A tight psoas muscle can really hinder your training, knock your confidence, and eventually lead to injury.
During the running cycle, repetitive flexing of the hip can cause the psoas to become overworked and stiff, and sore.
Understanding the possible root causes that are aggravating your tight psoas muscle is crucial in effectively treating and preventing flare-ups.
In this article, we will cover the anatomy of the psoas muscle, what may be causing tightness, delve into what we mean by psoas muscle release, and provide step-by-step instructions to “release” the psoas muscle with exercises and stretching.
We’ll cover the following:
- Psoas Muscle Anatomy
- Why Is My Psoas Muscle So Tight?
- Psoas Muscle Release: A Complete How-To Guide
Let’s get to it!
Psoas Muscle anatomy
The psoas muscle, more commonly known as the iliopsoas muscle, plays a crucial role in running as it is one of the primary hip flexor muscles.
Understanding the anatomy of the psoas muscle can help runners optimize their training and prevent injuries.
The psoas muscle is a deep-seated muscle located in the hip region. It consists of three muscles, the psoas major, the iliacus, and the psoas minor, all three of which merge together to form the iliopsoas muscle.
The iliopsoas muscle runs from the lumbar vertebrae and pelvis and attaches to the thigh bone.The primary action of the psoas muscle is to flex the hip joint, bringing the leg up towards the chest.
When running, the psoas muscle contracts to initiate the swing phase of the running gait cycle.
Why is my psoas muscle so tight?
Before we proceed to look at how to release the psoas muscle, we should first determine why it is so tight in the first place. Getting to the root cause will help you incorporate a long-term strategy that will prevent the need for psoas muscle release in the first place.
There are a number of reasons why your psoas muscle is tight. Here are the most likely causes:
The most common risk factor in runners is usually down to a sudden increase in training volume.
In my clinical practice, tight hips were most commonly associated with a sudden increase in training volume.
When you run, your body is subjected to a certain amount of force. If your body doesn’t get adequate time to rest and repair after a training run, it will lead to the accumulation of stress.
Overuse of the psoas muscle over time will increase tension within the muscle, leading to possible soreness.
If you are new to running, increase your volume slowly. If you are a seasoned runner, check for recent inconsistencies or spikes in your training.
Your body has incredible potential. But we have to facilitate the adaptation process. Make sure you eat, sleep, and recover between sessions. The body will do the rest.
The key aspects to consider if you are suffering from an overuse injury are:
If you are a beginner, start slow and build up your pace and volume gradually. Regardless of experience, leaving the body with insufficient time to adapt to new training volumes will result in excessive strain and subsequent inflammation.
If you continuously ignore the signals the body is sending you, usually pain, discomfort, and tension in the psoas muscle, then it may end in injury.
Likewise, the intensity of training warrants attention. Have you recently intensified your running training?
Unexpectedly adding in intense hill sprints three times a week or consistently pursuing slamming tarmac in pursuit of a 5km personal best will exert undue stress on the muscles.
Ensure that you include slow, low RPE (Rate Of Perceived Exertion) runs in your training program.
Rest plays a fundamental role in preventing overuse injuries and achieving a harmonious equilibrium between training, adaptation, and recovery.
These considerations hold significance when evaluating the efficacy of your overall recovery process.
#2: Muscle Weakness
Following on from “overuse” is muscle weakness. They are inherently linked as any weakness in the psoas muscle and the hip flexors, in general, will be exacerbated by sudden increases in training volume or intensity.
Muscular tightness and imbalance in the hip flexors and glutes can negatively impact muscle activation and force absorption.
The quadriceps and glute muscles play a vital role in stabilizing the hips whilst running. If these muscles are too weak, the psoas will have to work overtime in an effort to provide stability to the hip.
The psoas muscle connects the lower body with the upper body and interacts with other muscles like the abdominal muscles and diaphragm.
A strong and well-conditioned psoas muscle contributes to overall core stability and efficient running mechanics.
It has been reported that 81 percent of UK office workers spend between four and nine hours each day sitting at their desks; for many of us, office work is a fact of life.
When we sit for long hours, the psoas muscle is held statically in a state of flexion, which can contribute to the muscle getting stiff and tight.
If you find yourself sitting for long hours, there are a few things you can do.
It may be obvious, but get up and move! Breaking up those long periods of sitting with just a couple minutes of walking will help prevent muscle tightness. Try and get up frequently throughout the day.
Don’t settle for a cheap chair; get yourself a seat that both supports and engages the body whilst sitting.
Psoas muscle release: A complete how-to guide
A well-thought-out strength and mobility program is an effective solution to dealing with psoas release.
The strength portion of the program uses resistance training to strengthen the psoas muscle, core, and other hip flexor muscles.
As the psoas muscle strengthens, the psoas’ load tolerance increases, allowing you to run harder and further with less risk of causing excessive inflammation and consequent soreness.
It’s important to remember that tension and weakness in a single muscle are very rarely the sole cause of pain. Engaging supporting muscles through functional and compound exercises will help correct any adverse movement patterns.
The program of exercises below is a blueprint; if you struggle with the instructed number of repetitions or sets, reduce them to a manageable level. Conversely, if it is too easy, you can increase the difficulty of the resistance band, repetitions, or time under tension.
