When it comes to building an impressive lower body, you tend to focus on the quads, hamstrings, and glute muscles. But certain muscles remain out of sight and mind even though they have a direct effect on your lower-body muscles’ performance. Enter the adductors.
Many lifters neglect their adductors, and if you’ve felt tightness on your inner thighs, then chances are you have, too. The good news for you is that a small tweak to a couple of traditional exercises will mobilize and strengthen this oft-forgotten muscle group.
To help you sieve through all the adductor moves available, we dive deep into the benefits of training your adductors, how your adductor muscles function, and provide a list of the five best adductor exercises.
Best Adductor Exercises
- Single-Leg Glute Bridge
- Cossack Squat
- Lateral Lunge to a box
- Copenhagen Side Plank
- Rotational Med Ball Scoop Toss
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Single-Leg Glute Bridge
This hip extension variation trains the adductors of the straight leg while simultaneously reinforcing hip extension, which mimics movements like deadlifts and hip thrusts. Plus, squeezing the foam roller (or a medicine ball) ensures hip extension is coming from the glutes rather than the lower back. The single-leg glute bridge a great low-intensity exercise that can be used as a warmup or as a filler drill between strength moves.
Benefits of the Single-Leg Glute Bridge
- This exercise teaches you what true hip extension feels like as it creates an intense contraction in the glutes.
- It strengthens glute imbalances between sides.
- The foam roller or medicine ball provides the lifter feedback on proper hip extension technique.
How to Do the Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Lie face up on the ground with a foam roll or medicine ball between the legs and feet of the ground. Squeeze and straighten one leg. Come up into hip extension while keeping the object in place by engaging your adductors. Slowly lower toward the ground and repeat for reps.
Make sure you feel this in your adductors and glutes and not the lower back. Try three sets of eight to 12 reps on each leg after your main strength movement for the day.
The cossack squat trains both the adductors and abductors — which move your legs inward and outward, respectively — in the frontal (horizontal) plane. It’s great to train the body to move in different directions since most strength exercises occur along the sagittal (vertical) plane. This exercise is a perfect warm-up exercise before leg day. If you’re feeling strong and comfortable enough, feel free to add weight in the form of a kettlebell or a dumbbell.
Benefits of the Cossack Squat
- Strengthens the leg muscles on one side of your body and mobilizes the adductor on the other side.
- It helps to improve lateral movement.
How to Do the Cossack Squat
Begin with your feet wider than hip-width apart with both feet pointed forward. Then shift your weight to one leg and hinge your hip back as you stay upright. Only go as far down as your hip mobility allows because you’ll feel a stretch in your adductors. Push your foot through the floor and stand up to the starting position.
The cossack squat challenges hip mobility, so only go as far down as your body allows. This is not a maximum strength exercise, so don’t go crazy with weight. Three sets of eight to 12 reps should suffice.
Lateral Lunge to a Box
If your hip mobility is limited, you may and find the Cossack squat too difficult. The lateral lunge to a box is the perfect regression. Stepping on to a low box not only makes the lunge slightly easier but allows you to gain more range of motion in the working hip and a larger stretch in the adductors in the non-working leg. You’re not only strengthening the adductors but improving hip mobility too.
Benefits of the Lateral Lunge to a box
- The lateral lunge to a box allows for more range of motion than the regular lateral lunge and improves the strength and mobility of the hip complex.
- Trains the glute muscles, which is important for hip and knee health.
- A longer range of motion for more muscle-building potential.
How to Do the Lateral Lunge to a Box
Stand perpendicular to a low box and about a foot away. Assume an athletic stance with a soft bend in the knees. Take a lateral step to the box, and hinge back into the working hip while keeping your chest up and opposite leg straight. Sink into your working hip as much as you can and pause for a second. Push through the foot and stand with your feet together again.
Don’t go crazy with the height of the elevated surface. Six to eight inches is fine. You can perform this unloaded for a warm-up exercise for 10 reps on each side or load it up as accessory movement for your squats and deadlifts for two to four sets of eight to 15 reps on each side.
The Copenhagen plank involves maintaining a side plank where the top leg attempts to adduct — or move in — against a bench. You should feel your oblique engage further to maintain stability while maintaining adductor stability. The great thing about this plank variation is you can regress and progress by changing how much of your top leg is on the bench to suit various strength levels.
Benefits of the Copenhagen Plank
- It strengthens the adductors that play a crucial role in your overall hip, knee, and back health.
- This plank variation can be easily progressed and regressed depending on your strength levels.
How to Do the Copenhagen Side Plank
Get into a side plank position and place the top leg on a bench (either ankle or knee) with the bottom leg under the bench on the floor. Push yourself up using your non-working arm and lift the hips until your body is in a straight line. Keep the lower leg off the floor and engage your glutes and hold for time or breath.
Changing the lever on this exercise (knee or ankle on the bench) makes this easier or more difficult. Make sure to engage your glutes, actively press your elbow (or hand) into the ground and keep the body in a straight line. Instead of trying for time, do 3-5 breaths on both sides.
Rotational Med Ball Scoop Toss
Any rotational medicine ball throw variation will do here; this scoop toss is an example of many. This exercise is a great starting point if you’ve never done rotational throws before. Medicine ball throws are a lot of fun and can add power to your training. Plus, it trains the internal and external rotation of the hips, which if you don’t use it, you will lose it.
Benefits of the Rotational Med Ball Scoop Toss
- Targets the ability to rotate powerfully, which is needed for sports skills that require you to hit, throw and change direction.
- Trains the neglected movements of hip internal and external rotation.
- Easy power training exercise that adds fun to your training.
