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Hip to Be Square

The hip adductors create stability in inversions and arm balances as well as in standing poses. Here's a primer on these little-known muscles.

By Julie Gudmestad

Grounding Your Legs
Since you now know where the adductors are, let's take a look at their action in yoga poses. To begin to feel this action, stand upright in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Place a block between your upper thighs, with the smallest faces pointing forward and back, and bring your feet as close together as you can without cutting off the circulation in your legs. You may notice that the presence of the block tends to make your weight roll to the outer edges of your feet.

Now press your inner thighs onto the sides of the block, feeling the firmness of the adductors as they perform this action. Make sure you are pressing evenly with your right and left legs. (Some people's adductors are stronger on one side, and this exercise is a wonderful opportunity to train the muscles for a more balanced action.) Also notice that as you press on the block, your weight becomes more evenly balanced between the inner and outer feet, and your legs ground firmly into the earth.

After holding this action for a minute or more, remove the block and re-create the same action in Tadasana with the inner edges of the feet touching each other. The action of the adductors will make your two legs feel like one—a strong, grounded foundation for the upward growth of your pose.

The adductors perform the same action in inversions such as Sirsasana (Headstand), Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Upward-Facing Tree Pose, more commonly called Handstand), and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand); in all of these poses, their job is to hold the thighs firmly together. This action can be difficult to accomplish if the adductors on one side are stronger than on the other, a problem commonly associated with scoliosis or a leg-length discrepancy.

It can also be difficult if you have a fairly common form of adductor-abductor imbalance in both hips: relative weakness in the adductors combined with relative strength and shortness in some of the abductors. (The abductors are the muscles of the outer hips and buttocks—the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae—that lift the leg out to the side.) To overcome such an imbalance, you can work to build strength in your adductors by regularly squeezing a block while standing or while lying on your back with your legs out straight. Performing this squeezing action in inversions will also strengthen your adductors; over time, try to increase the duration of your upside-down poses, all the while imagining you are pressing a block between your legs.

Your adductors will also be worked hard in some arm balances, including Bakasana (Crane Pose), Bhujapidasana (Shoulder-Pressing Pose), and Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose), because these postures demand that you squeeze your thighs strongly onto your upper arms.

Every Step You Take
Now let's get back to the question of why the adductor group is just about as big as the heavily used quadriceps. When you consider the adductors' action of squeezing or pulling the thighs together, activities that might come to mind (in addition to yoga poses) include horseback riding and swimming the breaststroke. But why do we all have such a large muscle group when many of us never pursue these activities? The answer lies in the fact that the adductors contract during every moment you stand, however briefly, on one leg—in other words, with every step you take. To bring stability to the leg and pelvis, help keep the pelvis level, and assist with balance as you stand on one leg, the adductors co-contract with the abductors.

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