The day I first learned about the adductor magnus in massage school was a great day... one of those light-bulb moments that would become so common as I dove deeper into the study of anatomy. Our instructor was covering all of the muscles of the inner thigh that day - adductor this, adductor that, and I was trying to focus but it was hard because I felt like I already knew all I needed to know about the adductors, which is that they can adduct the thighs when they contract, and that you'd just abduct the thighs to stretch them. But then we got to the adductor magnus and the teacher said:
"Adductor magnus is unique among the adductors, and is sometimes nicknamed the 4th hamstring because it has a proximal attachment on the ischial tuberosity and can extend the thigh at the hip joint."
I sat upright in my chair when I heard this because I knew that it would have big implications for asana practice.
WHERE IT IS
The adductor magnus is located on the inner thigh, deep to all of the other adductors. The largest of the five adductors, it has several points of attachment on the pelvis and femur:
WHAT IT DOES WHEN IT CONTRACTS
HOW TO STRENGTHEN IN YOGA ASANA
A few postures that would be strengthening for the adductors, in general, would include Virabhadrasana 2 (for the back leg, when you press the outer edge of the foot into the floor), Garudasana, the "Jane Fonda's," and variations in Vasisthasana:
However, as adductor magnus is the only adductor muscle that can also extend the thigh at the hip joint, postures that involve hip extension AND adduction would target it more specifically. For example, you could lightly squeeze a block between the knees as you press up into Setu Bandhasana or Urdhva Dhanurasana. In Salabasana and Virabhrasana 3, adductor magnus would contract to prevent the lateral rotation and abduction that might otherwise occur if gluteus maximus were to do all of the work.
HOW TO STRETCH IT
To stretch adductor magnus, we'd want to do the opposite of what it does when it contracts so we'd want to do postures that involve abduction and flexion of the thigh at the hip joint. It would also be better to choose postures where the knee is flexed so that the hamstrings are less likely to get in our way (by flexing the knee we put the hamstrings more on the slack). A few postures that would fit the bill include Horse Stance, Lizard, Supine Lizard, Happy Baby and Garland pose (not shown).
HOW A TIGHT ADDUCTOR MAGNUS MANIFESTS IN ASANA
Tightness in adductor magnus has huge implications for yoga asana practice, and understanding which actions it could limit if it's tight might help you solve a lot of the riddles you've encountered when trying to help students navigate the obstacles in their practice. Because it's like a 4th hamstring, tightness in adductor magnus might manifest like tightness in the hamstrings, but with one huge difference - flexing the knees won't help matters any. Let's look at a couple of examples...
Downward Facing Dog
All of us have seen students in downward dog with rounded backs and posteriorly tilted pelvises. We might verbally cue them to push their hands into the floor, press their chest toward their thighs and lift their sitting bones toward the ceiling. If and when that doesn't work, we might tell them to bend their knees, and then try to manually help them anteriorly tilt their pelvis... all in an effort to help create more of an upside down V shape in their dog and find more of the natural curve in their lower back. But what do we do if none of the above works? And why doesn't it work, for cryin' out loud, even after they've flexed their knees?
Well, if bending the knees didn't allow them to anteriorly tilt their pelvis more, then the limiting factor is probably one of two other muscles: gluteus maximus or adductor magnus. If either one is tight, they'll put a posterior tilt force on the pelvis and make it challenging to lift the sitting bones. One possible solution is to lengthen the stride of the posture. This decreases the amount of flexion in the hips and should make anterior tilt easier. If you want to trouble shoot further, experiment with separating the feet as wide as the mat (to accommodate tight glutes) or placing the feet closer together (to accommodate tight adductor magnus muscles).
If the adductor magnus or gluteus maximus is tight it will be difficult to sit upright in Janusirshasana because the pelvis will be pulled into a posterior tilt, and as with Downward Facing Dog, flexing the knee of the extended leg won't help. In fact, flexing the knee would actually make matters worse because it would increase hip flexion, which would pull the pelvis further into posterior tilt. The only real option, other than just lying down on the back for a supine hamstring stretch, is to elevate the pelvis in order to decrease the amount of flexion at the hip... thereby creating a little slack in the glutes and/or adductor magnus so that the pelvis can anteriorly tilt. When elevating the pelvis, you should also add a rolled blanket under the knee for a little support, so that it doesn't fall into hyperextension.
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This post brought to you by: Jason Ray Brown