3 Hip Adductor Exercises that will Change your Life

adductor muscle pain adductor stretch adductors hip adductor exercises Apr 08, 2024
Hip adductor exercises

The hip adductors make up a third of your leg. That’s a lot of muscle!

A muscle group with this kind of size will make a big impact on how your body moves and feels. Weak and stiff adductors will make movements feel effortful and uncomfortable.  

But you might skip this muscle group in your training. Especially if you don’t have access to an adductor machine and don’t work with an experienced trainer. 

Allow this article to serve as a PSA on why that is a mistake. I’m not going to argue that you need to spend hours every week isolating the adductors in your exercise program.  

But I am going to tell you that you need to target this muscle group in some capacity if you want strong, healthy, and resilient legs. 

This doesn’t require much effort, but it does require some. I’m a big believer in identifying what the minimum effective dose is in exercise. Exercise should improve our life and not interfere with it. 

In this article, I’ll share some advice on how you can target the adductor muscle group with the least amount of effort and time. 

Hip Adductor Complex – Function & Anatomy

The hip adductors are a group of muscles located in the inner thigh. There are conflicting views on which individual muscles make up the adductor group. 

Most sources agree that there are 3-5 primary adductor muscles. This includes the adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, gracilis and pectineus muscles.

The most important thing to remember in respect to function is that these muscles help bring the legs together. Anytime you move your leg inward, toward your body, you are engaging these muscles. This movement is called adduction. 

When you move your leg away from you, you are stretching the adductors. This movement is called abduction.  

Adductor Muscle Pain

I work with a lot of students that suffer from hip pain. A third of them have symptoms in the outside of the hip, another third have pain in the adductor and inner thigh region and another third have pain in both areas. 

So, it’s common to have pain in this area of the body. The key to feeling better is understanding whether your pain pattern is acute or chronic. 

Acute pain is a short-term injury that is the result of some traumatic event. It’s typically obvious why and when it happens.  

For example, you drink a little bit too much tequila and decide to do a side split even though you never did one in your life. The second you try; you feel an intense and awful pain in your inner thigh. 

In contrast, chronic pain is a long-term pain pattern that is not associated with any single event. Most people usually report that it comes out of nowhere, and then progressively gets worse over time.

Unlike an acute injury, there is no obvious single trauma that causes chronic pain to develop.  

If you struggle with either and are looking for a way to jump start your recovery, I recommend checking out my free hip starter course.

In that course, I provide 5 great exercises to get you feeling and moving better right away.  Click below to learn more. 

Acute pain requires rest and rehabilitation once the injury heals. Sometimes it’s as simple as allowing enough time for the body to heal and fully recover. 

If the same injury keeps reoccurring however, then it would be wise to troubleshoot what weaknesses and imbalances in the body might be causing the same injury.    

Chronic pain is a different beast. There is usually a lot more going on with the brain and nervous system with these types of pain patterns.  This is why building a foundation of pain education is of the utmost importance to start improving. 

To feel better from chronic pain, you need to understand chronic pain.

If you feel like that’s you, I recommend checking out my Master the Pain-Brain eBook where you will learn the most critical concepts in pain science. Click below to learn more. 

Let’s provide some specific examples to help illustrate each of these categories. 

Adductor Strain and Adductor Tear

An adductor strain is an example of an acute injury. Strains usually occur when a muscle is loaded more than it is capable of. 

This loading can be volume or range of motion. In other words, a strain in the adductor can occur because the adductor is too weak or lacks enough range of motion for the activity that caused the strain. 

An adductor tear is a similar injury to a strain but is more severe. In both scenarios, the muscle is loaded too much but when the load is extreme, the muscle can tear. 

Since both of these injuries cause acute pain, the preferred course of action is the same. Give the body adequate time to rest and recover.  Which of course means to avoid any type of exercise or activity that loads the adductor. 

Once the strain or tear fully heals, then it is time to troubleshoot the adductors to see why they might be susceptible to these types of injuries. 

If the pain lasts longer than the time your doctor told you it would, you might be entering a chronic pain-pattern. 

Chronic Adductor Pain

If you have inner thigh pain that lasts longer than a few weeks or months, even if it was originally caused by a strain or a tear, you are likely experiencing a chronic pain pattern. 

A common diagnosis that people get when they have adductor pain without any clear muscle damage is adductor tendinitis. 

But a diagnosis of tendinitis does not really do much for you. I’ll share an experience I had when I was still in college. 

I was only 19 or 20 years old but was starting to get really annoying knee pain every time I played basketball.  

I never had joint pain before so my parents recommended I see an orthopedic surgeon. I see an orthopedist in our town and the first thing he does is ask his technician to do an X-ray on my knee. 

After about 20 minutes of waiting in an exam room, the doctor comes in and tells me that it’s tendinitis. He recommends RICE (rest, ice, compress and elevation). 

But this didn’t make sense to me. It only hurts during and after basketball. So I told him this and asked him what I should do.  He said “stop playing basketball.”

I didn’t know it back then but this was my introduction to the medical field’s incompetence in dealing with chronic joint pain. 

Orthopedic surgeons are trained to discover abnormalities on X-rays and MRIs and treat them with surgery. 

They are not trained to help people in chronic joint pain feel better. This is true if the pain is in the adductor, outer hip or low back. 

Chronic pain, even if there is some type of abnormality on an X-ray or MRI, is a product of how we move, think, feel and behave. 

It’s incredibly important to understand this if you’ve been dealing with your pain-pattern for many months or years.  

To learn more about how to improve chronic pain symptoms, I recommend checking out my Master the Pain-Brain ebook

The below exercises are intended to strengthen and lengthen your adductors, not to “fix” a chronically painful adductor. 

Please keep that in mind as you experiment with them. 

The only 3 Hip Adductor Exercises you need

The below 3 exercises are all you need to increase strength and length in your adductors. This is true unless you have some very specific goal like doing side splits or getting super high side-kicks. 

The only way to get better at those skills is to practice them and adding some specialty drills targeting that specific skill. 

The exercises below are geared for people who are looking for general improvement in their lower body strength and flexibility. Having strong and flexible adductors will have a ton of carry over for just about any sport and physical activity you engage in. 

Dynamic Adductor Raises

  • Perform 1-2x everyday, preferably once in the morning and once as a warm up before a cardio or strength workout. 
  • Perform 2-3 sets for 10-15 reps per side.
  • This is not an exercise for balance. Hold on to something if you feel too wobbly when performing the exercise.  

Heel Elevated Goblet Squat 

    • Start with VERY low weight (about 25% your bodyweight). 
    • High reps is key here. Start with 3 sets of 15 reps and try progressing to 3 sets for 30 reps.
    • Perform 1-2x a week,. 
    • Elevate your heels as much as necessary to get the back of your thighs to make complete contact with your calf. 
    • Do your best to keep your spine neutral - a little "butt-wink" is ok. 

Standing Adductor Stretch 

  • Perform once a day, preferably after workouts or in the evenings to wind down. 
  • Perform 1 set for 30-60 seconds on each side. 

Closing Thoughts 

As the great Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius once said: “do less, better.” 

Squats done with full range of motion will adequately strengthen and lengthen your adductors. To maintain that range of motion, dynamically and passively stretch your adductors on days you don’t workout. 

One thing I always emphasize to those learning from me is to be very clear on what your goal is.  

As explained above, you will not fix chronic pain symptoms with the exercises in this article. No exercise can do that for you until you have a proper foundation of pain education. 

On the other hand, if you want more strength and flexibility in your adductors then this is really all you need.  With exercise, simple but effective exercises done consistently over months and years is the true way to progress.