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Releasing the Psoas
Written by Melissa Hurley

Now that we’ve worked the psoas through contraction in “Activating your Psoas”, it’s an ideal time to stretch and lengthen it. In order to stretch any muscle, we must do the opposite of its action; in this case, we’ll need to extend the hip, moving the lumbar spine and the femur away from each other. You’ll be able to lengthen the psoas most effectively by stretching one side at a time.

Let’s get stretching and release that tight psoas!

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Stretch #1: This psoas stretch is probably the most popular version out there. To perform it, you get down in a lunge position with your knee on the ground (cushion the knee if you need). Now squeeze the glute of the rear leg and imagine driving the knee back and into the ground, while having the hip sink down and forward. Brace your abs, as if you’re bracing for a punch. Don’t let your abs protrude outwards. It is important to stabilize your pelvis with your core muscles, keeping the pelvis tilt forward.

Key Cues:

  • Keep your back straight and vertical

  • Keep your hips squared up

  • Keep the glute of the working leg tight

You can put more emphasis on the psoas versus the Iliacus by laterally flexing “the body in the opposite direction of the side you’re stretching”.  Another variation is to internally rotate the back leg. This basically means rotating your back leg towards the inside, hitting a little deeper.

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Stretch #2: Another fan favorite is the Pigeon pose. This hip opener releases stress and tension that can build up in the hips and create tightness. Practicing pigeon can make for supple, more flexible hips. Start on all fours in a plank pose. Slide the right knee forward toward your right hand. Angle your right knee at two o’clock. Slide your left leg back as far as your hips will allow. If you’re not feeling a deep stretch in your right glute, slide the right foot forward – little by little – toward your left hand. Depending on how you feel, you will be upright on your hands while sinking the hips forward and down. Level two will rest on their forearms, and level three will rest the chest on the floor with the arms fully extended in front of you.

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If you’re extremely tight the ground seems forever away, use a box or block to support your hips and elevate you for less pressure.

Key Cues:

  • Keep your hips square to the floor. If your hips are not square, there will be unnecessary force on your back, and you won’t be able to open the hips to their fullest.

  • Your right thigh should have an external rotation, and your left thigh should have a slight internal rotation. This keeps pressure off the knee cap.

  • Breathe and release the belly. Sink deep into the hips with each breath.

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Stretch #3: Another good way to isolate the psoas is to find an open doorway (or a pillar). Step up close so that the right side of your body is just behind the door/pillar. Step your left leg through the doorway, and place your right foot two to three feet behind you, with that back heel off the floor. Stretch your arms overhead and rest your hands on the wall. Bend both knees slightly, and align your pubic bones, navel, and breastbone with the frame.

Key Cues:

  • Pubic bone closer to the door/pillar

  • Pull up and through your breastbone towards the jamb

  • Pull Navel back away from jamb

These actions help you tilt the pelvis posteriorly. Move the lumbar spine toward the back of the body (instead of letting the tight psoas pull it forward and down). Lift the rib cage vertically up, out of the low back. Altogether, you’ll be lengthening the psoas and relieving compression and discomfort in the low back.

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Stretch #4: This stretch is an awesome and very effective reliever of tight psoas muscles, but it can be pretty intense so it’s broken down into different variations.  This is the Half Frog Pose.

  • Start lying your belly with your right knee bent. Keep your left leg straight with the toes either curled under or flat on the floor, internally rotating your left rear leg. Align your right knee with your right hip, creating a 90-degree angle with your knee. Stay here or prop yourself up, bringing your forearms parallel to each other, elbows below the shoulders, shoulder-width apart. Draw your lower belly up as you shrug the shoulders and triceps back. Take 5–8 breaths before switching sides or moving on to the deeper variation.

  • This variation is deeper. Lay the back foot flat on the floor and focus on pushing down through its outer (pinky) edge. Extend your right leg straight out to the side, bring your right foot in line with your right hip. Flex your right foot. Slide your hands next to your ribcage, then press your upper body into a high Cobra position, keeping your elbows slightly bent. Lift your lower belly to prevent any compression in your lower back. Lift your sternum up and keep your shoulders back. Take 5–8 breaths. Release your chest back to the floor and roll over onto your back to switch sides.

The two important keys when stretching the psoas is the tilting of the pelvis and thrust of the ribs. Remember, a tight psoas tries to tilt the pelvis anteriorly (pulling the spine and top of the pelvis forward and down), so you must tilt the pelvis posteriorly to stretch the hip flexors. Secondly, pay special attention to the rib thrust. Rib thrusting during these exercises reduces their effectiveness in lengthening the psoas. Lower the bottom ribs until they line up over the pelvis, to keep their muscular attachments in check.

 

References:

Alton, F., et al. 1998. A kinematic comparison of overground and treadmill walking. Clinical Biomechanics, 13 (6), 434–40.

Bogduk, N., Pearcy, M., & Hadfield, G. 1992. Anatomy and biomechanics of psoas major. Clinical Biomechanics, 7 (2), 109–19.

Diab, M. 1999. Lexicon of Orthopaedic Etymology. London: Informa House.

Kathryn Budig. 2014. Challenge Pose: Tipsy Frog. Yoga Journal.

Hu, H., et al. 2011. Is the psoas a hip flexor in the active straight leg raise? European Spine Journal, 20,759–65.

Kirchmair, L., et al. 2008. Lumbar plexus and psoas major muscle: Not always as expected. Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, 33 (2), 109–14.