Two very similar looking, yet distinct movements to target the glutes, hamstrings, and complete posterior chain are the cable pull through and kettlebell swing. While both can be used in training regimens, coaches and athletes must understand the key differences between the two, specifically the loading mechanics and the effects/demands that plays on the body.
[The strength and power athlete’s guide to fully developing their posterior chain is here!]
Therefore, in this article we will briefly review both movements and then shed some light on the most important factors to consider when choosing which movement to program in training sessions.
Cable Pull Through
In an earlier article we discussed the benefits and video demo on how to properly perform cable pull throughs. Generally speaking, this is a low velocity movement (however can be done for speed) that increases hamstring, glute, and lower back loading.
The cable systems allow for constant tension and loading throughout the full range of motion, which is key for maximal stability, control, and force production.
[Everything you need to know about the Cable Pull Through is right here!]
Kettlebell Swing (Russian)
For the sake of this article, we will be speaking directly of the Russian kettlebell swing, either hard-style of sport. Below is a video demo of how to properly perform kettlebell swings so that lifters of all levels can maximize performance and minimize avoidable injury.
Below are four noteworthy factors that may impact the effectiveness of either moves in a training regimen. Coaches and athletes should familiarize themselves with these so that they can best choose an exercise based on the individual athlete, goals, and abilities.
At the most basic level, a cable pull through is a less complex movement. Due to the lower speed of the movement, as well as the assisted movement patterning caused by the pull of the cable, this is often a key movement prep exercise for beginners to master the hip hinge and posterior loading movement. Kettlebells, while simplistic in nature, require much more coordination, proprioception, muscle and connective tissues elasticity, and proper firing of the entire system.
When done improperly, kettlebell swings can do more harm than good, which is why lifters should be cautious if someone has issues performing basic pull throughs and hip hinging movements.
Time Under Tension
As discussed above, the cable pull through loads the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back throughout the entire range of motion and set, unlike the swing. Time under tension is often responsibles for muscle hypertrophy (growth), primarily due to increased eccentric loading and an increased state of metabolic by-product buildup in muscle (since the muscle is forced to stay in a controlled, contracted state). Kettlebell swings are ballistic in nature (high velocity) in which the loading is dispersed across the hamstring and posterior chain, but also the tendons, ligaments, and other reactive systems of the body. Additionally, the kettlebell catches flight, in which tension is decreased and metabolic stress on the hamstrings and posterior chain may be less (however many people make up by going heavier or increasing volume to get same effect).
Power Output (Velocity)
If you are looking to perform hamstring and posterior chain movements to develop a lifter’s explosiveness, stretch-shortening cycles, or general athleticism, the kettlebell swing reigns supreme. Unlike the swing, the cable pull through is often done at low speeds and contractile velocities, therefore decreasing power output of the hip complex. It is important to note that the primary objective of the cable pull through (as well as often secondary and/or tertiary goals) are not for power production, but for muscle development, neuromuscular patterning, or a combination of the two.
For most of the reasons above, the kettlebell swing can be a lifter’s first option when looking to maximize posterior chain force development, which is critical to near every single athletic and human movement on earth. The ability to absorb force, react, and then produce force at high velocity (power) is critical.
That said, many lifters fail to utilize their hamstrings, glutes, and stretch reflexes due to poor hip hinging mechanics or fundamental muscular development and strength, in which the cable pull through could and should be used to help develop them further.
As with all exercises, justification should be done on a case by case basis, as coaches need to fully understand the outcomes and potential consequences of selecting a movement/exercise for one athlete vs the next.
Featured Image: @Laura_Des_Villes on Instagram