The Benefits of Abductor Muscle Exercises

Leg lifts
Woman doing leg lifts in the park (Image: Kris Butler/iStock/Getty Images)

Abduction is the lateral movement away from the mid-line of your body. You can abduct your shoulders, wrists and hips, but when people talk about abductor muscles they are usually referring to hip abductors. Your hip abductors open your thighs out to the side and stabilize your pelvis when you walk or stand on one foot. Among other things, your hip abductor muscles help you walk, run, play sports, dance, get into and out of a car and get onto and off of a bicycle. Abductor muscle exercises help coordinate movements, improve functional fitness, enhance core stability and prevent injuries.

Improve Functional Fitness

Movement patterns require cooperation among multiple muscle groups and joints. Some muscles create the movement while others stabilize your body. Depending on the situation, your hip abductors may serve as movers or as stabilizers. The primary hip abductor muscles are the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor fascia lata. When one or more of these muscles is weak, your core stability will suffer and your pelvis may tilt to one side when standing on one foot. This will affect your ability to walk, run, step up or lunge. Strong abductor muscles improve functional fitness and prepare your body to perform well in any situation.

Enhance Core Stability, Balance and Posture

Many people assume that the core is made up of just the abdominal muscles. But, while your abdominal muscles are an essential part of your body’s core, your core technically includes all the stabilization muscles of the torso. Therefore, the muscles in your abdomen, back, hips and shoulders are all part of the core and must work together for core stability. Abductor muscle exercises help enhance core stability, which improves balance, posture and overall movement.

Prevent Injuries

When your abductor muscles are weak, you’re more likely to suffer from injuries -- especially in your legs. The biomechanic changes caused by weak hip abductors increases forces and friction on your knees, ankles and feet. Some common injuries that runners and athletes experience are patellofemoral pain syndrome, which causes pain around your kneecap, and Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, which originates along the outside of your knee and thigh. A study published in the journal, “Sports Health A Multidisciplinary Approach,” reported that weak hip abductors and decreased hip stability contribute to the high incidence of these injuries, among others. This study concluded that abductor muscle exercises may help reduce the risk of lower extremity injuries.

Hip Abductor Exercises

Exercises that strengthen your hip abductor muscles include side-lying hip abduction, standing hip abduction, side planks and side lunges. When you first start doing these exercises, use your own body weight. As you get stronger, you can add resistance in the form of weights or resistance bands. Exercises that force you to balance over one leg also work the abductor muscles. Start by standing on one foot. Once you can easily balance on one foot, add movements of the other leg and your arms. Work up to forward lunges, step ups and one-legged squats to further strengthen your abductor muscles. In the gym, the hip abduction machine provides an additional source of abduction exercise.

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