Few runners are familiar with the anatomy of their own sport. Often it isn’t until encountering a problem that we’re are forced to research a particular muscle, tendon or joint. Perhaps it wasn’t until your massage therapist made your cringe while they ran their knuckle into your side that you became aware of your psoas muscle?
The psoas is a deep muscle that runs across the hip, attaching the lower spine to the top of the femur. Also known as the iliopsoas, as it merges with another deep hip muscle, the iliacus. Your psoai (you have two of them) are not very well known but are incredibly important for running. Every time you swing one leg in front of the other, this hip flexor helps to stabilize your spine and keep you in an upright position. If your psoas is tight, you may experience back or knee pain, and potentially several other imbalances in your body.
Chances are if you didn’t know the psoas existed you aren’t stretching it as much as you should be. The psoas is especially sneaky because you may not feel pain in the muscle until it is actually injured. Not only will a happy psoas help avoid injury but it will also help to improve your range of motion and therefore your running.
The best way to keep this muscle in good shape is to rest, release and stretch it through a series of maintenance exercises. It may be difficult to feel the stretches in the same way you do others (this is a deep muscle) but beginning with rest and release exercises will help.
Lie flat on your back and elevate your legs on a couch or chair. Flex your hips and rotate them externally allowing your legs to fall out to each side slightly. This enables each psoas to relax and is one of the best ways to rest this muscle. Try and hold this pose for 5-10 minutes.
To relax your psoas, stand on a block with your right foot while supporting yourself with your left hand on the wall. Let your left foot, hand and back completely relax, then begin to swing your leg back and forth like a pendulum. Imagine the pendulum swing comes from deep in your torso. Swing for a minute before switching to the other side. Notice how your hips feel released following this exercise.
Lie on your back with both of your knees bent (feet on the floor.) Bring your right thigh to your chest and hug tightly. Ensure that your pelvis stays aligned and your hip does not come off of the ground. Now, to stretch your left psoas, slowly move your left leg down and away from your hips. As your leg slowly moves out, allow your left hip to release any tension. You should start to feel the psoas lengthening. Your left foot should still be planted on the floor as you push your right leg against your right arm (as if to kick up.) Make sure to resist with your arm. Hold this pose for 30 seconds, pushing up as you inhale and releasing as your exhale.
Give your psoai some love and attention by resting, releasing and stretching. Happy running!