Q and A: Training the Adductors

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Question #1: What are your thoughts on training the adductors with cables and ankle straps?

A:  It’s not a completely dumb idea (you can make an argument that everything has a time and place), it’s just a mostly dumb idea.

Question #2: Another trainer at my gym seems to do this here and there with his athletes lying on their back, legs spread eagle in the air with cables attached to the ankles and they open and close their legs.

I don’t do these exercises, and I covered one of his guys and he even said “I know you don’t usually train the groin/adductors, but have client A do this”.

To me it looks a bit silly, but then again I have my clients do cable pullthrough’s and every trainer starts cracking jokes about it. Wouldn’t single legged exercises automatically train the adductors to some extent? Is this enough?

A: First an anatomy lesson.  The adductors are actually more of a “complex” consisting of the adductor magnus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, pectineus, and gracilis. Sure their main role is, well, adduction, but some muscles also play a role in (breaking) hip flexion (pectineus and adductor brevis), as well as hip extension (adductor magnus…which is also called the 3rd hamstring), respectively.

In addition, and something that’s usually ignored altogether, are that the adductors (and by the same token, the abductors) are just as important in terms of frontal plane stability than they are in actually initiating movement.

In other words, particularly in single legged stance, the two – along with the quadratus lumborum –  form what’s called the lateral sub-system and are key stabilizers of the femur and pelvis in the frontal plane (controlling whether or not the hip hikes or the knee caves in).

Secondly, while I “guess” what you described above is a slight step above one of those archaic seated adductor/abductor machines (or, what I like to call the naughty/nice machines), why anyone would think that plopping someone down spread eagle style on the floor to solely train the adductors is beyond me.  Seems like a complete waste of time, actually.

Might as well grab a shake weight while we’re at at!

Also, training adduction (or abduction) alone ignores several key roles of muscles. Very few of them have only one function, so it’s borderline laughable to force them into a single plane of motion.  As alluded to above, when you move in the sagittal plane with free weights (in a single leg stance), you’re stabilizing in the frontal plane, but this isn’t present when you’re on the floor showcasing your unmentionables for the entire world to see.

I’d much rather see someone perform more “bang for your exercise buck exercises” like slideboard lateral lunges or a 1-legged RDL and actually train the adductors in a more “functional” manner.

Some other random thoughts:

1.  Utilizing machines (which force trainees into a fixed plane of motion) – as well as that spread eagle whatchamacalit described above – completely neglects the glutes, which is a mistake if you ask me.  Most people have woefully weak glutes, and going out of one’s way to ignore them is a disservice.

Now, of course, I have no idea what else he is doing with his clientele, and I have to assume he’s incorporating things like deadlifts, squats, hip thrusts, etc into the mix to target the glutes.  If so, great…..he’s a little less douchy in my eyes.

Even so, I just feel that there are so many other options at his disposal than what you described above.  Then again, it’s not the end of the world.  I’ve seen (and heard) worse.

2.  The adductor complex is a really grimy, nasty, dense area of muscle. In particular, with regards to athletes such as hockey and soccer players, there’s an increased risk of “sports hernia,” which generally manifests due to poor tissue quality in around the vicinity.  Adding even more stress and load to an area that’s already stiff/short/all sorts of FUBAR’d is just not a smart idea.

This is speculation, obviously, and definitely not set in stone as there are a lot of other factors involved….but an important point to consider.

3.  If he’s targeting the adductors, he better sure as shit be training the abductors, too.  The two groups co-contract in order to maintain frontal plane stability.  When one is dominating the other – in this case, the adductors PWNING the abductors (along with some other weaknesses), the positioning of the femur will be compromised, and as a result, the knee will cave in.

When working with athletes – particularly female athletes – this is important to note as significant adduction is one of the mechanisms behind ACL injuries (the other two being internal rotation and flexion).

All I’m saying is to be cognizant.  Training adduction isn’t wrong per se, I just don’t like the idea of going out of my way to train adduction all by its lonesome self.

