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The inner thighs are not often thought of as a commonly used muscle throughout our everyday activities. However, these muscles are actually very important when it comes to most movements we perform both inside and out of the gym.
The inner-thigh muscles, aka adductors, mainly work to squeeze the thighs together, helping in hip rotational movements and flexion of thighs. Imagine a fan-shaped muscle on the inner thigh — those are your adductors.
Adductor overuse or strain can result in groin strains and hip pain. And the hip extensors, glutes and hamstrings are all directly affected by your adductor strength. Targeting these muscles will make a huge difference in your squats, deadlifts and Olympic weightlifting.
There are several specific movements that can strengthen these muscles to aid in closed-chain movements, such as the squat and deadlift, as well as single-leg stability.
8 inner-thigh exercises for strength and stability
1. Copenhagen Side Plank
A favorite of mine, the Copenhagen side plank, is a great way to load the adductor muscle. To begin, you’ll need a bench.
Lay on your side, perpendicular to a bench or box with an open frame. Push yourself into a side plank with one leg on top of the bench and the other leg under the bench, closer to the ground. Your elbow can either be bent under your shoulder or you can have a flat palm on the ground, depending on the bench height. Engage the adductor of your top leg and bring the bottom leg toward the bench. Hold for 5 seconds.
A bent knee on the bench will make this exercise easier, with the goal of transitioning to a straight leg position.
Perform 2 sets of 10 reps with 5-second holds at the top.
2. Frog Pumps
The frog pump is an excellent exercise to target your glutes, abs, and adductors. Begin sitting with the soles of your shoes pressed together and your knees fanning out. Gravity should bring your knees down to a comfortable range of motion.
From this position, pressing the soles of your sneakers together while keeping your midline engaged (think: ribs down), raise your hips off the floor. Hold for a 3-second count and slowly lower down.
Begin with 3 sets of 10-15 reps with a 3-second pause at the top. As this gets easier, add a weight across your hips to increase resistance.
3. Adductor Isometric Hold with Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Equipment: Foam roller
Laying on your back with your knees bent, place the foam roller between your knees. When you begin, think about contracting 50-75% of your max effort against the foam roller. As it becomes easier to engage and isolate these muscles, progress to 15 to 20-second holds.
After you’ve mastered this isometric contraction, you can transition into a single-leg glute bridge. With one foot planted on the floor, keep the foam roller between your knees, and initiate a contraction into the foam roller as you bring your hips and glutes off the mat. Hold this for a 2-second pause at the top, then slowly lower back down.
Ensure the leg that is not planted and does not go beyond the planted knee, as it will then begin to activate your hip flexor. Keep your midline in neutral throughout this activity in order to protect your spine and activate your posterior chain.
Perform 4 sets of 10-15 as tolerated without engaging your low back.
4. Eccentric Squats
Equipment: Resistance band
An excellent and underrated way to train your adductors is the squat! Grab a moderate to heavy resistance band and place it around the joint line of your knees. Gently press out into this band as you slowly begin to lower down. Keep your chest upright and your great toe and little toes planted down onto the floor.
Lower down for a three count, keeping your weight in your heels, then pause in the bottom for a three count, gently pressing out into the band. Stand all the way up at the top squeezing your glutes.
Perform this for 3 sets of 10-12 reps with control.
5. Sumo Deadlift
Equipment: Barbell and plates
Another great exercise for your adductors that can be performed with a barbell is the sumo deadlift. The difference between this exercise and the conventional deadlift is just hand and foot placement. With this lift, your feet are wide. Your arms should be inside of your thighs when gripping the barbell, hands are about a thumb’s width distance away from each other.
Keeping your shin vertical and the bar in close to you, lift the bar straight up to your hips as you would in a conventional deadlift. On the descent, bring the bar back down to the ground with control.
If you have never performed this lift before, I would begin with a light weight and focus on higher reps to build your form. After, you can begin to progressively overload this movement.
Perform 3 sets of 10, progressing to 5 sets of 5 over the course of 3 to 4 weeks as you build in weight.
6. Lateral Lunges
This exercise is a great way to target your inner thighs as well as challenge yourself in a different plane of motion (lateral as opposed to forward). Much like an anterior lunge, this movement requires you to keep your weight in your heels and your knee stacked over your ankle, while maintaining an upright chest.
Begin with your feet under your hips, stepping one leg out laterally, and sitting back into your hips. As you come out of the lunge. bring your feet back together and repeat on the opposite side. Begin this movement without weight to focus on form. As you get more comfortable, grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it close to your chest as you descend into a lunge.
Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps, progressing in weight as you’re able.
7. Slider Plank Jacks
Equipment: Set of sliders
In a plank position, place your wrists directly under your shoulders with your elbows fully locked out. Begin with your feet close together and the tops of your toes on each of the sliders.
In one smooth controlled, motion spread your legs as far out as you can control. The wider your feet are, the harder the exercise becomes. Maintain a neutral midline, keeping your back flat as you move through this exercise. Then slide your feet back together to complete the rep.
Begin with 2 sets of 10, progressing to 3 sets of 10. Make this a more challenging core exercise by adding a plate to your back.
8. Sumo Squat Jumps
For this squat jump exercise, begin with your feet wide in a sumo stance (as discussed above). Moving into a squat position, get explosive through your hips so that they are fully extended as you jump up and land with control back into your sumo squat.
As you begin to move through this exercise with control, you add weight by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell close to your body in the same way as a goblet squat.
Perform 3 sets of 10-15, adding weight as you’re able.