Check out Nick’s latest article on STACK and learn all about the importance of training the anterior section of the glute and internal rotation for better hip health and performance: The Forgotten Hip Muscle
If there is one thing that I’ve seen since coming into the fitness industry over 12 years ago, it’s the growth in the knowledge of the need for more specific glute work with a large number of people out there living today. Poor glute function often leads to an overworked low back and/or aggravated knees along with less than optimal movement quality. The fact that more and more people are becoming aware of this is great; however, there are other players around the hip and leg that are also very important to take care of, and in my opinion, a specific group of these often gets sad because they are not addressed and not included often enough in the conversation. While strengthening the glute muscles is great to help keep the outer hip solid, people often forget that there is a VERY LARGE section of muscle on the INSIDE of the hip and thigh. Bring on the adductors!
Have you ever felt that thick tendon that shoots down a bit from your pelvis? That’s your adductor tendon and it just so turns out that there are adductor muscles above that tendon called your adductor longus, adductor brevis and pectineus. The floor of your adductors, your adductor magnus, lays below this tendon and is really like a fourth hamstring if you look at it close enough. The gracilis runs along the path of all of these and is sometimes referred to as part of this group of friends. They all attach at various points on your pelvis and run down varying distances along your femur (your thigh bone), with the exception of the gracilis, which runs all the way down past the knee to your lower leg. All of these muscles work together to bring the hip and leg towards the midline of your body, while those higher up adductors help to flex the hip (move it towards your head) and the floor of the adductors (magnus) helps to extend the hip (move it away from your head). In some cases, the magnus can even extend the hip better than the glute. Many of them work together to help rotate the hip. As you can see, these guys cover a lot of ground. That being said, wouldn’t it make sense to do some direct training to strengthen them? In many circles, direct adductor work is often written off since the exercises aren’t “functional.” While the TRUE function of these muscles is to help stabilize the pelvis and control the knee with compound movement, how do we expect them to be able to fully contribute if they are too weak to do so. Furthermore, if the adductors are too weak, how can we expect the glutes to do their job optimally, since these guys work together for so many movements and activities? I think a lot of people are missing a pretty important part of the equation!
If we take it one step farther, many of the adductor exercises that you do see out there don’t always directly target them and involve a host of other muscles contributing to the overall movement, or require some kind of complexity to get the coordination down to actually be able to perform the movement. So, with this article, I’d like to show you A. Exercises that do their best at DIRECTLY targeting the adductors in either an extended hip position or a flexed hip position, B. Exercises that allow you to target them in a straight forward and easy manner and C. Exercises that specifically target the adductors moving the femur (thigh bone) in the acetabulum (hip joint) and an exercise that specifically targets the adductors moving the acetabulum over the femur, which are both necessary functions that should be trained.
While compound, multi joint movements should absolutely be the priority in a good training program, some direct exercises for specific muscles can go a long way in making those compound movements that much more effective. Here are a few of my favorites for bring up those lagging adductors that you might have:
- Supine Bent Knee Band Adduction
- With this exercise, we are training WHILE IN HIP FLEXION. Lay on your back and get your hips and back squared up on the floor. Put the band over one knee and while keeping your pelvis and back solid, move your thigh in towards your midline (adduct) against the band tension, starting from a stretched position with band tension from the beginning. Pause for a second at the midline and then control the movement back out to the beginning. 2 to 3 sets of anywhere from 8 to 20 reps works great here.
- Elevated Adductor Raise
- With this exercise, we are training WHILE IN HIP EXTENSION. Lay on your side with your hips on a bench; place your top foot on another bench lined up straight across from you. With your trunk and hips lined up straight, raise the bottom foot up to the bench under the top foot and pause for a second before lowering back to the floor. These also work great for 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 20 reps. For all of these, it works well to go from 15-20 reps for a couple of weeks down to 8 to 10 for a couple of weeks.
- Sidelying Pullback
- While the first two exercises are great to work the adductors from a neutral position, these are great to train the adductor while in a specific pelvic position (left or right stance). Additionally, the first two examples are training the femur (thigh bone) moving in the acetabulum (hip joint), while this exercise is training the acetabulum to move over the femur prior to moving the femur in the acetabulum. This is how the hips actually work when we do full body movement on our feet. For the purpose of this example, we will be laying on our right side and training the left adductor. Lay on your side with your pelvis and ribs lined up. Be sure that your low back is not extended. Place a pad between your thighs. Inhale as your pull your top knee behind your bottom knee, then exhale as you push the top knee down into the pad. Pull back farther and squeeze down again for the next 2 breaths. Once you can no longer pull back any farther, reset and start over. Note: When you pull back, your back and hips should remain square; it is a “scissoring” motion, not a “rolling back” of the hips. Eventually, you can progress to variations performed in different postural positions, such as on your feet. Thank you to Postural Restoration Institute for this gem.
