The psoas major is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting muscles of the body. As part of the Iliopsoas – made up of the psoas major and the iliacus – psoas major is an important hip flexor and low back stabilizer.
The psoas major is a long, slender muscle that originates on the bodies and transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae. Stretching from these attachment sites, it passes underneath the inguinal ligament, to its insertion on the lesser trochanter of the femur bone.
In our modern society, where we sit much of the time, the hips are in a constant state of flexion. Additionally, most of our other daily life activities (i.e. walking, running, bicycling, hiking, swimming, climbing stairs) involve movement only on the sagittal plane. Because of the adaptive shortening created by long periods of time in hip flexion while seated and also the focus on sagittal plane movement, the psoas major can become either tight or weak or a lethal combination of both. This instability can be the source of stiffness and pain in the hips as well as the lower back.
The good news is that we can do something to resolve this chronic state of muscle tightness and/or weakness of the psoas major by practicing static Yoga Tune Up® poses such as the Pelvic Primer and Leg Stretch Series and also the dynamic YTU poses, Monk Walks and Walk the Plank Minivini. It would also be an excellent idea to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the inner and outer thighs that are often ignored in our sagittal plane dominant habits. Practicing poses such as Adductor Slides, Abductor Lifts and Prasarita Lunges along with the poses listed above will bring more overall strength and stability to the lower back, pelvic floor, hips and thighs.
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C’est une révélation d’apprendre que tant de maux sont causés par une combinaison du manque de mobilité et du manque de force musculaire. Les douleurs du bas du dos sont tellement répandues, avec notre mode de vie sédentaire. Reprendre en main la responsabilité de sa santé par des exercices ciblés, comme dans ce cas en activant les muscles du psoas, est une grande source de réconfort et d’empuissancement.
What i love about many of the articles, is that although a muscle can feel tight you also emphasize that it can be weak and that’s not usually where my mind goes. I typically feel when a muscle is tight it’s because it is over developed, so knowing that weakness can contribute to pain is something to keep in mind and work on!
Wonderful to have a list of poses to help with lower back issues from sitting too long. My husband travels a lot and these are perfect poses for him to practice when he gets off the plane. Thank you for your article.
The psoas is very interesting to me and I love all the poses you suggested. I never realized how tight mine were until I attended a Yoga tune up fitness class and my instructor open my eyes!!
Psoas work fascinates me! Thanks for sharing,
Thank you for the Yoga Tune Up suggestions It really feels good
A good blog for the worker bees like me who sit most of the time and not knowing my psoas major is getting tighter, shorter and weaker. It also explains why the elderly sitting in a wheelchair have a stability issue. I wish there are exercises for the elderly to strength the psoas major.
As someone who suffers from lower back and hip pain, as well as many other pain issues. I love this article. I have saved this article so I can review it often and remind myself of what poses to do to reduce my pain and the pain of my students. Thank you for this wonderful article and for sharing this information.
Yes, our fascia takes the shapes we form with movement or lack thereof. Thanks for the Psoas info!
Thank you for the pose suggestions. I specifically looked on this blog to find what I can do after sitting in a car driving 14 hours just yesterday. This was so helpful. I do need to incorporate these poses into my daily routine since I’m seated probably 50-60% of the day. Yikes, that is scary. I also need to stand up and walk more. I really enjoyed both your articles on this as I’m still learning everyday more and more about the QL and Psoas Major.
Thank you for the list of Yoga Tune Up poses that should and will become a daily routine for me. I will recommend this series of exercises to my colleagues at school – most of whom are runners and cyclists.
Thank you, Allison, for this clear and precise outline of the psoas major, its importance for hip and lower back health, and how its strength and flexibility is compromised by repetitive movement on the sagittal plane or a lack of movement when sitting for long periods of time. It is a great reminder to practice poses that strengthen this important muscle and include lateral movement into our daily lives.
I sometimes try to change position when studying or reading – going on my belly or standing for a while so I don’t end up spending too long with shortened hip flexors – AND psoas major. Thank you Allison for the Yoga Tune Up suggestions you included in the post.
Great post incorporating poses to strengthen and awaken the psoas complex as well as the hips. made for me as I can over do the stretching and not the strengthening!! I also like to use the Coregeous ball in some belly and pelvic viscera massage before I do any Yoga Tune Up® postures, it wakes up my breathing, massages my back and psoas from the inside out. I like the synergy of the sequence. Thank you.
