What You Should Know About Abduction Exercises

Exercises that move a limb away from the midline

strength training
Getty Images/John Fedele

What is meant by abduction exercises, and how do they benefit your muscles and fitness? The term abduction means moving a limb away from the middle line of the body. Its opposite motion is adduction, which is moving a limb towards the middle line of the body.

An easy example is raising your arms from your sides. Since it moves away from the midline of your body, that motion is abduction. When you drop your arms back down to your sides, it is adduction.

The two terms sound a lot alike when you say them, and it's easy to confuse their spelling. You might use the other meaning of abduction to remember it, as abduction would be to kidnap or take away.

The muscles that produce abduction are called abductors and the muscles that produce adduction are called adductors. Some muscles include those terms in their anatomic name, such as the abductor pollicis longus of the thumb, but most of the abductors do not, such as the gluteus maximus and the deltoid.

Abduction Exercises

Abduction is something your body does all day long. These motions include raising your arms to the side, rotating your wrist so your palm is forward and thumb to the outer side, kicking your leg to the side, moving your knees apart, and spreading your fingers and toes.

Abduction exercises can be a part of your exercise routine. Those movements are included in these exercises:

  • The lifting phase of a lateral raise: Lifting dumbbells with your arms straight out from your sides targets the deltoid muscles with a shoulder abduction motion.
  • Bent Arm Lateral Raise: Your elbows are bent at 90 degrees, holding dumbbells in front of you. You use shoulder abduction to rotate your lower arms so the dumbbells are parallel to the floor but still about at shoulder height.
  • Standing Leg Lift: Kicking your leg out to the side can work your hip abductors. You can do it with a resistance band. Doing it standing can also help you work on your balance, but it can also be done lying down. Another variation is the bent over leg lift, adding even more of a challenge when you bend your torso forward and then perform the leg lift.
  • Seated Outer Thigh: Sitting in a chair, you use a resistance band around your thighs and move one foot out as if taking a side step.
  • Side Squats: Doing a squat with a side step.

Using Abduction Exercises in Your Training Program

Each movement you make can be described as front or back, moving away or moving closer, being in one plane as opposed to another plane. Knowing the basic movements of your body, including abduction, gives you more insight into both your body and your workout. You always want to have a complete routine with exercises that target every muscle, every motion, and every plane of movement.

When you know what those movements are, you're better able to make sure you're taking your body through every motion so it's strong and fit no matter which way you're moving around every day.  And that is the very essence of functional training.

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