Below we will look at a combination of stretches and exercises aimed at releasing and strengthening the psoas:
#1: Psoas March
Performing a psoas march with a resistance band will target the hip flexor muscle group. Try a 3-second concentric phase (shortening), a 1-second hold at the top, and a 3-second eccentric phase (lengthening)
- Stand straight with your feet positioned hip-width apart and secure a resistance band around your feet, ensuring it is properly wrapped.
- Engage your core muscles and find your balance on one leg, maintaining an upright posture.
- Lift your knee toward your chest while keeping the other leg grounded, activating your hip flexors and lower abdominal muscles. This controlled movement requires stability and control.
- Gradually lower your foot back down, returning it to its original position. Focus on maintaining proper form and control throughout the descent, engaging your muscles further through an eccentric contraction.
- Alternate to the other leg or continue on this side and switch after you’ve reached the desired number of reps.
- Continue this alternating leg pattern, resembling a fluid and rhythmic marching motion. Aim for a seamless transition from one knee lift to the next.
- Throughout the exercise, concentrate on deliberate and controlled movements, emphasizing engagement of the targeted muscles and maintaining proper alignment.
Complete three sets of 20 repetitions, allowing for adequate rest between sets.
Pay attention to your body’s feedback and adjust the resistance of the band to match your fitness level and desired intensity.
#2: Tight Hip Stretches – Kneeling Lunge
- Assume a lunge position by stepping your left leg forward, creating a 90-degree angle, while placing your right knee on the ground behind you.
- Engage your core muscles to stabilize your body and maintain a straight back throughout the exercise.
- Choose a suitable hand placement for balance and support, such as resting your hands on your hips, placing them on your front knee, or lowering them to the ground.
- Shift your body weight forward, allowing your left knee to move forward as well while keeping your upper body upright and maintaining a straight alignment.
- Hold the lunge position.
Hold for three sets of 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
#3: Pigeon Pose Stretch
- Begin by assuming the Downward Facing Dog pose, which resembles an upside-down V shape. Position your hands on the ground, shoulder-width apart, and your feet hip-width apart. Lift your hips high while pressing your heels toward the ground, lengthening your spine and creating a gentle stretch in your hamstrings and calves.
- From the Downward Facing Dog position, bring your right knee forward toward your right wrist, aiming to position it as close to your wrist as comfortably as possible.
- Once you’ve brought your right knee forward, gently bend the right knee and carefully lower your right glute to the ground.
- Lower your torso over your right leg, extending your arms out in front of you. Keep your elbows slightly bent to avoid any strain or tension in your shoulders. This forward fold position enables a deep stretch in the hip flexors, glutes, and lower back.
- Maintain this position, focusing on deep and controlled breathing. Allow yourself to relax into the stretch, feeling a gentle opening and release in the targeted muscles.
- To deepen the stretch, you can gently walk your hands forward, gradually extending your reach and elongating your spine. Remember to listen to your body and respect your limitations, avoiding any discomfort or pain.
Hold the position for two sets of 45-60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
#4: Mountain Climbers
- Begin in a high plank position, with your hands positioned shoulder-width apart on the ground and your body forming a straight line from head to toe. This position engages your core muscles and activates your upper body.
- Focus on engaging your core muscles throughout the exercise to maintain stability and support your body’s alignment. Contract your abdominal muscles, creating a strong and stable core.
- Lift your right knee toward your chest while keeping the rest of your body in the plank position. Maintain a steady and controlled movement. This action activates your hip flexors and lower abdominal muscles.
- Quickly switch legs by returning your right leg to the starting position while simultaneously bringing your left knee toward your chest. Keep the movement dynamic and fluid, as if you’re mimicking a running motion while maintaining the high plank position.
Try for three sets of 60 seconds and work your way up!
#5: Hanging Leg Raises
- Begin by standing beneath a bar. Position yourself so that you can comfortably jump up and grab onto the bar, ensuring your palms are facing forward in an overhand grip.
- Ensure you have a secure grip before fully extending your arms and hanging from the bar.
- Focus on keeping your upper body and torso as still as possible throughout the exercise. This stability enhances the effectiveness of the movement and targets the desired muscle groups.
- Engage your abdominal muscles by actively contracting your abs. This engagement will initiate the leg movement. Begin drawing your legs up towards your chest, bending at the knees.
- Bring your knees all the way up towards your chest. Focus on contracting your abs and lifting your knees as high as possible, squeezing your core muscles throughout the movement.
- Once you reach the top position of the movement, hold it for 2–3 seconds. This pause emphasizes muscle contraction and enhances the challenge of the exercise.
- Gradually lower your legs back down to the starting position in a controlled manner.
Avoid swinging or using momentum to lower your legs, as this diminishes the effectiveness of the exercise.
Perform three sets of 10-15 reps.
When we think of psoas release, we think of a specific technique that is suddenly going to unlock a tight muscle. However, this isn’t the case. Focused strength, correct training methods, and a stretching routine will keep your psoas in a healthy state!
If you want more tips on how to strengthen the body, check out: 10 Strength Training Tips For Runners, By A Sports Therapist.