In an earlier article we highlighted two key movements that every lifter should build into their training regimen for increased hamstring mass, strength, and pulling capacities. The deadlift and Romanian deadlift are two similar yet highly distinct pulling movements that can offer lifters immense benefits when done on a consistent basis.
The cable pull through, which was also covered in a comprehensive write-up, can also deliver similar benefits to many lifters, leaving one to wonder what is the best option for hamstring and hip development, strength, and performance among the three (deadlift vs. Romanian deadlift vs. cable pull through).
[Here’s what you need to know about the deadlift vs Romanian deadlift debate!]
Therefore, in this article we will discuss briefly the differences between each movement and what coaches and athletes need to know when considering which movement in “best” for their athletes’ needs and goals.
The deadlift is one of the most effective exercises for building strength, muscle mass, and develop sport-specificity (powerlifters, functional fitness athletes, and strongmen and strong women) in nearly every athlete.
For the sake of this article, we will speak of deadlifts in a broad sense, one that encapsulates the trap bar deadlift, sumo deadlift, regular/conventional deadlift, and clean pull.
[Don’t you dare do your clean pulls just like deadlifts! Here’s why they are different!]
The Romanian Deadlift
In an earlier article I covered in detail the origin, benefits, and programming notes for the Romanian deadlift.
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In general, this is often a secondary movement to specifically target the hamstring, lower back, and hips to be a primary assistance lift for the direct application to competitive style deadlifts, cleans, snatches, and targeted hamstring hypertrophy and strength.
The Cable Pull Through
Unlike the first two movements, this exercise is often done for higher, more controlled repetitions and is a highly targeted movement to prepare and/or finish that hamstrings and glutes for activity.
This movement can be done with all levels as a teaching tool, additional volume training exercise, and/or movement prep/rehab tool.
[Everything you need to know about the Cable Pull Through is right here!]
Which is Best for Strength and Power Development?
For maximal strength and power development, athletes will need to perform both the deadlift and the Romanian deadlift on a consistent basis. While the cable pull through can aid in the development of these attributes (as assistance exercise, during warm ups, and/or movement prep series), it lacks the ability to be loaded maximally and performed at the highest velocities, limiting both the loading stress and velocity dynamics strength and power athletes need to develop fully. It is recommended that most athletes focus on building strength and hypertrophy via compound movements, such as deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, squats, push presses, etc before they then look to more target exercises. While this does not rule out cable pull throughs as viable options for coaches and athletes, it is important to note that they are not as vital as the other two movements for strength and power if time and energy is limited.
Which is Best for Muscle Growth?
While muscles grow from a variety of stressors (loading, time under tension, contractile rates, stretch-shortening cycles, etc), I personally feel that all three of these can be used effectively to build strong, lean, and powerful glutes and hamstrings. When done together, or in any combination, these three movements can help lifters gain strength and loading necessary for hormonal responses to take place (both deadlifting versions) while still increasing a lifter’s ability to target and specifically contract the hamstrings and glutes for maximal time under tension (cable pull throughs).
Which is Best for Sport Specificity?
This is somewhat of a reiteration of the strength and power response above, as most athletes rely heavily on muscle force output and contractile unit velocity to run faster, jump higher, hit harder, lift more weight, etc. While the cable pull through can be a great preventative and rehabilitative movement (as well as valid muscle hypertrophy tool), most coaches and athletes should master the other two lifts before dedicating additional time to less compound movements. If an athlete needed to add quality muscle growth and control to the glutes and hamstrings for whatever reason (lower back issues, injury prevention, etc), the cable pull through could then be used as an assistance lift to increase posterior chain performance, hip and hamstring health, and movement mechanics.
In conclusion, there is rarely “one exercise to rule them all.” While I firmly believe that most coaches and athletes should focus first on compound movements such as deadlifts (both versions), squats, push presses, rows, and multi-joint action movements, there are always times and situations where more specialized and targeted movements, such as the cable pull throughs, can be beneficial in one’s training. Coaches and athletes must define the goal and purpose for each exercise and understand that doing every exercise in the book can often do more harm than good, so selection, execution, and quality is key rather than mass quantities of movements and reps.
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