Abduction vs Adduction, Compared And Explained + 9 Exercises To Try

Although most people don’t spend nearly as much time or attention strengthening the muscles responsible for shoulder and hip adduction and abduction, these movements are still important for functional movement. 

In this article, we will discuss abduction vs adduction and how to strengthen the muscles that abduct vs adduct the shoulder and hip.

We will cover: 

  • What Are Abduction and Adduction?
  • What Is Abduction?
  • What Is Adduction?
  • What Muscles Are Involved In Abduction vs Adduction?
  • The Best Abduction and Adduction Exercises

Let’s get started!

A person on a leg abduction machine at the gym.

What Are Abduction and Adduction?

Adduction and abduction exercises are considered a form of lateral training because both movements of the body occur in the frontal plane.

The frontal plane can be visualized as a pane of glass that divides your body into a front section and back section so that you have your face, chest, and stomach on one side and your back, butt, back of your head, etc., on the other side. 

You can view abduction and adduction in the frontal plane from a front or back view of the body, meaning that you can observe someone doing an abduction exercise or an abduction exercise if you are facing them head-on or standing behind them.

Both abduction and adduction are movements that are described in relation to the midline of the body, or an invisible line running down the center of your body, splitting your body down the center into a right and left half.

How a limb moves in relation to the midline of the body determines whether you are performing adduction vs abduction.

Kinesiologists, personal trainers, biomechanists, and other exercise professionals use something termed “anatomical position“ to serve as a baseline starting position of the body from which other movements can then be described.

In anatomical position, the body is standing upright, feet shoulder-width apart, facing straight ahead, and arms at your side with your palms facing forward. From the anatomical position, any body movement, including abduction and adduction, can be easily described and understood.

A person doing a lateral raise at the gym.

What Is Abduction?

Abduction occurs when the limb is moved away from the center of your body.

In anatomical position, your arms are normally at your sides. With shoulder abduction, you would raise your arms out to either side, away from the midline of your body, as if forming a giant letter T.

With right hip abduction, you would move your right leg out to the right, away from your other leg.

The normal range of motion for shoulder abduction is 150 degrees, while the normal range of motion for hip abduction is 40 degrees.

What Is Adduction?

Adduction is the inverse movement of abduction. It involves moving a limb toward the midline of the body.

After you have abducted your shoulder out to the side to form the letter T, you can adduct it and bring it back into the anatomical position so that it rests along the side of your torso.

You can also adduct a limb directly from the anatomical position. This involves moving the limb toward the midline of your body toward the limb on the opposite side.

For example, to adduct your right hip from the anatomical position, you would shift all of your weight onto your left leg, lift your right leg up, and bring it across your body towards the outside of your left foot.

Then, to return that leg to the starting position, you would abduct the hip.

The normal range of motion for shoulder adduction is 30 degrees, while the normal range of motion for hip adduction is 20 degrees.

A person standing with their arms by their sides.

What Muscles Are Involved In Abduction vs Adduction?

The primary muscle groups responsible for shoulder abduction include the supraspinatus in the rotator cuff muscle group, the deltoids in the shoulder (mainly the middle portion), the trapezius in the upper back, and the serratus anterior.

The main muscle groups responsible for hip abduction are located in the glutes and lateral thighs, such as the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae. The muscles that assist these prime movers for hip abduction include the piriformis, sartorius, and superior fibers of the gluteus maximus.

The primary muscle groups responsible for adduction in the lower body are the adductors, which are the muscles that run along the inner thigh. The adductor muscle group includes the adductor magnus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, as well as the gracilis.

Adduction of the shoulder is primarily controlled by the latissimus dorsi, the large fan-shaped muscle that spans the length of your entire back, stretching from shoulder to shoulder, and then tapering down where it attaches to your spine. The trapezius also contributes to horizontal shoulder adduction.

Since the terms sound so similar, it is often difficult to remember how to remember which movement is abduction vs adduction.

