The adductor/abductor machine: a scam aimed at women

Just what we need — a machine that wastes our time AND lets gross guys check out our junk all at once!

Back in my early years as a baby gym rat, I used to make a point to hit the abductor/adductor machine at least twice a week.  I thought that by doing a few sets of each, I could slim down the outside of my thighs while whittling away the parts of my inner thighs that touched.  (Mind you, this was before I learned to apply critical feminist analysis to matters of body and fitness.)

It didn’t matter how much weight I put on the machine, though – I never saw a difference.  My legs always looked the same – shapeless, kinda lumpy, not at all muscular, not even close to what I thought they should look like.   But I persisted…hell, I persisted well until *small voice* the last couple of years.  But in my defense, I didn’t know any better.

I finally consigned the abductor/adductor machine to the dustbin of my personal workout routine after I decided to do lunges and deadlifts instead.  But what really made an incredible difference was taking up squats, and not Smith machine squats, which always left me feeling like someone had tried to snap my back like a twig, but what my friend Toby calls “big kid squats,” in the rack, with the barbell and everything.

Within weeks, muscle striations and definition began appearing along the sides, fronts and backs of my thighs.  After several months, my quads actually started looking muscular.  It was exactly what I’d wanted, and with the added benefit of actual, workable strength that was more than just cosmetic.  (I credit that kind of weight-training for my ability to attack hills like a boss during this weekend’s 5K.)

Now I cut the side-eye to the abductor/adductor machine every time I walk past it, and cast a barrage of  “go die in a fire” curses its way for good measure. However, I’ve been watching it carefully for the past few months, and the kind of traffic that thing sees ensures it will never, ever, ever, EVER go away.

Over the course of my not-at-all-scientific survey, I’ve noticed that the majority of people who use that machine are women.  I am pretty sure I know exactly what they are thinking when they sit down at the machine.  They are thinking about their thighs, their “saddlebags” (oy, those words, they make me die inside) and the way their thighs touch when they walk, and how the abductor/adductor machine will help them shave their thighs down to sylphlike supermodel dimensions.

But this is the thing – they are wrong.

The abductor/adductor machine is maybe the most useless piece of equipment in the standard gym.  I can find more use for three-pound weights than I can for the abductor/adductor machine.*

I am not the only one who thinks so.  People who have actually studied to become personal trainers also think this machine is a big piece of metallic crap.

From Precision Training:

In reality, the reason people use this machine is because of the false belief that if they work the inside and outside of the thighs, they’ll be able to melt the fat off those areas. If you’re one of those people, I’m sorry to burst your bubble but that will NEVER happen!

From Bottom Line Fitness:

Amazingly these machines are still in many fitness centers and gyms. It isn’t bad enough that women are still using these contraptions, but amazingly I also see men using these useless machines. Why? outside of shear [sic] laziness and ignorance, I haven’t a clue.

From Little Meat Fitness:

First let me say this, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SPOT REDUCTION! Ladies, if you want slimmer thighs, using this machine every time you work out will do nothing to help you towards that goal. A combination of cardio, overall strength training, and good nutritional habits will help you tone and lose fat EVERYWHERE, including your thighs.

Need I go on?

There are two main reasons why it sucks as a workout machine from a biomechanical standpoint.  For one, the muscles the machine targets are actually rather small, and besides, the complaint that most women have about that part of their body isn’t so much that the muscles are not developed as much as it is they don’t like how much fat is there.  The other thing that blows about it is that the motion is simulates is not exactly one used commonly in nature. Sure, it works for sexytimes but that’s about it.

But what maybe gets me most bent out of shape is the way it exploits the deep anxiety many women feel about their thighs.  My literary girl crush Roxane Gay recently wrote in a review of the book Skinny that “I don’t know any woman who doesn’t hate herself or her body, at least a little bit.”  This isn’t exactly true in my life, but what I have seen are plenty of women and teenage girls – myself included – who have obsessed over every little ripple of their thighs, as if each bulge is just more proof of their failures as women and human beings.

That unending wellspring of anxiety and body hate fuels demand for this machine, which is why it continues to show up in gyms all over the country, despite the fact that it is almost universally reviled among trainers and fitness buffs.

Gym owners know what they are doing when they stock this machine. From

I asked a gym owner once why he invested money in buying new adductor & abductor machines when he knew that they were perfectly useless, and he explained that it was because of the female clientele. Basically, if he’d throw out those machines, he’d throw out the better part of his female clientele as well.