How to Do the Rotational Med Ball Scoop Toss
Stand side on close to the wall in an athletic base position while holding a medicine ball at waist level on the hip furthest away from the wall. With a soft bend in your arms and knees, rotate to the back hip and load it. Then, rotate explosively with the hips, throw the medicine ball into the wall, catch and go back to the starting position, and repeat.
Choose the medicine ball’s size wisely because if you go too heavy, you’ll end up training strength, not power. Make sure you’re generating power from your back hip (internal rotation) and not your arms. Perform this before your strength training for two to three sets of six to eight reps on both sides.
All About the Adductors
The adductor muscles’ main role is to adduct (move toward the midline of the body) the hips and thighs. The adductors muscles play a synergistic role as they support the hips and quads’ prime movers to help get you out of the bottom of the squat and help keep your knees in line with your toes.
Other important functions of the adductor muscles:
- Hip flexion
- Hip internal and external rotation
- Hip extension
- Pelvis stabilization
- Knee flexion
The adductors play a vital supporting role in your lower body’s health and strength through all these movements just mentioned. If your adductors are either tight or weak, it may have performance repercussions in the gym and activities of daily living because lack of hip flexion and hip mobility will affect your ability to squat, deadlift, and run,
Anatomy of the Adductors
The adductor muscle group is made up of five muscles, which are:
- Adductor Brevis: adduction of the thigh and plays a role in hip flexion.
- Adductor Longus: adducts the thigh at the hip-joint and plays a role in the flexion of an extended thigh and the extension of a flexed thigh.
- Adductor Magnus (including the adductor minimus): the largest of the five muscles and is a strong adductor of the thigh and assists in hip extension.
- Pectineus: the most anterior adductor of the hip and enables hip flexion and adducts the thigh at the hip joint.
- Gracilis: the thin, flat muscle on the medial surface of the thigh. It’s the only muscle in this group that crosses the hip and knee joints. It is a weak adductor of the thigh but a strong hip flexor and internal hip rotator.
This group of muscles of the medial thigh primarily performs adduction and plays a role in stabilizing the pelvis and assisting with good posture. The adductors originate on the pubis and ischium bones (bottom of the pelvis) and insert on the medial posterior surface of the femur (thigh bone).
The Benefits of Training the Adductors
Strong, stable, healthy adductors are necessary for optimal hip extension, and they help keep the knees in line with the toes during squats, especially at the bottom of a squat. Here three other important benefits of strong and mobile adductors.
Training the adductors directly may better prevent groin strains. And if you’re an athlete competing in a sport that requires you to sprint or change direction, adductor strength should be one of your priorities.
A review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015 concluded that hip adductor strength was one of the most common risk factors for groin injury in sport. (1)
One study on professional ice hockey players found that they were 17 times more likely to sustain a groin injury if their adductor strength was less than 80% of their abductor strength. (2)
Hip Extension and Flexion
Your hips flex and extend during many common movements such as jumping, sprinting, squatting, and deadlifting. Tight or weak adductors reduce the hip range of motion, which means the hip will not go into full extension, therefore slowing you down. Having explosive full range of motion hip extension is one of the differences that separate good athletes from great athletes.
The glutes and hamstrings are the primary hip extensors, but the adductor magnus (largest adductor muscle) also assists with hip extension. If you’ve ever felt like your adductors are sore after a brutal leg day, now you know why.
Improve Rotational Power
The adductors’ ability to rotate the hips internally and externally is directly related to rotational power. So, athletes whose sports require rotational power to perform well will benefit greatly by strengthening their adductors. Here is a short list of sports where the main movement is either a swing or throwing motion, both of which are inherently rotational:
- Tennis (and any other sport that uses a racket)
- Hockey (both ice and field)
- Football (specifically the quarterback and special teams)
How to Warm-up Your Adductors Before Training
Mobilizing the lower body will hit the adductors because all the lower body muscles work in unison when performing bodyweight moves such as lunges, hip extensions, and squats. Before any workout involving the adductors, you’ll want to foam roll your hips. You can refer to our best foam roller exercises for hips video below:
More Adductors Training Tips
Now that you have a handle on the best adductors exercises to strengthen your legs, you can also check out these other helpful hip training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are adductors?
The adductors are a group of muscles on the inside of the thighs, and their main function is bringing the legs together and turning the hips toward the midline of the body.
They originate on the pubis and ischium bones (the bottom of the pelvis) and insert on the medial posterior surface of the femur (thigh bone).
How many muscles make up the adductors?
The adductor muscle group is made up of these muscles:
- Adductor brevis
- Adductor longus
- Adductor magnus (including the adductor minimus)
- Pectineus: the most anterior adductor of the hip.
- Gracilis: the thin, flat muscle on the medial surface of the thigh.
- Obturator externus: the muscle that covers the outer surface of the anterior wall of the pelvis.
Why do athletes need strong adductors?
Strong, stable, healthy adductors are necessary for optimal hip extension, they help to keep the knees in line with the toes during squats (especially in the bottom of squats), and they can help to prevent groin strains. In fact, one study found that disproportionately weak adductors increased an athlete’s risk of injury by seventeen times.
Adductors are also crucial for rotational power, so athletes in sports that involve swinging (like golf and tennis) or throwing (like football and baseball) should not neglect adductors.
A sore or tight groin may be an indication of weak adductors.
- Jackie L Whittaker, et al. Risk factors for groin injury in sport: an updated systematic review. Br J Sports Med 2015; 49:803-809
- Tyler TF, et al. The association of hip strength and flexibility with the incidence of adductor muscle strains in professional ice hockey players. Am J Sports Med. 2001 Mar-Apr;29(2):124-8.
Featured image: Undrey/Shutterstock