One cute way to remember adduction vs abduction is to associate abduction with being abducted by aliens. Your arms would come out to the sides as if you were being pulled up into a UFO. 

For adduction, you are “adding“ the limb back to your body after it has been displaced out to the side.

A person doing a pull-up.

The Best Abduction and Adduction Exercises

Although we tend to live most of our lives in a front-and-back direction—walking forward, sitting forward, etc.—we do perform several everyday movements that occur in the lateral direction or frontal plane, such as stepping your leg out to the side to get out of a car, reaching your arm out to the side to put something on a shelf, sidestepping a rock on a trail, etc. 

Keep in mind that abduction and adduction workouts help strengthen your muscles in the frontal plane, providing greater stability and balance to your joints and decreasing the risk of muscular imbalances and subsequent injuries.

Here are some of the best exercises to strengthen the hip and shoulder abductor and adductor muscle groups:

Exercises for Shoulder Abduction: Dumbbell or Resistance Band Lateral Raises

A person doing a banded lateral raise.

The easiest way to target the muscles involved in shoulder abduction is to perform lateral raises with dumbbells, but if you don’t have access to weights, you can also use a resistance band with handles. 

For resistance band shoulder abduction, stand on the center of the band and hold each of the handles at the end of the band in each hand. Keeping your core tight, raise your arms out to the side like a giant letter T. 

If the resistance of the band is too strong to do both arms simultaneously, either use a lighter resistance band or perform unilateral shoulder abduction, alternating one arm at a time.

With dumbbells, tighten your core, retract your shoulders and keep your chest up. Your spine should be neutral. Inhale, raising the dumbbells out to the sides of your body, again forming a capital letter T.

Slowly lower the dumbbells back down. Perform 10-12 reps.

Exercises for Shoulder Adduction: Lat Pull-Downs, Pull-Ups, and Straight-Arm Pull-Downs

A person doing a lat pull-down at the gym.

There are several exercises that are effective for shoulder abduction, including pull-ups, lat pull-downs, and straight arm pull-downs. Performing all of these exercises in your routine will be the best way to provide well-rounded functional strength to your upper-body adduction muscles.

If you aren’t yet strong enough for full-pull-ups, start with lat pulldowns using a lat pulldown machine or resistance band attached to a pull-up bar. Really focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and engaging your lats to draw your arms down and in toward your body (to adduct vs abduct the arms).

You can also use an assisted pull-up machine or resistance band looped under your knees or feet to make it easier to perform pull-ups while you build strength in your lats, upper back, and shoulders.

Exercises for Hip Abduction: Clam Shells, Side-Lying Leg Raises, and Banded Lateral Walks

A person doing a side lying leg raise.

Any exercise that involves spreading your legs out to the sides strengthens the hip abductors. Good examples are clam shells with a resistance band, side-lying leg raises with or without ankle weights, and lateral resistance band side steps.

Exercises for Hip Adduction: Side-Lying Leg Abduction and Curtsy Lunges

It’s not particularly easy to strengthen the adductors in the legs. Curtsy lunges and side lunges are good options, and you can also lie on your side with an ankle weight, bend one knee out in front of your body, and then lift the leg that is lying on the floor (knee straight) up as high as possible.

Even though most strength training routines focus on flexion and extension exercises, such as split squats, deadlifts, curls, push-ups, etc., it is also equally important to include abduction and adduction exercises in your workout routine.

Although the list of abduction exercises and adduction exercises is certainly not as expansive as those for flexion and extension, this is largely due to the fact that only the shoulders and hips are targeted with abduction and adduction training. 

Remember, if you don’t deliberately work on strengthening the muscles that control shoulder and hip adduction and abduction, you can develop muscle imbalances that can cause injuries both during athletic activities and everyday movement patterns.

If you are looking for more exercise options to add to your strength training to perform total body workouts, check out our Complete List of Compound Exercises.

A person doing a banded hip abduction.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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