Adduction vs. Abduction Exercises: Which Are Better?

Woman performing side plank with leg lift

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You may not have heard the words adduction and abduction when it comes to your fitness routine. But the two types of exercises involve staple movement patterns that you're familiar with, in or out of the gym: Moving your limbs towards and away from your body. "The names sound similar and can easily be mixed up," says S10 Training instructor Kristina Centenari. "Here’s a trick to remember the difference: 'add-uction' is made up of the word 'add.' When you bring your limbs away from your body by abducting, you have to add them back into the center of your body by adducting."

These movements are the foundation for many exercises, so understanding the difference between adduction vs. abduction can help you incorporate the moves into your next sweat session. Below, trainers explain each movement, the benefits, and exercises you can try on for size.

Meet the Expert

  • Zach Bergfelt is a Pilates instructor at Onyx.
  • Kristina Centenari is an instructor at S10 Training in New York City.
  • Jackie Dragone is a Pilates- and TRX-certified instructor at Onyx with a degree in biomechanics and anatomy.
  • Melina Vlahos is a Pilates-, ISSA-, and ISS CSN-certified instructor at Onyx.

What Is Adduction?

Adduction is a movement pattern where a limb is coming in towards the midline of your body, says Jackie Dragone, a Pilates and TRX instructor at Onyx. Hold your arm out to the side, then lower it back down to your side. That's adduction! And it isn't just a movement that you do in everyday life. There's also plenty of adduction-focused exercises to drill in the gym so you can soak in the benefits of the movement pattern during your workout and beyond.

The Benefits

Adduction exercises are popular for a reason: There are tons of perks that come with incorporating them into your workouts.

  • It can boost balance: Many adduction exercises (often those focused on the hip) require single-leg balancing positions, says Dragone. The result? Better balance overall.
  • It supports mobility: Having strong and flexible hip adductor muscles is crucial to getting around with ease, says Onyx Pilates instructor Zach Bergfelt. This is especially true for the frontal plane movement (think side-to-side motions), adding Centenari. "Whether you’re waving down a taxi, snagging an extra item in the Trader Joe’s check-out line, or stepping out of the way of a pothole, being able to move side to side effectively is a crucial human function," she tells Byrdie.
  • It improves functional strength and stability: In addition to all the big muscles that help you move, you also stabilize muscles. These are smaller muscles that help support bigger movements and hold your body upright so that you're able to safely and comfortably be in motion. And working those little muscles can help boost strength and stability throughout your body whether you're lifting weights, running, or even standing in place, says Centenari.
  • It increases body awareness: Understanding the difference between adduction and abduction can help you be more attuned to how your body moves. And that heightened awareness can go on to elevate training of all kinds, says Centenari.

Types of Adductor Exercises

Give adduction a try in your fitness routine with trainers' favorite exercises below.

  • Pull-ups
  • Jumping jacks
  • Copenhagen planks: Find a side plank position. Then put your top leg on top of a weightlifting bench. Lift your bottom leg off the ground to bring it closer to your midline. Hold.
  • Standing hip adduction: Lift your right foot slightly in front of the left. Squeeze your inner thigh muscles to press your right leg across your body towards the left side of the room. Repeat on the other side.
  • Single-leg lateral lunge: Step your right leg out to the side and squat into your right knee. Keep your left leg straight. Push off your right heel to return to your original position, then repeat on the other side.
  • Side-lying inner thigh lifts: Lay down on one side with your head in your hand. Bend your top knee and place that foot flat on the ground in front of your bottom shin. Then squeeze your lower inner thigh to lift the bottom leg and down a few inches. Repeat on the other side.

What Is Abduction?

Abduction is the opposite of adduction, says Onyx instructor Melina Vlahos. It involves moving limbs away from the midline of your body rather than towards it. Let your arm hang by your side. Now lift it. Boom: Abduction. And like adduction, there's plenty of exercises to work the muscles that help you perform abductive movements so that you can build strength, mobility, and more throughout your body.

The Benefits

Abduction exercises share many of the same perks as adduction, despite the opposite motion.

  • It can boost balance: There are also plenty of abduction exercises that require balancing on one leg, which Bergfelt says can improve your balance.
  • It supports mobility: Like adductive moves, abduction exercises mimic everyday side-to-side motions to equip you better to handle those movements in daily life, says Dragone.
  • It improves functional strength and stability: Abduction exercises likewise work all the little muscles that help keep you stable and functional. "When it comes to becoming functionally strong, you need to strengthen both the inner and outer muscles, as everything in the human body is connected and works together," says Vllahos. "For example, you can’t raise your arms to your side (abduction) without then lowering them down (adduction)."
  • It increases body awareness: Knowing the ins and outs of this movement pattern will give you physical consciousness that supports better training all around.

Types of Abductor Exercises

Work some adduction exercises into your next gym session with these moves from trainers.

  • Clamshells: 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. Repeat on the other side. 
  • Lateral leg raises: Shift your balance into your right foot. Flex your left foot and squeeze your upper leg to extend that leg to the side. Return to your starting position and repeat on the other side.
  • Lateral squat walks: Find a squat position and hold it while you take three steps to the right, then three steps to the left. Throw on a resistance band for an extra challenge, says Centenari!
  • Fire hydrants: Start on all fours. Keeping your right knee bent 90 degrees, lift your right leg straight out to the side until your knee comes in line with your hip. Lower and repeat on the other side.
  • Side plank with leg lift: From a side plank position, lift and lower your upper leg.
  • Lateral dumbbell raises: Pick a pair of weights that works for you. Keeping your elbows soft, lift your arms out to either side. Stop at shoulder height, then lower and repeat.

Abduction vs. Adduction

When it comes to adduction vs. abduction, the main difference is in the direction of the movements: Towards the body vs. away from it. But there's no reason to pick between the two, says Vlahos, since the benefits of both exercises overlap and contribute to full-body strength, mobility, stability, and more. "Abduction and adduction movements and exercises should be everyone’s best friend when it comes to creating a successful training program, specifically when it comes to hips and glutes," she tells Byrdie. "These two together will dial you in."

And how much you do of each exercise depends on what you're trying to accomplish, though a balance is best, says Centenari. "It depends what your fitness goals are, but generally, we want to train both functions equally," she explains. "Many of us tend to favor abduction exercises but don’t sleep on your adductors as they are equally as important."

The Takeaway

Adduction and abduction movements are two sides of the same coin: Adduction exercises involve bringing your limbs towards the midline of your body, like with inner thigh lifts, while abduction exercises involve moving your limbs away from your body, like with side leg lifts. Both movement patterns can help strengthen your muscles, improve your balance, and build stability and mobility throughout the body. Therefore, incorporating both types of exercises is key to a well-balanced training program.

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