It's time for a fitness vocab lesson. Today's words are adduction and abduction. Understanding these practically identical terms can go a long way toward helping you fine-tune your form, avoid injury, and train efficiently.
“It’s really easy to confuse the two, but knowing the difference between adduction and abduction exercises can help you train better,” says CJ Hammond, CPT, trainer for RSP Nutrition and owner of sports performance gym Fit Legend. “They both use muscles that help in other, more complex movements—and by knowing how to work the two, you can make your strength and alignment more powerful.”
Meet the experts: Noah Neiman is the head trainer and co-founder of Rumble Boxing, with decades of fitness industry experience. CJ Hammond, CPT, is a trainer for RSP Nutrition, and owner of sports performance gym Gym Legend, where he works on incorporating scientific-integrated programs within his workout routines. Ashley Joi, CPT, is a Los-Angeles based trainer and featured trainer on Chris Hemsworth’s Centr app.
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Ready to finally get these two terms straight? "The words adduction and abduction refer to the movement of body parts either toward or away from the midline of your body (or your torso),” says Noah Neiman, CPT, co-founder of Rumble. “For example, sticking your leg out is an abduction muscular movement (pulling away), while the act of drawing that same leg back toward the body would be an adduction movement.”
Here, trainers explain the difference between abduction and adduction, how to incorporate these exercises in your routine, and all the benefits of training with abduction and adduction in mind.
What is abduction?
Imagine that a line runs from the center of the top of your head, all the way down to the floor, in between your feet. This is what fitness pros refer to as your midline, which is basically just the center of your body, Hammond explains.
Any movement in which you pull one or both of your legs or arms away from this midline and out to the sides is considered abduction, he says. When you’re raising your arms and jump your feet out wide in the first part of a jumping jack, for example? That's abduction.
Unsurprisingly, muscles that help your body perform abduction movements are called abductors.
For your legs, for instance, "the abductors are key contributors to stabilizing the hips," Hammond says. In addition to powering movements in which you move your leg out away from your midline, these muscles (which are located on the outsides of your hips and include some of your smaller glute muscles) also keep your hips and knees in the proper position throughout all sorts of exercises—including even walking.
In this move, your deltoids (located at the tops of your arms) function as abductors, helping you to raise your arms out to the sides and up to shoulder-height.
What is adduction, then?
If you haven't guessed just yet, adduction is simply the opposite of abduction.
Picture that jumping jack again. After you've finished the first half and pulled both your arms and legs away from your midline, you've got to pull 'em back in so you land with your feet together and arms at your sides. This—and any movement that involves pulling one or both of your arms or legs in towards the center of your body—is adduction, Hammond explains.
While your hip abductor muscles, for example, are located on the outside of your hips, your adductor muscles are located on the inside (think: inner thighs), he says.
If you're picturing that inner-thigh machine at the gym (yes, it's called the hip adductor machine!), well, same. But that's not the only move that works these muscles.
Sumo squats, for example, also target your hip adductor muscles as you work to maintain strength and stability while squatting with a wider-than-usual stance, says Joi.
There's an easy way to remember the difference between abduction and adduction.
Ready for a quick, simple trick that'll finally make the distinction between abduction vs. adduction stick?
"Adduction" has the word "add" in it, Hammond says. When you add, you're bringing things together—and when you do a movement that involves adduction, you're bringing one or more of your limbs "together" toward your midline. Boom!
3 Best Abduction Exercises
Shoulder (Lateral) Raise
- Stand with feet hips-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides and palms facing in.
- Roll your shoulders back, engage your core, and look straight ahead as you raise your arms a couple inches out to each side, and pause.
- Lift the dumbbells up and out to each side with arms almost completely straight, stopping when your elbows reach shoulder height and your body forms a "T" shape. Breathe in as you lift.
- Pause and hold for a second at the top of the movement.
- Exhale as you lower the weights slowly (take about twice as long as you took to lift them), bringing your arms back to your sides. That's one rep. Neiman recommends three sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Overhead Dumbbell Press
- Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand, at the shoulders, with an overhand grip. Thumbs are on the inside and knuckles are face up.
- Exhale as you raise the weights up above the head in a controlled motion.
- Pause briefly at the top of the motion.
- Inhale and lower the dumbbells to the shoulders. That's one rep. Neiman recommends three sets of 15 to 20 reps.
Pro tip: Neiman recommends adding both types of movements to your workouts at least three times a week.
- Lay down on one side with your head in your hand. Bend your knees and place the inner arches of your feet together.
- Lift your feet while keeping your knees grounded on the floor. Open the top knee like a book. That's one rep.
- Repeat on the other side. Neiman recommends 20 reps on each side.
3 Best Adduction Exercises
- Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Raise your arms up straight out in front of you at chest level with palms facing each other.
- Extend arms out to the sides, until your arms are fully extended. Keep arms at chest level the entire time.
- Bring arms back to center. That's one rep. Neiman recommends three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
- Start with hands gripping the pull-up bar approximately shoulder-width apart, with your palms facing forward. With your arms extended above you, stick your chest out and curve your back slightly. That is your starting position.
- Pull yourself up toward the bar using your back until the bar is at chest level, while exhaling.
- On your next inhale, slowly lower yourself to the starting position. That's one rep. Neiman recommends three sets of as many as you can do with a 1 minute rest in between.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands at sides.
- Take a big step to the right, then push hips back, bending right knee and lowering until right knee is bent to 90 degrees. Keep your left leg straight.
- Push off the right heel to an upright standing position. That's one rep.
- Repeat on the other side. Neiman recommends three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Benefits Of Abduction And Adduction Moves
By now, you've realized it's not just a fun vocab lesson, and abduction and adduction moves are important for your overall fitness and in daily life. Here are a few of the perks that come with them:
Better range of motion. Investing in both equally is what helps with mobility, according to Neiman. The key is working through abduction and adduction moves together. Neiman recommends doing both for the same amount of time. “Simply put: The more varieties in which you train your body, the more mobile you’ll be. This is especially important when talking about hip mobility, which is the epicenter of our bodies.”
Training variety. When you work in abduction and adduction exercises, you're naturally adding contrast to your routine. “In order to have a strong and healthy body, it’s important to train all movement patterns,” Neiman says.
More functional strength. Benefits of both abduction and adduction exercises include increased strength. They also help with body awareness and boost balance as you slowly (yet steadily!) adjust to the moves. All that adds up to noticeable gains especially lifting heavier weights.
Healthy joints. “Training adduction and abduction exercises for the hip compound is integral for healthy flexion of the hip, and can even contribute to healthy lower back, knee, and neck movement,” says Neiman.
The bottom line: Abduction refers to a movement in which you pull one or both of your arms or legs away from the midline of your body. Adduction involves pulling one or both of them toward your midline.