Many women already feel as though the odds are stacked against them when they walk into a gym without having to consider the fact that maybe the professionals who are supposed to know better are motivated by something other than the desire to help them become fit and strong.  I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard women bemoan the time spent in the gym and how little they have to show for it.  If they are using this machine, then it’s no wonder they feel they are wasting their time.  But instead of saying, “Hey, that machine both sucks and blows, so I’m going to go do some lunges instead,” they say, “Why bother?” and quit altogether.

So to sum this up, the abductor/adductor machine is a waste of time, effort and money, yet it continues to exist because so many women desperately hate their thighs.  And because so many women are also paralyzed with fear at the prospect of becoming too muscular and strong, and hence no longer being sexually appealing, they will continue to do this pointless workout while cutting a wide swath around the more challenging – and rewarding! – exercises.

It should be apparent by now that standards of feminine beauty as put forth by mainstream society are not only unattainable for most women, but also predicated on a certain degree of physical weakness.  it’s about time that we set our own standards of beauty, ones that let us be strong and healthy, with bodies that actually take up space.   Don’t buy into the “small-is-sexy” nonsense peddled by the makers of this wretched machine.  We deserve better than that.

*This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its use.  Someone who is rehabilitating after a hip injury could use it, for instance.  And….that’s about it.

24 responses to “The adductor/abductor machine: a scam aimed at women

  1. This is interesting. I actually like both these machines. Particularly the inner thigh one. When I was in law school and my broke ass gym didn’t have them I just did plie (sp? plee-ay, like ballet) squats and those DID actually work better for overall definition but were sort of awkward for doing at the gym in my running shorts.

    I actually think a lot of it is genetic? My legs are always the first part of my body to show muscle it takes almost nothing. Meanwhile I can work and work and only get the barest upper body definition.

    • I’m glad it worked for you, because seriously, it works for, like, no one. Most of us are better off just doing actual weights – even a leg press or something – than using that machine.

      I can see how plies would work, because you are using body weight and you have to also balance yourself, which brings a lot of stabilizers into play. Plus you are using your calves and hamstrings and quads, which means you are working multiple muscle groups at once, which makes it a pretty awesome exercise.

      The machine, on the other hand, purports to isolate those muscles and work only those, but really, why just work a pair of teeny muscles when you can work your quads or your glutes in that same amount of time?

      At any rate, I’m glad it works for you. It just doesn’t for a lot of people, and I’d rather see them put their effort toward something that’s going to give them the results they want PLUS meaningful strength.

      • Yeah but (not trying to be argumentative just conversing) I think sometimes those machines are better than doing like lunges or what have you, if you aren’t properly informed about form. You could really hurt yourself. The machines can be a good jumping off point, is what I guess I’m trying to say.

        But I agree that so many women shy away from the free weight area because its seen as such a guy-zone.

      • I completely agree with you. Most gyms should have staff available who can help with things like this, because you are right, you can definitely hurt yourself if you do weights with bad form. The problem is getting people to think they have a right to ask and have a right to be in the free weights area in the first place.

  2. Hi. New here. I actually wrote a post about this, and put up the same picture too. I agree with you 100%! Get off that damn machine!

  3. I actually did find one use for them. Around the time I hit 2plate on my squats I started having major issues with my adductors not being strong enough to keep my knees out when pushing back up. Adding a few sets on my non dead lifting days helped me get my adductors strong enough to catch back up to my squat which I was now performing with a slightly wider stance.

    Not completely useless, just mostly useless for average folks.

    • Dude, if even five percent of the people I see using that machine were doing so for the purpose you described – which is effing awesome, by the way – I’d rescind any and all complaints I have about that machine.

  4. Hip Flexors. You might want to learn what they do as they are vitally important to your lower body and its stability. That’s what these machines do. If you think they are for “thinning” your thighs or building “mass” you are already beyond help. I bet you have a massive bench.

    • 1. I know what hip flexors are. Maybe you could tell me why an abductor/adductor machine is better for working them than, I don’t know, lunges or single-leg squats?

      2. I doubt the majority of women who line up to use the machine are thinking about their hip flexors. They see the little graphic that highlights the muscles on the inside and the outside of their thighs and they think that is the magic bullet that is going to give them the skinny, no-touch thighs they think are the keys to their eternal happiness.

      3. “Massive bench”? I wish.

