Adduction Vs. Abduction: Your Exercise Guide

Adduction Vs. Abduction: Your Exercise Guide

While adduction and abduction exercises can easily look the same, they are actually opposite movements that have totally different effects on the body. One involves movements that pull inwards and the other involves pushing back. But which is which?

To put it simply, adduction means “pulling into the body” while abduction means “moving away from the body,” says Wendy Erven, certified personal trainer, Pilates instructor, and founder of Core10 Pilates.

An adduction exercise is a movement where your limbs come back, like when you squeeze an exercise ball between your thighs. It’s also possible to adduct your arms as well as your shoulder blades, she says, by doing exercises that pull them down and in.

Abduction is the exact opposite of that, says Dr. Scott A. Weiss, DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy and founder of Bodhizone Human Performance. “It’s the action of the leg or arm leaving the midline,” he told Bustle. Weiss cites single leg raises and side arm raises as examples of abduction. Read on to learn more about the differences between abduction and adduction exercises and how each can benefit your workout routine.

The benefits of adduction exercises

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Adduction exercises work the muscles known as “adductors,” Weiss says. It is a group of five lower body muscles located near the thighs: adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis, and pectineus. There are also four main adductor muscles in the upper body that help bring the arms back: pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, teres major and teres minor, Weiss explains. (Think about your lats, pectorals, etc.)

The adductor muscles are strongly connected to the core, Erven says, so if you have a weak core, you probably also have weak adductors. On the plus side, “you can strengthen both of them by adding adduction exercises to your routine for more stability from within,” says Weiss.

There are plenty of adduction movements to choose from, notes Janelle Fleites, PT, DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy and owner of Impact Physical Therapy and Sports Performance. Try exercises like lateral hip adduction, glute bridges where you squeeze an exercise ball between your thighs, and Copenhagen side planks to work your hip adductors, she says. For upper body, Erven points to pull-ups, which add or pull the upper arms and shoulder blades.

Adduction exercises play a role in your body’s overall strength and balance abilities. In your lower body, they help stabilize your hips and pelvis, says Fleites, while in your upper body, they help you maintain good posture and shoulder stability. “Having strong adductors is especially beneficial for a stronger squat, and for all cutting and changing direction activities,” she adds.

The benefits of abduction exercises

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You also have abductor muscles. In the lower body, the abductors include the gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus as well as the tensor fascia latae, Weiss says. And in the upper body, the abduction muscles are the supraspinatus, deltoids, and upper flaps.

Working these muscles with abduction exercises will help ensure you have good muscle balance and mobility. For example, strong hip abductor muscles can mean better posture in your lower spine, Erven says, while strong shoulder abductors help you maintain shoulder joint stability — all good things when it’s about standing up straight.

Abduction exercises can help you feel more powerful in general. Having the ability to roll away from the body, back up from a squat, or get off the ground makes it easier to move around in daily life, Evren says. As an added benefit, strong abductors can also reduce your back pain. “When the hip abductors are weak, the pelvis is unstable and the lower back is usually the first thing to show symptoms,” she adds. “People with back pain can often reduce pain simply by strengthening abductors like the gluteus medius, a muscle that helps the leg move away from the body.”

Fleites recommends trying moves like standing hip abductions with a resistance band, side or side steps with a resistance band around your ankles, or side-lying hip abductions. To work the upper body, Erven recommends lateral arm raises with dumbbells.

Adduction Vs. Abduction

According to Erven, adduction and abduction are equally important when it comes to your posture, joint stability, and decreasing joint pain. “Creating joint stability from the inside out – via adduction – and from the outside in – via abduction – is also essential for less back pain, smoother mobility and a better balance,” she explains.

To remember which is which when you exercise, Weiss suggests thinking like this: the limb leaving the body is an abduction, while the limb returning home is an adduction.

Referenced studies:

Domínguez-Navarro, F. (2022). Impact of hip abductor and adductor strength on dynamic balance and ankle biomechanics in elite youth female basketball players. Sci Rep. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-07454-3.

Kak, HB. (2016). The effect of hip abductor exercise on muscle strength and trunk stability after lower extremity injury. J Phys Ther Sci. doi: 10.1589/jpts.28.932.

Kim, MH. (2014). Optimal and maximum loads during hip adduction exercise by asymptomatic people. J Phys Ther Sci. 2014 May; 26(5): 777–778. doi: 10.1589/jpts.26.777

Lam, JH. (2021). Anatomy, shoulder and upper limb, arm abductor muscles. In: StatPearls [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537148/.

Lee, SP. (2012). The influence of hip abductor muscle performance on dynamic postural stability in women with patellofemoral pain. Walking posture. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2012.03.024.

Peterson, S. (2019). Physical therapy management of patients with chronic low back pain and hip abductor weakness. J Geriatr Phys Ther. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28914719/

Trammel, AP. (2021). Anatomy, Bone Pelvis and Lower Limb, Muscle Tensor Fasciae Latae. In: StatPearls [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499870/.

Sources:

Wendy ErvenCertified Personal Trainer, Pilates Instructor, Founder of Core10 Pilates

Dr. Scott A. Weiss, DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy, CEO, Founder of Bodhizone Human Performance

Janelle Fleites, PT, DPTdoctor of physiotherapy, owner of Impact Physiotherapy and Sports Performance

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