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 Bodybuilding.com:
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.