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Abduction versus Adduction Exercises: Understanding their Distinctions

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

When you contemplate the terms “kidnapping” and “bringing back,” the thigh-fortifying contraptions you utilize on leg days at the gym are prone to come to mind — despite the fact that you may not always recall which piece of equipment is which.

Despite this widespread mental image, abduction and adduction movements are not solely limited to your lower extremities. Here, fitness experts break down the various abduction and adduction exercises for your upper and lower body. Additionally, they divulge the advantages of these movements and the significant discrepancies between abduction vs. adduction, so you will never mistake them again.

Abduction vs. Adduction, Elucidated

To fully comprehend abduction vs. adduction, you must first grasp the body’s midline, asserts Leigha VandenToorn, C.S.C.S., P.P.S.C., an NASM-certified personal trainer. Visualize a line running from the top of your head straight down the center of your body to your feet, dividing you into two halves, she states. Adduction exercises involve moving your limbs toward the midline, while abduction exercises encompass moving your limbs away from the midline, she clarifies. “Oftentimes, people solely think of hip adduction and abduction and moving their legs around, but you can also perform the same actions with your arms and shoulders,” she adds.

Abduction and adduction movements can also be executed horizontally (think: a chest fly) or vertically (such as a lat pull-down), remarks VandenToorn. “For a lat pull-down, your arms begin away from your body — your hands are elevated, your lat muscle elongated, and it is not yet contracted,” she explains. (In case you didn’t know, the lat muscle — also known as latissimus dorsi — is situated below your shoulder blades and aids in the extension and rotation of the shoulder and arm.) “When you contract that lat muscle, it permits you to lower the weight and bring your arm nearer to your body or the midline.”

Abduction Definition

With only a one-letter distinction between the terms “abduction” and “adduction,” differentiating their meanings can be a substantial challenge. One simple — albeit humorously silly — method to remember what abduction entails? “Consider if an extraterrestrial being came and kidnapped you — they are taking you away from Earth,” elucidates VandenToorn. “That’s how you can envision abduction because it involves moving away from the midline.”

To execute upper-body abduction movements, you will primarily engage the various “heads” or sections of your deltoid muscle, which envelop your shoulder and aid in joint stability, she states. For instance, a front raise will target your anterior deltoids, a reverse fly will work your posterior deltoids, and a side raise will isolate your lateral deltoids, she expounds. While each exercise employs and reinforces a distinct portion of your deltoids, they all involve moving your arms away from your midline, according to VandenToorn.

Your hip abductors are the primary movers for lower-body exercises that involve moving your leg away from your body and rotating it at the hip joint, according to Kells James, P.P.S.C., an ACE-certified personal trainer. These muscles, which include the glute medius, glute minimus, and tensor fasciae latae, are located on the outer part of your hips. When you walk or perform single-leg movements, you engage these abductors.

Common Exercises for Abduction

Even though they may seem complicated, you have probably seen others performing abduction movements at the gym or have tried them yourself. Here are a few of the most common abduction exercises recommended by experts to include in your strength workouts.

Definition of Adduction

“To easily remember the term ‘adduction,’ think of it as adding something toward the center of your body,” explains VandenToorn. During upper-body exercises, adduction involves the use of the lats and pectoral muscles, which help move and rotate the arms. On the other hand, lower-body adduction exercises rely on the hip adductors, including the adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, obturator externus, and gracilis. James adds that the primary function of the adductors is to provide stability and mobility to the lower body, and weak adductors can contribute to various injuries, such as groin strains.

Common Adduction Exercises

Similar to abduction movements, adduction exercises are commonly incorporated into fitness routines. Below, the trainers have listed some of the most common adduction exercises:

  • Hip adductor
  • Lateral lunge
  • Cossack squat
  • Lat pull-down
  • Pull-up
  • Chest fly

The Benefits of Performing Abduction and Adduction Exercises

While you may prefer one type of movement over the other, it is important to incorporate both abduction and adduction exercises into your fitness routine. According to the experts, solely focusing on one type of movement can lead to muscular imbalances and joint pain due to inadequate support for your joints.

Specifically, the hip exteriors and interior both play a pivotal role in stabilizing your pelvis, and if one of those muscle groups isn’t robust enough to provide that vital support, you could develop lower back pain, she observes. Additionally, the weaker muscles can become more susceptible to harm while training, and those on the stronger side can experience an overuse injury, Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., the founder of Training2xl, previously stated to Shape.

If you’re already dealing with muscle imbalances, though, you may want to concentrate a bit more on one particular type of movement until you correct those disparities. For instance, James is presently experiencing plantar fasciitis in her right foot, caused by a weak glute medius on her right side, she states. To strengthen the muscle and restore her body’s balance, she’s temporarily dedicating a bit more of her workout programming to abduction exercises, she says.

You may also want to prioritize abduction if you have knee valgus (when your knees cave inward, often during running or squatting), adds VandenToorn. “That could be an indication that your hip abductors, which keep your knee in alignment, aren’t very strong, so you would need to prioritize [those muscles],” she says. “Simply strengthening the abductors of the hip could completely alleviate the knee pain that somebody might be experiencing.” Again, you wouldn’t completely skip over adduction exercises in these types of instances — they’d just temporarily take the backseat, says VandenToorn.

How to Include Abduction Exercises and Adduction Movements in Your Fitness Routine

If you’re planning out a well-rounded workout routine, there’s a good chance you’ll naturally practice a mix of both abduction and adduction exercises, and you won’t need to intentionally add them to your training sessions, says VandenToorn. Plus, some exercises already encompass abduction and adduction movements. “The lateral lunge is actually a really interesting one because it works both your adductors and your abductors,” she explains. “If you’re doing a right lateral lunge, as you’re stepping out with the right foot, the muscles on the outside of your right hip are working. Then with the left leg that’s straight, those adductor, inner thigh muscles are working.”

But if you want to take a more calculated approach, consider incorporating specific abduction and adduction movements into your workout, warm-up routine, or finisher, VandenToorn suggests. “Before you do your squats, maybe you do some clamshells and a side plank to get your body warm, get your mind-muscle connection turned on and working,” she says. “…You can even use them at the end as a burnout-type exercise where you’re like, ‘Okay, now I really want to get my glute medius fired up at the end of my workout with glute kickbacks.'”

Targeting both your lower and upper body with abduction and adduction movements throughout the week is also crucial, says VandenToorn. “When you think about abduction and adduction, you’re usually thinking about lower body, which is great and strengthening your hips,” she says. “But don’t forget about your upper body too. The shoulder is such an easy joint to injure and to experience pain, so we want to just really make sure we’re strengthening it.”

Regardless of the abduction vs. adduction exercises you try, don’t be afraid to modify the moves so they work best for your body, needs, and abilities, says James. “Don’t feel like you have to get to XYZ level that you see on social media — take it from where you currently are,” she explains. “Choose a couple of movements that you really enjoy doing and then get really strong at those

If you need to alter them and then advance, that is completely acceptable. Thanks for your input!