Abductors Versus Adductors Why They Matter

abductors vs adductors the difference and when to train each
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Your hip abductors and adductors are antagonistic muscle groups, but that doesn’t mean that they’re “mean,” although it might feel like they are if you injure them. It means that they work to move your limbs in opposite directions from each other.

Your hip abductors are mostly on the outside of your hips and move your legs away from your body while the opposite is true for adductors. Adductors work to bring your legs back in.  Think about a jumping jack, the abductors are used to split your legs on the first jump, and adductors are used to bring them back together on the second jump.

To feel your abductors in action, try this.

  1.     Stand on just your left leg
  2.     Put your right hand just above the pointy part of your hip bone (like you’re putting your hand on hip while waiting for someone)
  3.     Keep your right leg straight and lift it out to the right (don’t let it move forward or backward)

Next feel your adductors working.

  1.     Grab a basketball, empty 2 liter of soda, or something similar and place it between your knees (you can do this standing or sitting)
  2.     Squeeze it and hold
  3.     Those muscles contracting inside your thighs are your adductors

An easy way to remember which is which is to think about aliens “ab”ducting or taking you away vs third grade math of “ad”ding things together (like adding your legs back together).

Below is a table that shows the differences between the muscle groups and also some advice for when you should choose exercises for one versus the other.

You’ll also find links to several exercises to directly target these muscle groups. But rest assured that they’ll also get a workout with many other exercises you do on leg day like the squat, deadlift, or the DB method workout.




Direction of Movement

Away from the body, like being abducted by aliens

Back together, like adding the limbs

Good Looking Benefits

·         Toned hips

·         Thigh gap

Main Muscles (technical names)

The “hip” muscles

·         Gluteus Medius

·         Gluteus Minimus

·         Tensor Fasciae Latae.

The “groin” muscles

·         Adductor Longus

·         Adductor Brevis

·         Adductor Magnus

·         Gracillis

Common Pain Areas

·         Knee pain

·         Hip pain

·         Groin pain

Exercises to Get Good Looking Benefits

·         Hip drop with step

·         Fire hydrant circle with a dumbbell

·         Curtsy lunge

·         Clamshells

·         Leg side circles

·         Single-Leg Glute Bridge

·         Cossack Squat

·         Lateral Lunge to a box

·         Copenhagen Side Plank

·         Rotational Med Ball Scoop Toss


When to focus on abductors over adductors

If you’re looking to tone your lower body for a slimmer silhouette, then focus on abductors over adductors as your hip abductors cover the area where you feel that point in your hip bone.

Abductors are also more important than adductors for upright stability and balance in sports where you do lots of running or walking (source).  

If you’re having pain in other body parts like your knee or hip, you might need to focus on your abductors over your adductors. That’s because your abductors are part of the chain on the outside of your body that connects into your glutes and down into your knee.

Runners for example can suffer from knee pain or IT band pain complicated by hip abductor issues (source).

This also makes abductor exercises great for everyday preparation where you might need to shove something with the outside of your foot. Like when you’re walking down the hall and need to kick some toys back into the kids’ rooms without breaking stride.

When to focus on adductors over abductors

Because the adductors run inside your thighs, focus on exercising them over your abductors if your goal is to get a thigh gap (although genetics plays a role in this, so perfect adductors won’t guarantee this result).

You should also choose adductors over abductors to strengthen the groin area for sports that involve lots of direction change since adductors play a stronger role in “run-to-cut” actions like in soccer or hockey (source).

Groin pain (i.e. adductor strain) is one of the most common injuries athletes suffer (source) and a simple strain can turn into a career limiting (or even completely debilitating) chronic injury (source). To avoid this nagging pain, focus on adductors over abductors.

And choose adductor exercises over abductors for important things in daily life, like pushing a box of bottled waters down the hall while your arms are full of groceries/kids. Your abductors will help you stand upright on one leg, but your adductors will give you the control and strength to slide that heavy box of water down the hall with your other foot.

So, whether you’re an athlete that wants to get stronger and avoid injury, or you want to gain more confidence in the appearance of your hips and inner thighs for swimsuit season, you can make abductor and adductor exercises part of your regular leg day routine and choose which one to focus on depending on your goal.

And if you are short on time and don’t want to have to choose between an abductor or adductor machine at the gym, do exercises that do complex, multi-joint movements like the squat.  Just make sure you keep proper squat form, and if you need help, use an assisted squat machine to train your muscles.

But make sure you don’t overdue one versus the other. It’s important to keep both groups strong and balanced with each other to avoid injury (source).

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