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Muscle Spotlight: Psoas

Today’s muscle spotlight: Psoas (major and minor)….AKA filet mignon of humans

I’ve been reading about this muscle during the last few weeks because I have a had issues as other did with aggregating this muscle.

Location: Originates on the front of the lumbar spine and attaches to the top of the leg bone, right near the crease in your hip.

* Once the psoas passes the pelvis, it runs next to the iliacus muscle and is commonly called the iliopsoas  muscle.

Function: it bends your knee up towards your chest (also controlling your body weight as you descend into a squat) and helps with the crunching motion of the trunk

Detailed function: The psoas helps to stabilize the spine while flexing the hip, as well as some external rotation of the hip. The psoas also helps to counter the extension forced placed on the lumbar spine when the iliacus muscle flexes the hip (the iliacus originates in the pelvis and attaches to the top of the leg bone).

Excessive lordosis that can be caused by a tight psoas muscle

Why is this muscle important in our daily lives?

Because a lot of our jobs require us to sit a lot in a position of hip flexion. This places some muscles into a shortened position where they become tight, and others into a lengthened position where they become weak. The psoas is in a shortened positon, especially with poor posture, so it becomes tight. When this muscle is tight it can increase the pressure placed on your spine. It does this by pulling your spine forward and putting your back in an arched position (too much lumbar curve). Especially if you have weak abdominals. All lot of people with injured backs and hips have a tight, knotted psoas muscles. Once the muscle is released  and relaxes, they usually start to feel better because the stress is reduced on the back and hip.

Why is this muscle important in CrossFitters?

After our lovely sitting jobs, we head to Predators and start lifting heavy weights and moving our joints through extreme ranges of movement. This means that one of two things is happening 1. Your hips are tight and you’re not able to do the movements properly 2. You can get your hips to move, but you compensate by over arching your back (excessive lordosis) because your psoas is so tight that it pulls your lumbar spine forward. My hypothesis is that all the athletes who fight to not arch their backs during certain movements may not have control over it because their psoas is just too tight!

* over strengthening the psoas muscle has also been found to place a lot of stress on the spine because when the muscle is activated there is substantial compression of the vertebrae. A lot of basic, full sit-ups overuse the psoas muscle in addition to the abdominals. This is why the GHD sit-ups are good because it allows you to use your quads more and your psoas less. While doing the GHD sit-ups, make sure you completely activate your quads and straighten your legs before you come up so that you do the movement properly. If you don’t straighten your legs all the way you are not doing them correctly! This could be because you have tight hamstrings, so work on that and your GHD sit-ups will improve. Sit-ups that raise your legs straight up from the ground have been proven to have high psoas activation, so if you do these make sure you also use a variety of other methods to strengthen your abdominals. Planks and side planks are a great addition to any abdominal strengthening program!

What to do if you sit all day and you know the front of your hips are tight?

If you know someone who knows a lot about anatomy and can get in to release your psoas, great. It’s definitely one of those hurt-so-good-massages, but it really does help.  Otherwise, focus on stretching and mobilizing. You can never really isolate one muscle with a stretch because everything works together, so think of it more as mobilizing a position or movement. Here are two videos from K-Starr to help attack the psoas muscle:

Silent P in Filet Very Paleo

Your inside psoas bits

* Although the quads also work as a hip flexor, just doing a quad stretch will not target the psoas. The psoas stretch incorporates arm movement, and although it will also stretch the quads it’s important to do both.

How to avoid the tight psoas

– Don’t sit as much (if possible)

– If you’re sitting make sure you have a good low back support to help you maintain good posture.

– Try to take stretching breaks throughout your day

– Do not do not do not just get in your car after a workout and drive off. This just causes more tightness, especially of the psoas!! I have been guilty of this too, but make sure you stretch. Pick one or two stretches (minimum) to do after your workouts based on the WOD (ask coaches if you’re not sure) and do them…..it should only take a few minutes and then you can leave. Although it’s always more fun if you can stay and hang out:)

– The foam roller doesn’t work for this muscle! You gotta do the stretch or use a lacrosse ball.

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