Merci pour les idées d’exercices. Pour ma part, les legs stretch series sur un bloc sont mes préférées. Le soulagement est immédiat. Article très intéressant.
The psoas can be so damaging! What other muscles cut through the inside of the body?! thank you for visually explaining how the muscle is connected and what activities it is involved in!
Thanks for this detailed description of the psoas and illustration of how it contributes to low back pain and hip issues. I think the Yoga Tune Up leg stretch series should be in everyone’s self care toolkit!
Thank you for the lovely explanation of the psoas and specific examples in every day living where we keep it short and contracted (hip flexion). Thank you for the article!
My Psoas certainly could use some love and I’ve been much more focused on it as of late. Beyond stretching, you make some lovely points about including both static and dynamic poses to our repertoire as these will speak to the Psoas differently. Also the notion of getting out of the sagittal plane makes complete sense to me, and I often fantasize about taking up roller blading for exactly this reason! Can we bring this fad back!?
I am just REALLY starting to learn about the importance of the Psoas and the great postures that YTU has for them
Je suis totalement d’accord avec vous sur le psoas majeur. C’est un muscle vraiment important. Nous devons étirer ce muscle étant donné que nous passons beaucoup de temps en flexion des hanches. Merci pour ce texte et les idées d’exercices.
I have many “fit” clients and yogis in my practice who have psoas issues. I’ve been truly confounded by some of their issues. I can’t wait to master yoga tune up so that I can help them find their blind spots and find resolution!
This is a really great blog which encourages and inspires me to voice true context in class. So many people attending yoga classes are coming to solve and relieve stiffness and pain in the hips and low back. Thanks for the informative and visual blog.
I am always looking for additional ways to get to the psoas (without getting into a lunge necessarily). This article just hit the nail on the head for me. I’m excited to test out the Pelvic Primer and Leg Stretch Series as well as the Monk Walks and Walk the Plank Minivini. Additionally, this article is a great reminder to continue to work the muscles in the inner and outer thigh area. Thanks for the suggestions!
Great article Allison! The psoas is a very interesting muscle to me as well. I like that you included the importance of strengthening it as well as stretching. Many people think they have a tight psoas muscle that needs to be relaxed, and in most cases this is true, but it is equally as important to strengthen the psoas to resolve the issues it is causing.
The psoas is a fascinating muscle (and one that is often tight on me), likely from all of the saggital plane walking I do in New York City and stair-climbing. I love how the psoas is connected to the transverse process of L1 (near the 12th rib) and connects all the way down to the lesser trochanter. I understand how the psoas can be tight…. but in what scenarios is it weak? And does weak = not lengthened enough or not strengthened enough? I’d love to know more and look forward to continuing to study.
Psoas- such a powerful and interstitial muscle. It has such a strong impact in keeping the hips and back happy. All the YTU Psoa stabilizing poses have been very beneficial to me and my students. thank you !!!!
Thanks, it is so important to keep this spsoas muscle in shape , but not necessarily easy to do.. thanks for bringing me solutions
Very informative concrete article thanks .
This is an issue for me, I have very tight and weak hip flexors. My TFL is also very tight and becomes quite tender if I perform a lot of hip flexion in class. Definitely from a lot of sitting. I used to work at a desk and now I spend a lot of time on my laptop working from home. I am aiming to make my work time more efficient in order to spend more time gardening and I now walk a lot more often which is helping. We have to make changes to correct and prevent these problems from arising.
I will definitely try out those YTU moves in sequence within my own practice. Am having ALOT of weakness and strain going on in my right hip flexor so I am very eager to try these out for a couple of weeks to see what measurable improvements I may gain. The note on our dominant daily activities in the sagittal plane also give me great motivation to explore the posterior plane more. Something I will definitely work towards confronting in my practice.
I’ve always been so afraid of the psoas. I forget that tight is not the same as strong. I’m slowly trusting that strengthing even when it is tight (and stretching it), won’t make back pain worse but better. Thanks for the exercise suggestions.
As a Step aerobics teacher, I suffer from chronic hip pain due to so much hip flexion. (I once figured I step over 6,000 times in an average hour. Yikes!) I will definitely be trying your suggestion of the leg stretch series to lengthen my psoas. Thank you!
All great points, Allison! In modern society today we hear a lot about the detriments of sitting too much, but not usually on the level of the psoas. And the bias towards sagittal plane movements in our most common everyday activities is important to note as well. As a personal trainer I try to mix up exercises between frontal, transverse and sagittal planes, but it’s very easy to get stuck in front to back movements. The Adductor slides and Abductor lifts, in addition to Frog Crawls and Half Happy Baby Minivinis are my new favorite exercises to help counter this bias!
