Abduction Exercises for Strength Training

Verywell Fit / Ben Goldstein

Abduction is the movement of a limb away from the midline of the body. While you do this every day without even thinking about it (when driving a car, for example), intentionally incorporating abduction exercises into your workout can help strengthen related muscle groups, making performing routine tasks easier while also improving your overall fitness.

The Importance of Abduction

Each movement you make can be described as front or back, moving away from or moving closer to a certain point, and being in one plane as opposed to another. A complete routine has exercises that target every muscle, every motion, and every plane of movement. This helps you increase your strength and it is the essence of functional training.

Abduction is just one of these types of essential movements. Raising your arms to the side, rotating your wrist so your palm is forward, kicking your leg to the side, moving your knees apart, and spreading your fingers and toes are all examples of abduction.

The muscles that produce abduction are called abductors. Some muscles have those terms in their anatomic name, such as the abductor pollicis longus of the thumb. However, most of the abductors, such as the gluteus maximus and the deltoid, do not include the term. The muscles commonly targeted by abductor exercises include the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, sartorius, and the tensor fascia latae (TFL) muscles.

Abductor muscles help you perform numerous tasks, from walking (hip abduction) to reaching (shoulder abduction) and much, much more.

Abduction vs. Adduction

While abduction relates to limb movements that go away from the body, adduction is just the opposite—moving a limb toward the midline of the body. The two terms sound a lot alike and it's easy to confuse them. (Remembering the other meaning of the word abduction, to take away, can help you tell them apart.)

Abduction and adduction complete a full movement. That means that doing one automatically means you'll do the other, giving your muscles equal attention. For example, when you split your legs and raise your arms to do a jumping jack, that's abduction. When you return your arms to your sides and put your legs together to return to start, that's adduction.

Abduction (and adduction) exercises can help prevent injuries. Muscles that are underused lose their strength (atrophy) and weak muscles are more prone to getting hurt. In some cases, trainers and therapists use these exercises to help people recover from injuries and decrease pain.

Abduction Exercises

Depending on which areas of the body you're focusing on, abduction exercises can improve everything from coordination to core stability. There are plenty of ways to make abduction exercises part of your workout routine. Try incorporating these moves:

  • Lateral raise: When you lift dumbbells with your arms straight out from your sides, the action targets the deltoid muscles with a shoulder abduction motion.
  • Bent arm lateral raise: With your elbows bent at 90 degrees, hold your dumbbells in front of you. Use shoulder abduction to rotate your lower arms so the dumbbells are parallel to the floor but still at about shoulder height. These raises work the muscles of your upper back (traps) and the deltoid muscles of your upper arms.
  • Standing leg lift: Kicking your leg out to the side works your hip abductors. Try performing the motion with a resistance band. You can do the exercise standing, to work on your balance, or perform it lying down.
  • Bent-over leg lift: A variation of the standing leg lift, you perform this with your torso bent forward. Doing this also works your glutes and makes the exercise more challenging.
  • Seated outer thigh step: Sitting in a chair, place a resistance band around your thighs, then move one foot out as if taking a side step. You can also add side squats (perform a squat using a side step) to work your glutes, hip, and thigh muscles, as well as those that support the knee.

A Word From Verywell

One of the great things about exercises to work the adductor and abductor muscles is that you don't need a gym to do them. You don't even need equipment. With proper form and a little space, these basic exercises can be done at home, in the office, or while traveling.

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."