Psoas and Strength Training

December 3rd, 2014 by Laura

ANATOMY AND FUNCTION

The Psoas is the Most Important Muscle in the Body
The psoas is the only muscle that connects the spine to the legs. It crosses many joints in the body and has a very far-reaching effect (not limited to the hips). It is its own antagonist between lumbar flexion and extension. It helps to position spine, pelvis and femur relative to each other. It is important in the transfer of weight from trunk to legs and feet while moving and standing. It is a synergist to many other muscles and extremely hard to isolate.

In sports-specific terms, the psoas is usually thought of as a hip flexor and stabilizer. But ‘hip flexor’ is only a tiny part of what the psoas is. It is a messenger. It influences alignment, joint rotation and circulation. It is your deepest connection to the earth and the compass that tells you where you are in time and space.

Skeletal Alignment Fosters a Happy Psoas
A balanced, healthy pelvis transfers weight through the hips, legs and feet. If the bones aren’t aligned, the psoas steps in to provide support. When the iliopsoas is used as a structural support, it becomes a stabilizer rather than a mover. A shortened psoas tips the pelvis forward, compressing the hip socket and preventing the leg from moving separately from the trunk. It eventually loses its range of motion, flexibility and strength. Problems stemming from that include rotation in the spine, pelvis and legs, twisting pelvis, and leg length discrepancy. It also limits movement in the hip socket, resulting in faulty walking patterns, compensation by other muscles and torque on the joints.

The psoas can only function as it should when it is not performing the role of a ligament.

Proprioception is Critical for Maximum Power
Proprioception is the awareness of where your body is in space and time and the relative position of neighboring parts. It allows for joint angle control and is much more important than what individual muscles are doing.

Supple Muscles Transmit Clear Signals. Stiff Muscles Do Not.
A supple psoas is proprioceptive and responsive. A crisp signal requires supple muscles. Surface muscles glide over deeper muscles and the psoas gets feedback during these movements. A clear signal is transmitted to the psoas from these muscles.

By contrast, stiff muscles that are in a state of permanent contraction do not transmit a clear signal. The deep muscles get entrapped in the surface muscles around them, move arbitrarily instead of glide, and don’t give good feedback due to adhesions around the spine.

Fuzzy signals and poor proprioception can make basic movements like sitting down and getting up become complicated. Releasing tissue tension, tone, and lengthening will enhance body awareness.

Somatic Memory and Gut Feelings
Somatic memory refers to the body’s intelligence. Somatic healing is about connecting with the sixth sense to smooth the way for a health and wellness breakthrough.

Somatic memory relates to the psoas’s effects on the central and peripheral nervous systems. The psoas has a main role in behavior patterns and as an organ of perception, can hold the memory of traumatic stress. The involvement of the psoas causes pain, tightness and unresponsiveness.

Impulses from the central nervous system (emotional responses/ feelings) can create tension in muscles, which affect the psoas due to its deep, central location. When the psoas is released, emotions like anxiety and fear might surface. Allowing these feelings to surface and release allows the body to work in harmony.

Manual Psoas Release and Stretching
Opinions on manual psoas work and stretching range from ‘necessary’ (sports oriented sources) to ‘ineffective’, ‘barbaric’ and ‘disrespectful’ (Somatics practitioners).

The psoas itself is rarely the problem, and release through manual manipulation only shuts down the messages that the psoas is trying to communicate for a brief period.

Invasive techniques trigger its innate response. The psoas is part of the fear reflex. It tightens when there is dysfunction in the skeletal and nervous system.

The common approach of strengthening the abdominals and stretching the psoas doesn’t change the movement pattern or muscle memory. Additionally, stretching exercises target the superficial muscles moreso than the psoas. Changing the movement pattern and muscle memory will provide a lasting effect.

The psoas could be any pairing of weak/tight, weak/lengthened, overused/tight, inhibited/lengthened, etc., In the case of a lengthened and overused psoas, attempting to stretching it isn’t of any benefit and can lead to more pain.

Effects on the body
The psoas has an endless list of possible far-reaching effects. A few examples:

If the SI joint is out, it is guaranteed that the psoas is not happy. And the psoas technically isn’t going to be functioning exactly as it should until the SI joint pain and instability is resolved.

When the psoas is overly tight, the hamstring tightens up to overcome the Psoas’s pull, and vise versa.

The psoas is connected to the diaphragm, and psoas tension can originate from improper breathing.

There jaw and pelvis mirror each other. When one is tense, the other will be, too. Releasing tension in one will release the other.

 
WORKING WITH THE PSOAS

Muscles to Release
Through ‘psoas stretching’ is considered incomplete, there are other muscles that should be freed to more effectively reach the psoas. Theses muscles include the hamstrings, gluteus minimus, rectus femoris, and rotators.

Constructive Rest
Constructive Rest Position (CRP) is recommended by somatics practitioners and is appropriate for everyone from the elite athlete to the sedentary. It can be done daily. Some experts believe that CRP is the only pose that truly allows the psoas to release.

  • Begin by lying on the back with arms either by your sides, folded over your chest or placed on hips. Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor, feet hip distance apart.
  • Quiet your mind and tune into your pelvis. Notice which areas have weight, what feels light or lifted off the floor, and tune into your torque patterns.
  • As you lay, the spine will get heavy and lengthen. Do not force it, let gravity do the work.
  • As the psoas releases, there will be more openness and awareness in the hip sockets, and the weight will pass through legs and feet. Keep the awareness in hip sockets and do not stress the lower back. Keeping the trunk together allows the psoas to work as a unit instead of in segments.

    Ideal length of time to stay in this pose is 15-20 minutes. Changes in postural alignment are usually evident within a couple of weeks.

    Cues for Improving Movements

    • Pelvis is part of the core, legs move separately.
    • Articulate at hip socket.
    • Flexion point is not at the lumbar, it’s at the hip. The back remains neutral when the pelvis stays part of the core.
    • Sit on your sit bones.

     
     


     

     

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