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Home Health Fitness Abduction vs Adduction: What’s the Difference

Abduction vs Adduction: What’s the Difference

The terms abduction vs adduction denote movements of the limbs and other body parts (like the eyes). It’s a range of motion from the centerline of the body – the midline.

The first time I came across the terms abduction and adduction was during my second year at campus. And no, I wasn’t enrolled in one of those medical courses where the study of human anatomy is inevitable.

I was an anthropology student. And I (like most of us) initially thought that the study of such topics was in medicine or biomechanics. How wrong I was. We will discuss how I came to learn about abduction vs adduction later.

Since then, I have had numerous chance encounters with these body movements. I’ve heard it in the gym, while watching workout videos, in the emergency room, and in a chiropractor’s room.

You make these movements without even knowing it. Don’t believe me? Well, it happens every time you flag down a cab, wave goodbye to your girlfriends after a girl’s night out, or sidestepping to avoid a puddle of water on the street.

There’s a lot to know about adduction and abduction. So read on as we go on a journey of discovery.

The Low-Down

The actions of muscles on the human skeleton are described using anatomical words to articulate movement. Muscles contract to bring about motion in the joints, and the activities that follow may be clearly defined using such language. Thus, abduction vs adduction.

Body movements often come in pairs, with one opposing the other: Flexion vs. extension, abduction vs. adduction, and lateral rotation vs. medial rotation. The terminologies presume that the body starts in the anatomical posture. And these antagonistic movements are opposites of each other.

Abduction and adduction are angular body movements. This means a range of motion is achieved by changing the angle between the bones of a joint. These are synovial joints.

But what exactly is abduction or adduction? Why should you know about them? And how do they affect the way we exercise?

In this article, we strive to answer all these questions and more.

What is Abduction?

Abduction is an anatomical term that refers to the lateral motion of the limb. The movement goes away from the midline of the body. The best example of abduction in action is when doing band walks.

It is also called a lateral monster walk; it is a warm-up routine that uses abductors to strengthen several muscles.

What about Adduction?

If you haven’t guessed just yet, adduction is the opposing motion. Here, instead of the limb moving away from the midline, it moves towards the body or across the midline.

For instance, bringing together spread fingers, drawing your arms to your chest, and making your knees touch are all ways you can see adduction in motion.

Are There Any Similarities?

There are differences between these two types of motion, but do they have anything in common? Well, in as much as the two-body motions are opposite, they do have some similarities. For instance, they both occur within the coronal plane.

They also involve medial-lateral movement of the thumbs, toes, fingers, and limbs.

Is Abduction and Adduction Important in Exercise?

Anatomy is significant in exercise physiology. This basic understanding of musculoskeletal function enables professionals in the fitness industry to know how exercise influences structure and form.

There is a shortage of expertly trained and academically certified exercise physiologists. There is a lucrative job market for athletic trainers, physical therapists, professional gym instructors, and it’s never too late to become a video fitness guru.

Where are Abductor and Adductor Muscles Located?

Arms and Wrist

When raising your hand at the shoulder laterally in respect to your midline, the movement is abduction. Likewise, bringing the arm down back to the body’s side represents adduction.

To see this in effect, visit a sports park or local gym. Anyone conducting Jumping Jacks shows adduction and abduction in motion.

Next time you’re standing in front of a mirror, stand up straight and place your arms to your side. Then, swing your hands upwards to your shoulders level or to the top of your head (whatever tickles your fancy). As your hands move away from the midline of your body, abduction occurs.

Now, try standing upright with your hands to the side, then move your hand toward your body at the wrist. What you experience is adduction. Although commonly referred to as ulnar deviation, this motion is due to the action of adductor muscles.

Abduction of the wrist, moving the hand at the wrist from the body, is also known as radial deviation.


Also called thigh abduction or adduction, the legs move away or towards the body’s centerline. In a bid for perfectly aesthetic glutes, we often conduct side-lying leg raises. When you elevate your leg away from the midline, that is abduction.

Adduction is when you add the leg back to the body.

Fingers and Toes

You are all familiar with that uncomfortable feeling that arises after taking a stroll barefoot along the beach. The sand creeps between your toes, and you find yourself getting a little wiggling going. Well, this, too, is due to abduction vs adduction.

Abduction occurs when you spread your fingers or toes apart. Adduction sees you bringing them together towards the center of the hand or foot, respectively.

The thumb moves a little bit differently. Abduction makes it move forwards anteriorly, and adduction of the thumb is when it’s added back to the hand.


In adduction, the right eye shifts towards the center of the face and looks to the left. Institution, the left eye moves away from the centerline of the face, looking to the left – an act of abduction.

In short, when one eye is abducted, the other adducts in normal eyes ( it might not be easy to tell with cross-eyes).