I mean, some people think Nicholas Cage is an A-list actor. I think my toaster can out act him any day of the week.  To each his own I suppose.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Michael Richards

    Awesome!  Thanks for answering my e-mail, Tony!  

    April 12, 2012 at 10:34 am | Reply to this comment

  • Juliet

     HEYHEYHEY. Nicholas Cage is GREAT if...   ...you want to see the same role played over. And over. And over. With a monotone voice. And no talent.   Then he's fabulous.

    April 12, 2012 at 10:40 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jonathan

    hahaha i enjoyed the RDL video TG, but WTF was that music playing in your man cave??? Its Cressey's right?

    April 12, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply to this comment

  • Barath

    Laying into Nicholas Cage is all very well (and I approve completely, btw!), but when is the promised T-Nation article coming out? And is it about deadlifts? And if not, why the hell not?

    April 12, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kennet Waale

    Brilliant as always Tony. Great post! "spread eagle whatchamacalit" - HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

    April 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Reply to this comment

  • NW

    Don't be so quick to dismiss this exercise. This is a favorite of Tom Kurz for developing the side splits, especially for active flexibility in the side splits. This is of course important to athletes like gymnasts, martial artists, and dancers. 

    April 12, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

       NW - Of course they have a time and place - I suppose - if your sport/hobby/daily life consists of splits, then have at it.  Still, for the average gym goer, I can think of a numerous more conducive ways to train the adductors.

      April 12, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Lisa

    That might be the funniest Youtube clip I've ever seen!

    April 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Thrasher_09

    Hey Tony, One of my adductor muscles (I think magnus) is contracting instead of my hamstrings and glutes on the right side. It is very tight when doing any hip extension movements. I discovered that I have a weakness on that side and have been doing single leg rdls for the right side only. This has helped a fair bit but the area is still tight. I have heard the adductor can also compensate for weak hip flexors. Is this right? I have been foam rolling the beejesus out of my adductors daily and the right one continues to cramp up..

    April 12, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Adductor magnus is the 3rd strongest hip extensor, so you may be getting some synergistic dominance of the glutes and/or hammies are weak. Most likely a glute issue. I'd try to add in some more glute activation on the "bad" side, and see if that helps. Also, foam rolling will only take you so far. I'd HIGHLY suggest looking for a reputable manual therapist (massage, ART, Graston) to work on that puppy. It's definitely NOT a fun area to get worked on, but it stands to reason you'll need a professional to do so. Hope that helps

      April 13, 2012 at 7:24 am | Reply to this comment

  • sandiegopete

    Good stuff (as usual) Tony; I always like to point out that the adductors both extend and flex the femur in the sagittal plane and help control rotation of the femur in the transverse plane during the gait cycle; and the primary role of the abductors (gluteus medius) is to decelerate top-down pelvis-on-femur adduction when the leg is in mid-stance phase of gait.  therefore the SL RDL you demo is the perfect exercise to enhance strength/function of this complex with much higher carry-over than doing frontal plane ad/ab-duction movements with bands, pulleys, etc understanding what muscles do in the gait cycle helps develop programs that are specific to the function for locomotion here's a cool youtube that demo's http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tj0BhlVaYHk

    April 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Good Reads of the Week: Edition 7 | LaVack Fitness

    [...] Side-Lying Exercises – The Sports Physiotherapist Basics: Get Some – Tony Gentilcore Q&A: Training the Adductors – Tony Gentilcore 5 Coaching Cues: Deadlift – Tony Gentilcore Assess Movement, But Don’t Bother Palpating [...]

    November 27, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Good Reads of the Week: Edition 7

    […] Side-Lying Exercises – The Sports Physiotherapist Basics: Get Some – Tony Gentilcore Q&A: Training the Adductors – Tony Gentilcore 5 Coaching Cues: Deadlift – Tony Gentilcore Assess Movement, But Don’t Bother Palpating […]

    September 12, 2013 at 9:56 pm | Reply to this comment

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