Improving Exercise Technique: Pull-Throughs

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I know some reading are going to scoff at the title of this post and immediately go off on some diatribe about how pull-throughs are so 2002 and about why we’re even having this conversation in the first place when we can just mosey on over to the corner of the gym, grab a kettlebell, and swing away to our hearts content.

Everyone knows that kettlebells are far superior in every way – whether we’re referring to hip hinge patterning, posterior chain strength, explosiveness, overall conditioning, or some of its lesser known uses like how awesome it is as a door stopper, fish line sinker, or paper weight.

I agree that kettlebells are fantastic tool in the exercise toolbox, very versatile, and something that I implement into my programs quite often.  However, as with anything else, there’s a time and place for them.

In my opinion pull-throughs are one of the more underrated exercises out there, which is unfortunate because it offers a lot of advantages in its own right.

A look at from a few vantage points:

1.  It’s very user friendly.  Granted, with proper coaching, a KB swing can be easily taught within 5-10 minutes.  The key point to consider, though, is “proper coaching.” I don’t know about you, but Iv’e been in my fair share of commercial gyms and I can count on one hand the total number of times I’ve seen someone perform a proper KB swing – and this includes those who are actually under the supervision of a trainer!

Needless to say, there’s a lot more to a KB swing than just casually picking one up and hoisting it around like it’s some kind of toy light saber.

I find that pull-throughs are a much more “convenient” way to introduce the hip hinge pattern to people – especially those with limited training experience under their belt.

What’s more, not everyone has access to kettlebells, and pretty much everyone has access to a cable system.  So there.

2. Furthermore, and going along with the whole versatility angle, pull-throughs are a staple amongst powerlifters (it’s a fantastic accessory exercise for the hamstrings and glutes), as well as beginners who are just learning their way around the weightroom.

3.  Likewise, there’s very little spinal loading (assuming form is up to snuff) so it’s a fantastic option for those people working around back pain as it forces people to learn to dissociate the hips from the lumbar spine.  If anything it helps to slow people down, which is an important factor when trying to learn a new pattern.

All that said, despite the seemingly innocuous nature of the exercise people tend to butcher its execution.  In the video below I discuss some common mistakes as well as a few coaching cues I often use to help clean up technique.  Hope it helps!

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Comments for This Entry

  • Tom McDonald

    Great tips, thanks Tony.

    February 27, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Barath

    I can understand the reasons, particularly #3, but I'd think that it'd be *easier* to learn DB/KB swing. Particularly because the weight is in contact with your hands, the body auto-regulates the motion rather well. In pull-throughs, people might have a tendency to "fall back" because the weight sort of descends suddenly. But then again, if it works, it works - so no arguing there. Personally, I don't see myself doing this as long as I have access to a KB or a DB. Also, your arms are about twice the size of mine so I just wanted to pick a fight. DAMN YOU!

    February 27, 2013 at 8:19 pm | Reply to this comment

    • deansomerset

      I actually use pull throughs as a progression in the hip hinge pattern with discogenic rehab clients who can't stabilize against momentum. The goal is to eventually get them to stabilize against momentum with a swing, but in many cases people can't maintain a stable spinal position through a hip hinge with both load and velocity, especially if they have issues with core stability and hip mobility.

      February 27, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Reply to this comment

      • Barath

        Sorry Dean, I am not a professional and don't get what you're trying to say. If someone cannot "stabilize under momentum", what really makes the pull-through superior? Because as I see it, it also involves momentum except you're pulling on the rope instead of swinging a weight. I'll concede that I've only done this exercise once and really hated it. It did a poor job of teaching me how to hip-hinge because I was (involuntarily) concentrating more on pulling on the rope. But that's just me, and I realize mileages may vary.

        February 27, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Dre

    Thanks! Any additional tips on using this movement with heavy weight and lower reps?

    February 27, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Girl Can Lift

    I am a huge kettlebell fan, but I would never say that a swing is an alternative to the pull-through... first, the pull-through allows for more weight (or maybe that's just me). Second, and most importantly, the swing is a ballistic movement, and one that you usually do with a (relatively) light weight and high rep count. So to me, they're two very distinct exercises...

    February 27, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Yes, I get it Girl Can Lift. I never said the pull-through is an alternative to the swing. I LOVE the swing, and understand that it's a ballistic movement. I just feel that for some people, introducing the hip hinge pattern is a bit easier with the pull-through rather than the KB swing. On an aside, while one can technically use more weight with a pull-through, force development is FAR superior with a KB swing....even with much lighter loads. At the end of the day, it just comes down to applying the right exercise for the right person with the right goal.....;o)

      February 28, 2013 at 7:26 am | Reply to this comment

  • Danielle D

    thanks for the video, after partially tearing one head of my hamstring, I am slowly adding more weights to these again (oh the stretching....) but always looking for ways to improve. I notice that I need to let my arms go behind me more. Good advice!

    March 1, 2013 at 8:46 am | Reply to this comment

  • Alex Kraszewski

    How would you troubleshoot hinging/extension through the lumbar spine at end-range rather than finishing with the glutes? I find I can get to around 70% range and then my hips won't extend any further! This does also happen with other hip ext exercises with me in fairness!

    March 1, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Prakash

    TG - seriously your guns are mahooosive! Please share some insight into getting arms like canons. Maybe subject of the next post?

    March 4, 2013 at 5:08 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kennet W

    As always, great content. Tony - have you ever seen any research showing the difference between a Dead - Stop KB Swing and Pull Throughs? It would be interesting to see how it compared to a normal ballistic KB Swing in force development. My guess is that the Pull Throughs are still far superior in force development. Just a thought. Keep up the great work mate :) Cheers from Down Under. -Kennet W

    March 4, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      That would be interesting. Although, I still feel the pull-through and the KB swing - while both utilizing a hip hinge - are a bit different in that one is a more ballistic/explosive movement and the other is not. So, I'm not sure of the data would correlate.

      March 4, 2013 at 8:25 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Brent Holm

    You must be bulimic because you definitely read my mind on this one. Was just about to start incorporating these in my client's (and mine) routines and was looking for a good explanation (apparently everyone and their mother has back issues these days.) Would you say this is the best way to teach the hinge pattern (aside from supine bridging variations)? I have a hell of a time getting some of my clients understanding the hinge, even after using a dowel to guide them unloaded.

    March 6, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Reply to this comment

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