- Check out this bonus video of an effective way that we like to use the old school “Thigh Master” to target specific adductor fibers.
Give these exercises a shot and build some fresh muscle, potentially decrease your risk of groin pulls and improve the strength and performance of your entire lower body.
When it comes to skeletal muscle, our bodies contain different types of muscle fibers. Generally speaking, there are slow twitch and fast twitch fibers. Slow twitch are more geared towards endurance and low force activities like a marathon run while fast twitch are more geared towards fast, high powered, high force and shorter duration activities like a sprint. Different muscles throughout the body will generally be composed of more of one than the other. Furthermore, different people will genetically have more of one than the other.
While fast twitch can technically be divided to multiple different subsets, the two main subsets agreed upon by most are type a and b; with type a known as fast twitch oxidative. Fast twitch oxidative fibers have some good potential for good force and power output while still having the capability to assist with endurance activities. Through specific training, we can manipulate them to develop their oxidative potential to a certain extent. (or manipulate them the other way if that is the goal). By developing this oxidative potential in the weight room, these fibers can benefit an endurance athlete to a greater extent outside of the weight room. In addition to this, while most endurance athletes seem to grasp the concept that slow twitch fibers are utilized heavily with their runs or their bike rides, many don’t realize that they can be developed and trained in the weight room. How do we do this? The answer is Tempo Lifting.
While there is more than one way to do this, I will discuss a method we have been using with a former elite long track speed skater now turned competitive cyclist. I took a lot of this specific programming idea from sports scientist legend Yuri Verkhoshansky and his “Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches” and adapted it how I needed to for the task at hand.
Using the Yoke Squat as our main exercise, we will do the following for the first and key part of the training session on one day in the current programming phase.
In 1 series, he’ll hit a set of 15 to 20 slow tempo squats (currently 3 seconds down and 3 seconds up) to tap into his slow twitch fibers and get some hypertrophy out of them, followed by a set of 20 to 25 explosive squats to tap into his fast twitch oxidative fibers in order to prepare his body for the pace changes that can occur in a race. This is done for 3 series in his current program. There is 90 seconds rest between sets and 3 to 4 minutes rest between each series (of 2 sets). The weight for the explosive set is lighter than the slow tempo set.
To hit the oxidative fibers, we need enough resistance to require the body to utilize the fast twitch fibers (need to tap into their larger motor neuron) but also enough time with that resistance to tap into the oxidative side of things. The multiple series of the high reps with enough resistance and the explosive nature of the reps is a recipe to make this happen. So within these series we accomplish a few good things that are race specific:
1. We get some slow twitch hypertrophy (muscle growth) to help with their resiliance during the course of the race
2. We get some fast twitch oxidative development to help the slow twitch fibers on their journey and to help with the turbo boosters that will be needed at various points of the race
3. We train our bodies and muscle fibers to be more resiliant, stronger and more adapative to the tempo, intensity and pace changes that will inevitably occur through different stages of an actual race.
He follows this up with prowler pushes used in a similar manner. Trip 1 is slower paced followed up immediately by Trip 2 at a sprint pace. This is done for 5 to 6 sets. This is then followed by different accessory exercises such as glute ham raises and static inverted row holds.
His other lifting day in the program is focused on max strength and speed strength, which are also very important to any endurance race enthusiast though also often overlooked. He then has multiple bike days where we will develop specific energy systems and their subsets depending on the stage we are in leading up to the race. We can cover more on these other qualities in another article.
The goals for this article are to make you aware that we can develop and train slow twitch and the oxidative capability of type a fast twitch fibers in the weight room to help performance in that next race. Check out the videos below of Liam hitting his squat sets.
Explosive/Fast Twitch Oxidative Squats
Are you getting the most out of your race performance? Train with a purpose!
Note: It is essential that you have a decent strength training base built up before diving into something like this. You should know how to squat with proper movement/form and should have a decent level of general strength built up. Also, Liam is an elite athlete and can handle the workload and volume discussed. Those at a lower training level might not need as much. This is where the individual coaching comes into play 🙂