Hip adductors are like the assistants in movement to your quadriceps and buttocks. They are made up of five muscles -- the gracilis, adductor longus, brevis, magnus and minimus -- that work together to move your hip joints in various directions. Since they share many nerves and connective tissues with the muscles in your lower body and torso, all lower-body exercises engage the hip adductors at different intensities, even if you may not feel them work as hard as your thighs and buttocks.
Adductors Do More Than Adduct
Standard anatomy textbooks describe the hip adductors as the primary movers to adduct the hip joint and leg, or to move the limb toward the center of your body. However, these muscles function more as hip rotators and extensors than adductors. According to fitness professional Lisa Bonang, most of the adductors originate from the lower portion of the pelvis and wrap themselves around the femur into a groove in the back of the femur called the linea aspera. Therefore, contraction of the adductors occurs during hip extension, and internal and external rotation.
Train Movement, Not Just Muscles
Your hip adductors rarely function by themselves in sports and daily activities. Targeting only your hip adductors to strengthen your legs or to improve a specific sports skill may yield little to no benefits in athletic performance. In a study performed at the University of Delaware published in the September 2011 issue of "The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy," 20 female runners with excessive hip adduction during running were divided into two groups. The training group performed hip strength training with movement education for six weeks, while the control group continued to run with no strength exercise intervention. At the end of the study, the training group had stronger hips, but both groups had no change or improvement in hip and knee alignments. The idea that strengthening one muscle doesn't necessarily improve movement mechanics can be applied to any muscle -- including the hip adductors.
A typical, lower-body workout should consist of exercises that move multiple muscle groups together. They should resemble movement patterns that are common in many sports and activities. In a sample circuit-training workout, perform the following exercises that emphasize your hip adductors for 20 to 30 seconds each: front and back lunges, lateral lunges, step-ups, lateral hip swings and sumo squats. Rest for one minute and repeat the circuit one or two more times. This training method also improves your muscular endurance and hip adductor function while burning more calories in less time.
Exceptions to the Rule
Isolation training for your hip adductors may not improve how you move, but sometimes it's a necessary part of rehabilitating an injury. Exercises such as the side-lying hip adductor squeeze or standing hip adduction with an elastic band can help you gradually progress to more complicated and functional movements, such as kicking and running. An Illinois State University study that was published in the August 2013 issue of "Journal of Sports Rehabilitation" showed that isolation exercises, such as the ball squeeze and the side-lying hip adduction, had greater adductor activation than sumo squats and other typical hip adductor exercises.