Booty
If you are new to direct glute training, or just need to revamp your lower body lifting day to have any chance of seeing results, here’s what to do. First, make sure you devote a focused 5-10 minutes into a well organized pre-training dynamic warm up routine like the one I feature in my 6-Phase Dynamic Warm Up Sequence which you can pick up for free right on this site.
From there, move directly into one of the following Pull Through movement variations to target the glutes directly. This “primer” movement placed first in your training day will allow your body more time to acclimate to the training climate, but also clean up any loose ends that your warm up may not have been able to take care of.
We aren’t just doing a few sets here either. The perfect glute primer scheme will consist of multiple ramp up sets followed by some serious volume in terms of working sets. Keep the rep counts relatively high between 8-15 reps to drive local blood flow into the glutes, while also maximizing the pump effect this type of scheme will elicit.
It’s also important to mention that your intent of this glute primer Pull Through movement is to deeply activate the glutes biomechanically, but also working your mind muscle connection to feel the exercise working as well. Move slowly with deliberate tempos with accentuated flexes at the top of each rep and a full range of motion throughout the pattern. By the time you finish up your primer Pull Throughs, you should be greased up, activated and ready to go. Just how we want to go into heavy loaded movements to stay healthy and perform at the top end of our abilities.
Choosing Your Perfect Pull Through Variation
The following three variations of the Pull Through movement are ordered from the most basic to the most advanced. While these movements incorporate different equipment such as bands and cables, it should be reiterated that all Pull Throughs are executed with exactly the same pristine loaded hip hinge movement pattern. Review the videos and coaching notes in detail, and choose the Pull Through variation that fits your needs and equipment perfectly. Time to get to work and build that backside!
Banded Pull Through
The Banded Pull Through is the most foundational variation due to the simplicity relative ease of needing nothing other than a band to execute. That fact is the reason why I have programmed this banded Pull Through variation in my FHT programs with great success in lower body emphasis days.
To get started, locate a stable area to secure the band around that is as close to the floor as possible. Loop the band inside your base of choice and step out facing away from the setup. Take an overhand grip on the band with your palms facing down towards the floor and let the band course between your legs.
Now, make sure that your feet as positioned in an athletic power stance that should be similar to your squat stance which is about shoulder width apart and toed out slightly. With a stable spine, drive your butt back into a perfectly braced hip hinge with a slow and controlled eccentric contraction, then drive through and flex your glutes hard for a second at the top of the movement.
Common Technique Problems
While we are utilizing a band for resistance, note that the band provides accommodating resistance. Simply put, there will be less tension through the band as you hinge down, and the most tension through the band at the top lockout portion of the movement. Get as much tension as you possible can by walking out further away from the base of the setup, but ensure you can still flex hard for a second at the top of every rep in the set.
Cable Pull Through
If you have a cable rack at your training disposal, the next progression off the band pull through is the Cable Pull Through, which allows more even loading through the strength curve while also lets you build your loads more evenly and objectively over time with the pin loaded setup.
Using the rope attachment, you will grab each side of the rope with your hands facing each other towards the midline of your body. This setup is slightly different than the banded setup. That being said, everything else from an execution standpoint stays the same. Drive up and flex hard at the top and control a full range of motion through the foundational hip hinge pattern.
Common Technique Problems
While the band controls overloading, the cable will sometimes throw people for a loop as they have trouble controlling the top lockout portion of the movement. This may translate into a loss of balance, or even a lack of full hip extension that is needed to truly activate the glutes properly. Keep in mind that we want to be progressing loads over time on the cable setup, but a little goes a long way. Focus more on your internal tension and tapping into that mind muscle connection to flex the glutes hard every single rep.
Banded Cable Pull Through
Finally, if you get a little stale over time using the cable pull through as your lower body primer, the addition of a band around the knees is an absolute game changer. While the pull through movement itself really targets hip extension moments at the glutes, the band around the knees in the Banded Cable Pull Through works the glutes into abduction and external rotation to a greater extent, really turning up the ability of this movement to activate the posterior chain.
The cable setup is going to be exactly the same as the previous cable pull through, so make sure that your technique and execution is absolutely locked in before throwing another variable into the movement mix. Using a small mini-band, you will be placing the band around the knees, an inch or two up from the knee cap on either side. For long term comfort, ensure that the band is not cutting into your IT-Band area or any other structures of the lateral leg, and is comfortable so you can drive into the band to create tension.
Also, the band resistance does matter. For most athletes using this variation, a extra light to light band will work well, as we are looking to elicit a positional activation at the knees and hips, not necessarily a pure strength movement moving through a concentric and eccentric contraction. Once the correct band is set in the right place around the leg, push out into the band slightly driving your knees away from each other maybe an inch. This knee position will be maintained throughout the pull through in an isometric fashion.
Common Technique Problems
The most common difficulty I see athletes have with this variation is the inability to control both hip extension, abduction and external rotation at the same time. It seems as though the coordination of these coupled actions would be easy, but let me tell you, it will be a challenge. If you are struggling to coordinate the movement with the band and cable rack, you will know right away as the level 0f activation and your ability to volitionally squeeze your glutes will be largely lost.
If this is the case, focus in and clean up your movement mechanics, or simply go back to the cable only pull through variation until your pattern has cleaned up and you are ready once again for progression.
About The Author
Dr. John Rusin is an internationally recognized coach, physical therapist, speaker, and writer, whose published over 200 articles in some of the most widely regarded media outlets in the industry like Men’s Fitness, Testosterone Nation, Mountain Dog Diet, Bodybuilding.com, and Muscle and Strength, to name a few.
Along with an impressive laundry list of publications, Dr. John works with some of the world’s most elite athletes, including Gold Medalist Olympians, NFL All-Pro Quarterbacks, MLB All-Star Pitchers, Professional Bodybuilders and World Class IronMan Triathletes.