The problem with training the adductor is applying a significant enough force to the muscle to get it to strengthen. We can do a lot of things to turn it on but for most of us, this is muscle that needs to gain a tremendous amount of strength in order to hold us into single leg stance, which means we need to put some real force into it.
The Copenhagen Plank is one way that a lot of Strength and Conditioning Coaches use to directly strengthen the adductor but as I noted in this article, it's not exactly functional. The "Big 3" of single leg stance (adductor, hamstring and abs) need to work together on the same side. In the Copenhagen Plank, the abs are fighting your adductor and that's not very helpful.
Let's take a look at four, FUNCTIONAL ways to train the adductor.
1. Side-lying Adductor Pullback: This exercise, championed by the Postural Restoration Institute, is about as direct of a hit on your adductor as any exercise on the planet. Here is a quick tutorial from a good friend of mine, Neal Hallinan, who has reached expert status in the wide world of PRI.
You may be asking, "but Sean, you just said that we need to put a tremendous amount of force into the adductor to strengthen it." Well thank you so much for your great observation but this very well may be a tremendous amount of force for you. Chances are, if you get down and do this exercise right now, you will be inundated with adductor activation.
I would call this starter strength. If your adductor has little to no juice, start here. It's functional, effective and there is zero chance that you don't feel it.
2. Split Squat: The first bomb I want to throw out here is that I NEVER bilaterally squat. Like the Copenhagen Plank, it is not functional. If this is new information to you, please take a second to read this article explaining why I don't Squat, Deadlift or Bench. If you value health or performance, please appreciate your anatomical asymmetry.
To train your adductor, you have to be in single leg stance. In a split squat, you have to actively pull your contralateral hip towards the ipsilateral knee. For example, if you are doing a left legged split squat (left leg in front), actively pull your right hip towards your left knee. This will turn on the adductor. Now your job is to challenge this position.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in the split squat is opening their hips which immediately takes the adductor out of play. It's a cheap, short-sighted attempt to lift more weight right now with no regard for long term success. Don't let the hips open for short term satisfaction.
3. Single Leg Stance Anti-Rotation Press: I created this exercise with zero intention of getting the adductor as much as it does but as luck would have it, this crushes the adductor.
Just like the split squat, you get into great single leg stance and challenge it. You should be able to feel your hamstring, adductor and abs all working together to keep you in single leg stance. Once you start losing one of them, the exercise is over.
Here is a clip from the 4A Health Club where I cover the basics of this exercise.
4. Shut 'em Off!: Maybe the biggest hurdle to really building effective adductors is getting them to shut off when they aren't supposed to be working. If I'm doing a left-legged split squat, my right adductor should be turned off. Getting this to happen is easier said than done but one easy way to start is with a little RNT. Get into position and put the "should be off" adductor into a bit of a stretch. In this picture below, I am using a resistance band to turn the glute on at the same time. The glute is in charge of propelling you off one leg and onto the other, so I'm killing two birds with one stone here.
Ultimately, you want to build your way up to integration with the adductor. It is supposed to work in conjunction with the ipsilateral hamstring and ipsilateral abdominals. Muscles simply do not work in isolation, so strengthening them that way is not the approach you want to take.
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