The Copenhagen family of exercises is a set of moves that originated in Denmark. Although they are primarily known as rehab exercises, they have been trying to escape that box and become exercises that we should be working out with. Popular among those who have trained for playing a sport at any level, or those who have strained or hurt their adductor (or groin) muscles, Copenhagens will be familiar. For those who do not know about them, well, you should, if you want to avoid injuring an extremely important muscle.
The role of the adductor muscles is vital in the way the body moves and changes direction. One of its primary roles is to decelerate and stabilise the body while it is in stride. These muscles will help you continue to stride and accelerate as well, and make sure the trailing leg is controlled when it moves behind you.
“The adductors span from various points on the public bone to several locations on the backs of the femurs. For this reason, they are often referred to as the groin muscles. If you squeeze your legs together, you’ll feel the muscles of your inner thigh activating — these are the adductors,” states a Healthline.com article titled Hip Exercises For Building Adductor Strength And Preventing Injury.
All of this makes the adductors worth training regularly whether in a gym or at home. The Copenhagen is mainly a side plank done with one leg raised on a bench or any platform, while the lower leg is brought up to touch the raised one. There are many variations to this simple move which will depend on your fitness level and technique.
I’ve had a recurring adductor strain for the last few months and limit myself to doing Copenhagen by placing my knee at a 90 degree angle on the bench, instead of keeping it raised on the foot. The exercise can be done as an isometric hold, or by pulsing the lower leg, or by adding side hip raises to the isometric hold. These factors make Copenhagens one of the simplest and effective tools for lower body muscular health.
The video above covers most of the progression levels of the Copenhagen plank, starting with both knees being bent, to one being bent and to both legs being straightened out. It almost looks like a raised side plank but the difference is that your adductors are holding the body up. The things to keep in mind while doing any variation is to use the strength of the top/resting leg adductors. The hips and core must remain engaged to stay in line with the rest of the body. Only the lower leg moves up during the hold or the pulses.
For those who have never worked their adductors, doing the adductor squeeze on the back can serve as a good starting point. Just lie on your back, and hold a cushion or a medicine ball between the knees and squeeze to feel the adductors work and get used to the sensation of which muscles should be working during the Copenhagens as well. These can also be done while seated. Sports scientists have devised medicine balls which can receive instant feedback from athletes doing the adductor squeeze.
The exercises are of great interest to researchers even now. In a detailed blogposttitled Is The Copenhagen Adduction Exercise Smart For Groin Injuries, speed and power coach Carl Valle points out weaknesses to look out for while doing the move. He suggests keeping an eye for slight twisting at the hips or torso as the hamstrings and quads begin to compensate for lack of strength in the adductor. Move down to an easier variation if this happens.
If you are working hard on your quads, calves, and glutes, it makes sense to add a few moves to keep the adductor strong enough to support these larger muscle groups. Remember the muscle that kicks in to hit a break while the heel slips on a little bit of water on the floor? It’s the adductor, and it’s important to keep them strong for sustained mobility.
In a brilliant Runner’s Life article titled Danish Researchers May Have Invented The Best Plank Exercise Ever, kinesiologist David Liira calls the move “the most productive plank for all”, adding that “The Copenhagen plank will flip how you approach exercise moving forward. It’s time to think outside of the box and start prioritising the weakest links in the body to create an unbreakable frame for running and life.”
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.