      4. Do you often come into people’s spaces and insult them? How charming of you. No really, you’re a peach.

  5. The real-world use that I imagine for the hip abductor and adductor muscles have to do with lateral movements, such as a tennis player going left or right at the baseline.

    It’s probably true that they don’t need to be huge or strong, because you’re rarely making lateral motions against resistance, but you can at least imagine circumstances where strong ab- and ad- ductors would be useful. (Example: You’re working your way sideways on a narrow ledge and your foot gets caught in some brush. It’d be nice if you had the strength to move your foot out from the hip (or in toward the hip), rather than having to reorient yourself so that you could use stronger muscles.)

  6. Does it help when you get people sitting on them texting while cruising through 20 reps?

  7. I admit that I liked that machine, but mostly because of the fun coregasmy sensations I got from squeezing my thighs rather than super visible results…But the most boring/condescending trainer I ever worked with had me use that machine, along with “teaching” me how to do bicep curls with a 7 pound weight (when I was already doing them with 15#)….Sigh.

  8. When I first started doing personal training I met a girl who told me she used the adductor machine. I asked her how many reps and she said, no lie, “I don’t know, I just fast forward to the next song and stop when it’s over.”

    While I agree 99.99% of the people using these machines aren’t going to get the results they seek, there are justifiable uses for these machines – correcting strength imbalances as mentioned is one, prehab, rehab. Flirting with the hot guy doing whole body bicep curls nearby is top on my list. If I were Bianca I’d buy one for my house and one for my studio. 😉

    Sometimes people can’t squat or lunge due to physical limitations. I can (and used to) squat but shouldn’t given my scoliosis and femur length discrepancy. So, I don’t do a whole lot of it any more because simply can’t progress it without causing strength, flexibility and increased postural distortions.

    For me, and many women (and men) like me, squatting is contraindicated. Just because we CAN do it, and it’s generally considered more effective, doesn’t mean we SHOULD do it.

    Most people can’t squat or lunge properly. People with tight hip flexors (those who sit a lot…like uhm mostly everyone) usually need prehab/corrective exercise programming before they will have the neuromuscular ability to squat/lunge properly. In other words, even if you look like you are using proper form, you physically CAN’T engage the proper muscles. Usually it’s the glutes that shut off when hip flexors are tight. If glutes can’t engage, lower back & quads usually take up the slack. Then we get lower back and knee pain.

    And what happens when we get knee injuries? We end up in PT using the ab/adductor machines! 😉

    Done properly (which no one can do LOL), lunging will activate the stabilizers but not without engaging other muscles I may or may not want to engage…depending on a host of factors. Plie squats will hit them too but not all of them and (done properly!) mostly the ones you can’t even see. (There are actually several different muscles that make up the ab/adductors)

    I use the adductor machine to isolate and grow a specific area…which saves me from engaging my already well developed quads. The only thigh muscle I need to increase the size of right now are my adductors. So, I isolate.

    Women also use dumbbells, cables, the seated bicep curl, tricep pushdown machine, etc, for the exact same reasons…to trim down. Crunches anyone? Just yesterday a picture of an IFBB physique pro came up on my FB feed. One of the comments was, “I’m going to look at this while I’m on the treadmill”, as if that will get her what she’s after.

    All equipment in the gym is often used improperly and/or for the wrong reasons (usually both…. by men AND women). This holds true for every piece of equipment in any gym. Free and body weight exercises are not immune to being morphed into something unrecognizable, ineffective and dangerous.

    I’m not a gym owner, however, I don’t think it’s fair, or fiscally reasonable, to place the sole responsibility on owners to educate everyone that steps foot in the place. Most gyms offer free intro sessions and personal training. It’s up to the member to take advantage of what is offered. Most don’t.

    When I worked in a gym I always gave free sessions to to members. I actually wrote them workouts for free. Most went back to doing their same old ineffective routine within a few weeks. Prolly had something to do with that hot full body bicep curl guy, I’m sure. 😉

    • Thanks for sharing some legitimate reasons for the existence of the abductor/adductor machine. And also, the “hot full body bicep curl guy” bit made me laugh.

  9. I’m a long distance runner who had a sudden IT band flare up. The abductor machine (paired with the adductor) was recommended to me as one of several tools for addressing that problem. I have trouble with squats and lunges, which might be due to scoliosis. I can see what you are saying for the general weightlifting populous, but there are a few of us out there who use those machines for a very specific training/rehabilitation purpose.

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