Work out long enough and you’re bound to come across the psoas major muscle. Unfortunately, we only tend to notice it when tightness and pain force us to pay attention.
Here’s what you need to know about the most important hip flexor in your body, along with several psoas stretches intended to loosen it.
What Is the Psoas Muscle?
In fact, you can thank the psoas major for your ability to walk (and run) on two legs so efficiently. Just imagine you’re walking around your neighborhood: After taking a step, one leg swings back into extension. This causes the psoas to lengthen and store that energy in the muscles and tendons, which then helps to propel us into our next step.
The psoas muscles also play a major role in hip drive when running — particularly when running fast. “If you’ve ever done hill sprints, you’ll feel your psoas working overtime,” Dircksen says.
Where Is the Psoas Muscle?
Finding your psoas can be a little tricky: “You can’t actually feel your psoas, as there are many layers of visceral organs, fascia, and subcutaneous fat between your fingers and the muscle,” Dircksen says.
The psoas are deep muscles located in your abdominal region, one per leg. Each muscle attaches to the corresponding sides of the lumbar spine and insert into the femur (thigh bone). As such, your psoas serve as a connection between your legs and your trunk.
Reasons Why Your Psoas May Be Tight
Although the psoas muscles are deep and hard to locate with your fingers, you’ve likely felt them when they get tight and overworked. There are two common — and related — probable reasons for this.
You sit a lot
When you sit, your psoas — like all of your hip flexor muscles — are in a shortened position. This is fine in small doses, but most of us sit more often than we should.
“We sit at work, we sit in our cars, at the dinner table, on the couch,” Dircksen notes. In a 2018 survey of more than 5,900 adults published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, roughly 26 percent of respondents reported sitting more than eight hours a day. When your psoas are in a shortened position for an extended period of time, they tend to feel tight when you finally do stand up.
Your glutes are weak
One of the other side effects of sitting so much is the weakening of your butt muscles from underuse. When this opposing muscle group becomes weak, it’s less able to reduce the strain on your psoas. You can combat the constant hip flexion associated with sitting by increasing strength and range of motion in the opposite direction (i.e. hip extension).
3 Psoas Stretches for Tight Hip Flexors
In addition to sitting less and moving more, try incorporating these easy psoas stretches recommended by Dircksen into your routine.
Half-kneeling posterior tilt
- Set up in a half-kneeling position so your front and back legs are both bent 90 degrees.
- Engage your abs and squeeze the glutes of your rear leg to tilt your pelvis upward, making sure to keep your front knee bent 90 degrees. You should feel a deep stretch in the front of your hip.
- Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat five times before switching sides.
Sliding hip extension
- Set up in a half-kneeling position so your front and back legs are both bent 90 degrees. Place a slider under the knee of your back leg (or a towel if you’re on a smooth surface) and the top of your back foot on the floor.
- Engage your abs, squeeze the glutes of your back leg, and flex your back foot to slowly draw your rear knee backward, extending your hip. Keep your toes in contact with the floor throughout the movement.
- Stop when you can’t flex your back foot further, and pull that knee back to the starting position with control. Repeat eight times before switching sides.
Tabletop hip flexor stretch
- Sit on the edge of a bench, table, or bed, and hug one knee toward your chest.
- Keeping the other leg extended and hanging off the bench, slowly lean back until you’re lying down.
- Continue hugging your knee toward your chest, and hold for 40 seconds to passively stretch the psoas of your hanging leg.
- Release your knee and repeat on the other side.