In Attacking Limiting Factors: Hips, we introduced some simple exercises to attack your abductors and adductors on the 4 Way Physio Board. Great feedback has poured in over effectiveness of the movements from individuals in their garage gym to proprietors of S&C facilities. Nearly every email we’ve gotten has at least one clutch fisted curse for the adductor isolation we’ve prescribed. We also get much of the same feedback on the forums any day which CPT Morgan with Vertical Supports are programmed on Field Strong and our other programs.
Aside from a groin stretch or two, adductors are often a neglected component of training for most individuals. While majority of the big sagittal plane lifts activate the adductors to assist the primary movers, these muscles still need attention outside the squats and deads no matter what the athlete is training for.
The adductors consist of a group of 7 muscles (Adductor Brevis, Longus, Magnus, and Minimus, Pectinius, Gracilis, and Obturator externus) with the primary action of, you guess it, hip adduction. They are also players in assisting internal and external rotation of the hip, hip flexion, and hip extension. Like with any synergist muscle, it is impossible to know how much they’re involved until they’re taken away from you. Those of you that have experienced a groin injury and tried to squat know exactly what I’m referring to.
The real magic of strong, stable, and dynamic adductors is on display on Game Day of any field or court sport. Even though these muscles are not primary movers in sagittal plane plane sports such as Powerlifters, Olympic Lifters, and CrossFitters, they still hold a key to success in these arenas; especially if the adductors are over-active or weak!
This article will present adductor limiting factors that affect lifting and on field performance, as well as introduce new movements beyond the 4-Way Board to mobilize, stabilize, and develop strength in the adductors.
Every kinesiology book will list the actions of each muscle as isolated functions; including the primary movements, movements they are synergists (assist) for, and those they antagonize (counteract). Using the bicep as an example: Primary movement is elbow flexion, it assists with forearm supination, and antagonizes the tricep during elbow extension.
Most of the time during training or moving, muscles operate normally with each other hitting their isolated functions. But, other cases exist in which a muscle either over-does their isolated function or a muscle becomes a victim by association when they must go from synergist to primary mover because of a dysfunction.
This synergist dominance occurs because a primary mover becomes under-active, lengthened, or is too weak, and inappropriate muscles take over. When this takes place, lever length tension relationships of the muscles are altered which changes the movement pattern. This leads to altered muscle recruitment and possible joint pain or injury down the road.
You are all familiar with this phenomenon, especially when you see valgus knee during an athlete’s squat. An athlete’s adductors are taking on the weight of the squat for either the ABductors, hamstrings, or even the trunk which are not operating properly. The unfortunate reality is that this is how a majority of athletes new to training are getting their adductor work! This altered joint motion alters the neuromuscular function of the adductors which may not only lead to injury on field due to poor posture and position defaults, but it certainly adds unnecessary risk in training.
Dominance phenomenon must be understood before introducing the movements below. The fix of the above valgus knee will depend on the athlete, but I will say the answer is NOT ignore adductor work. Yes, they have strong groin muscles because it is clearly taking over, but you are responsible for correcting the faulty movement pattern that is being developed. Valgus or varus knees (Knee outside feet) are a recipe for an ACL or other knee injury, and the below movements will assist in correcting that movement pattern.
Attacking the Adductors
When applying the below movements, you need to look for quad dominance which will be clear when knee flexion occurs. The adductors may be too tight or weak for the desired actions, so the athlete’s quadriceps will become synergistically dominant changing the movement pattern. The movements below are designed to lengthen, strengthen, and prepare the adductors for force reduction and production out of the athletic position required for on field performance.
Leg Cradle Lateral Lunge with a Twist
One of my favorite warm ups for many, many reasons and needs to be included in any day you plan on changing direction during training. Here we are looking at some opposing action of the left and right legs, much like the athlete will experience during running or COD.
We initiate this movement with a leg cradle stretch with the lead leg and a straight trail leg on the ground. Keeping the trail leg locked, step the lead leg out into a toes forward, single leg athletic position pushing the hips back into the hamstring. Notice the knee of the lead leg is over the instep of the foot and the trail leg’s knee is locked, stretching the groin.
After the hips are set, the athlete rotates towards the lead leg, grabs the knee with the opposing hand and pulls into an exaggerated twist. As the shoulders separate from the hips, the hips and legs are locked into a position throughout twist and return to neutral. Keeping a locked trail knee, the athlete pushes off the lead leg and pulls with the trail leg’s adductors, finishing in a step up position.
Goblet Lateral Lunge
There are several ways to load up the lateral lunge, and this is the safest starting point when beginning to stress this movement pattern. Just like the movement above and below, we are combining Primal movements and stressing the athlete as their hips rotate through the Z-axis and X-axis. The athlete must focus on catching their foot is a solid toes forward athletic position and reduce the force of the weight while maintaining posture and position. After force is reduced, the athlete gets to produce force unilaterally, pushing off the bent knee leg and pulling with the locked, long leg adductors into a solid, knee up position.
Lateral Lunge with a Chop
Here we are challenging an athlete to move through all planes of motion practicing not only the force reduction/production challenges above, but also anti-rotation of the single leg, athletic position. A more challenging movement than appears, the athlete begins in a knee up, toe up position with the weight in the opposite hand. As the athlete makes contact with the ground with their lead foot, they twist at the trunk and try to get the dumbbell just through the legs, at calf height. Stopping the momentum of the weight and trunk rotation, they then push off the lead leg, pull with straight trail leg’s adductors, and curl the dumbbell to the starting position.
2 Position Athletic Position Adductor Slides
Now that the adductors were isolated, lengthened and strengthened, we can implement these into a dyanamic movement that will help challenge the athletic position and prepare the athlete for COD. Both adductors are going to get involved in this movement! Set up in your athletic position with a 5-10lb plate a step in front on the inside of your outside leg. Simply step the outside foot up and make contact with the plate. Maintaining a toes forward position, use both adductors to pull in opposite directions. One trying to pull the weight across the floor, and the other trying to pull the hips over the lead leg.
After getting both right and left with the plate in front, start with the plate behind and execute the same way. The plate in front puts more emphasis on the trail leg pulling the weight, and the plate behind puts more emphasis on the lead leg pulling the hips through space.
Shakira Empowers Performance
There is so much your athlete’s body is telling you, and from my experience, the hips don’t lie! Especially the adductors. Watch your athletes move through all planes of motion and look for the dominance phenomenon take place. If the valgus knee is consistent, this is usually an indicator of ligament dominance and pretty strong adductors. BUT, they may not be strong through the frontal plane or proper movement pattern, which all of the above movements are challenging.
The Leg Cradle Lateral Lunge Twist is a great place to start, along with Captain Morgans and IT Band Slow Twisting Kicks. Look for any of deviation from perfection in the straight leg challenged or the trunk in these movements. Once competency is established in the bodyweight/multiplane movements, begin to introduce the movements with external resistance.
While the isolation movements providing in the previous hip limiting factor article will begin to strengthen the adductors, the dynamic, full body movements above are necessary to bridge the gap from the Physio Board to the field. Remember, we are not just training the adductor’s isolated function. We’re training proper neuromuscular function of these muscles and preparing for the multiplane demands the athlete will face every time the step into their arena!
PODCAST: PA RADIO – EP 358: THE ACL EPISODE w/ DR TIM HEWETT
BLOG: 4 Way Physio Board by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: Attacking Limiting Factors – Hips by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: My ACL Journey by John Welbourn
BLOG: Now Your Daughter Doesn’t Have to Live in Fear of an ACL Tear by Tex McQuilkin
MS, CSCS, SCCC, CHES
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Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.
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