How to Make Use of Abduction vs. Adduction in Your Daily Workout

With a little bit of homework, you can achieve muscle building, body toning, and injury prevention. Knowing the function and purpose of abductor and adductor muscles ensures you incorporate these movements into your exercise routine.

Where you’re a self-certified fitness buff or a novice just getting started, here are a couple of workouts you can try.

Lateral Dumbbell Raises ( Shoulder Abduction and Adduction)

  1. Stand tall with your feet at hip-width
  2. Take a dumbbell in each hand with offline facing your body
  3. Take a breath
  4. As you exhale, raise and fully extend your arms to the side (kind of like a T)
  5. Slowly lower back to your sides, and repeat

For the best form, engage your core, lift the dumbbells during exhales and lower them when you inhale.

Sumo Squats (Hip Abduction)

  1. Take a stance with your feet wider than the width of your hips
  2. Turn your feet outwards at an angle
  3. Clasp your hands at the chest, push back your hips, and squat

A variation of a standard squat. To retain a good form, keep your back straight, lift your upper body and push through your heels while engaging your inner thighs.

The wide stance gives you stability and strength during every squat, which helps you work your hip abductor muscles.

Jumping Jacks

  1. Stand tall with your feet together
  2. Place your arms on the sides
  3. Jump up and spread your legs widely as you sweep your arms out and over to the top of your head
  4. Land on the balls of your feet, and repeat step 3

Incorporating jumping jacks into your daily workout routine makes an excellent form of cardio. Try alternating long and short rest intervals with maximizing benefits to a broad range of muscles in your body. There is both upper and lower abduction and adduction.

Why Should I Learn About These Body Movements?

Anatomy and physiology teach the fundamentals of human morphology. It aids in the clarification of essential concepts about how our bodies work. But where do you apply such knowledge in the real world?

As it turns out, there are numerous areas of application. I know it all sounds technical, like something that belongs on the walls at the doctor’s office. But contrary to popular belief, you use these body movements every day.

Anyway, here’s why it’s essential to learn about these body movements.

Gain Background Knowledge for Career

For people with aspirations to work in medically inspired professions, background knowledge of human anatomy and physiology is vital. Doctors, nurses, first responders, physiotherapists, and even dentists require a basic understanding of abduction vs adduction.

Support another Study Course

Remember how I learned about abduction and addiction from an Anthropology class? We were learning how to reconstruct past activity patterns by studying musculoskeletal stress during a physical anthropology class.

Well, some humanity courses at university involve studying the fundamental concepts as to how our bodies function. For example, one learns the theoretical aspects of body movements like abduction or adduction.

This background knowledge may come in handy during research. For instance, people taking up chemistry can use this information for pharmaceutical research, biology majors can use it to study other species.

Promote Personal Health

Having a basic knowledge of musculoskeletal functions can help you avoid medical conditions like synovitis.

You  can take care of your health better when you know how your body functions,

Medical professionals keep track of movements like abduction vs adduction to help in assessing and diagnosing a patient’s health. It also makes it easier to evaluate a patient’s condition so doctors can give the correct treatment at the same time.

Learn how to Exercise Properly

Whenever we work out, we use a plethora of our body’s muscles and joints. You should exercise in the right way without straining your musculoskeletal system.

I run every day (it helps me start my day),  but I stretch before and after my regimen. And because I know a bit about these body movements, I pay them extra attention to avoid strain.

Physical trainers, sports coaches, kinesiologists, yoga instructors, and even video fitness gurus need to be familiar with the abduction vs adduction range of motion. This enables them to provide the best advice to those they lead and supervise during workouts.

A Little Something Special…

Bubble butts are all the rage right now. At the gym, you are sure to spot countless women doing hundreds of squats to achieve the buff butt. If you go to the gym, here is how you, too, can get a bubble butt.

Go for the abductor machine. For newbies, an abductor machine is one where you sit with a cushion placed against each outer thigh.

When you spread your legs, the cushions move outwards, engaging your outer thighs, hips, and butt. Amp up the challenge and create some resistance with extra weight.

Check out workout videos on social media platforms to see how sexy it looks doing this exercise.

Incorporate this workout with squats, step-ups, Romanian deadlifts, and kettlebell swings, and you will be slaying in your jeans in no time. However, “Stay away from this machine if you have bad knees,” says Bianca Vesco, NYC-based fitness trainer.

Final Take

We use our adductor and abductor muscles every day in a variety of activities. Other than the medical field, knowledge of abduction vs adduction will enable you to supervise or conduct exercise training and workouts that are safe without limiting one’s range of motion.

If you have tried any of the above exercises with success (especially that ‘butt machine’), I would love to hear of your experience (a couple of curious minds would too). Kindly share in the comment section below. Questions are also welcome!


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