Pull Throughs: A Very Misunderstood Exercise

by Sean St. Onge

The banded or cable "pull through" is an exercise that whenever I have demonstrated it, always comes with conjecture, hairy eye ball looks, and the ire of a  scorned lover. 

Alright, maybe not ALL of those things, but onlookers as well as those initially performing the drill end up like...

Here is what you can hope to expect from this all-too-misconstrued drill:

  • The resistance of the band/cable will help "pull" you into the position best suited for a ballistic movement like a swing
  • Compliments a bigger lift like a deadlift while not over-taxing your central nervous system
  • Provides good shoulder blade and core stabilization during hip hinging
  • Provides the person with feedback of good and bad hinging positions and where to apply muscular load during upper back extension
  • Provides differentiation between squatting and hinging patterns as the cable/band gives an end range of motion based on its tether (for those lifters that have a problem confusing a swing and a squat)

The reason it is often met with disdain is because of the awkward motion of literally sticking your butt in the air and thrusting your hips forward to a full standing position.

Come on now, we are all adults. Aren't we?

And yes, I do realize what the teenage boys are thinking here:

Butt-Head: "huh, huh, yeah...he said thrusting.."
Beavis: "yeah, yeah, butt..."

Yes, I understand why this drill can look silly, but here are some cases where it is highly beneficial.

The Swing vs. The "Squat-Swing"

As provided by breakingmuscle.com, for those exercisers that have difficulty deciphering the difference between the two movements. The band/cable pull through is very distinct in the feedback you receive from the start as the tension is very high in the hamstrings and it can mimic the resistance one would feel when performing a kettlebell swing. 

Despite the positioning, this drill can be highly beneficial for a new exerciser to the gym for balance in the frontal plane and proper posterior chain (hamstring, glute, calves) muscle recruitment. It can serve as a regressive exercise for those having a hard time grasping the progression to performing a sumo kettlebell deadlift to a trap bar deadlift to a conventional deadlift, depending on their initial assessment for movement.

With the tether and resistance of the band/cable starting behind you, besides the immediate posterior chain musculature being engaged, the pull throuh provides a positive upper body position for lifting. In order to only get the hamstrings and glutes to load the resistance, there has to be some core muscle engagement as well as shoulder blade and latissimus dorsi retraction. Similar to what is needed for any deadlift variation. 

The pull through can also provide less loading stress on posterior chain muscles, specifically if you have already performed a heavy group of drills like squats or deadlift variations. This drill can be performed with great volume when done properly. I like utilizing a Perform Better thick one or two inch band and anchor it to a rack or even a kettlebell. It is great in a pinch if you are also without lots of weights. When exercising on non-heavy lifting days, you could use it 3-4 sets with 15-20 repetitions. Or, add it in with your lower body strength circuit.

In closing, please do not dismiss this nice exercise. I mean, it could be worse, I'm sure there are a multitude of exercises that look worse to perform especially due to the risk of looking silly to reward of a firm and stronger backside.

So please pardon the appearance of this drill.

Pardon the positioning.

Pardon the amazing results and impact it can hold on your training.

But just realize that after you are done doing them, you will be like a big bear..and most of all...

SOAP BOX...out.