I love Monk Walks to find and stabilize the psoas. The dynamic stretch really allows you to isolate and explore the length and strength of the hip flexors. Taking a moment to pause in between steps and isometrically contract the hip extensors and flexors at the same time really helps to re-align the pelvis and lower back.
I have growing respect for the psoas as I learn more about how it influences the hips and low back!! Having just context gridded moon walks, I discovered that this is a fabulous pose for working the psoas. The leg in front flexes the psoas helping to strengthen it, while the leg in back stretches the psoas and helps to lengthen it. The combination of these movements is a double deal!!
It is so challenging for me to maintain hip adduction and work on hip extension. My psoas major resists with such force. Thanks for the article.
Psoas: funny name – amazing muscle! Thanks for sharing information on what the psoas does and why it is so important to our health.
Oh my! The exercises on YouTube with the block were amazing. Completely opened my lower back and hips. Awesome!
nice article! I too have great respect for the psoas!!! Its amazing how all these muscles work together to scaffold balanced happy hips and healthy lower back. I look forward to learning the Yoga ball tune up exercises that help release the tight psoas!
Thanks for the article. I have a better understanding of the psoas major muscle now. I have experienced pain in this area for several years – the pain arises when I do too much activity or too little. Considering I practice yoga almost daily and combine with other workouts – I would say I have a lot of activity. I usually attribute the pain to tight hips, and I’ve also made a guess that perhaps I have some scar tissue in this area following an ACL reconstruction where the graft was taken from my hamstring. I definitely want to explore the psoas major further, however, as perhaps my pain is due simply to this muscle being overworked. I will begin to incorporate Adductor Slides, Abductor Lifts and Prasarita Lunges into my daily practice in hopes to bring more strength to my hips and pelvic areas, and I want to see out the help of a YTU teacher to focus my efforts in this area. Thanks for the article!
Thank you Allison, Since deciding that it was time again to look after myself , 4 children later, I began with cycling. Low and behold I was always flexed and couldn’t understand why my low back hurt so much. Your blog has provided me with the answer psoas …….Nancy for goodness sakes, stretch them out with some extension in apanasana and strengthen them with some parasarita lunges! Onward and upward with self care. Merci . Nancy
I too find the psoas so interesting. Moon walks are a two for one special. One side flexes and one lengthens. Thanks for the great article.
There is a lot of focus in this article and many yoga articles about a tight/weak psoas but I’m wondering about overstretching. As an instructor I often focus on the lengthening of this muscles (which so many students seem to love and crave) but I can’t find much literature about overstretching. After taking the YTU training my guts tells me Monk Walks would be the answer to my question since it is an active psoas stretch but would love to hear any other thoughts.
I am just REALLY starting to learn about the importance of the Psoas and the great postures that YTU has for them. I am wondering if it is possible to access them with the massage balls or is it too deep?
This blog was great as tonight I was teaching revolved abdominal pose to my ladies and one of them in particular left leg was so much longer than her right. I tried to ensure her hips, knees, PSIS were stacked but to no avail. I mentioned to her that we needed to work on her QL’s and Psoas. So thanks for this
Moon walks a dynamic, challenging, fun opportunity to explore movement while attempting to create an active psoas stretch. Highly recommend them- take a walk on the wild side!
!! SO AS !! SO ASSES !! Lordy lord you ain’t lying sister. My psoas is like a steel cable pulling coal from the bottom of middle earth.
If I let it get to crazy it jacks up my lumber curve and bullies my QL and pretty much ruins my day.
I’ve been finding a lot of relief with the new Coregeous ball and a YTU ball/weight release. I’ll show ya show ya some time!
Thanks for a great article. Yes indeed the psoas is a fascinating muscle. The psoas is not like many of the surface muscles we are familiar with. We can’t see it, and most of us can’t flex or release it at will as we might a quad or bicep. It is a deep muscle, involved in complex moves And actions. It is the only muscle connecting the spine to the leg Newer research is also suggesting that there is a link between anxiety, stress, and a tight psoas. Plenty of reasons to practice some or all of the YTU exercises described in this post.
i am obsessed with the psoas and im amazed by how fascinating it is to discover how many different ways people misuse over use or underuse it. i love the detail of this post. i feel like i will never stop learning new things about the psoas and new ways to get in there and figure out whats going on in everyone’s hips and pelvis!
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okay, here’s a riddle for you! Can’t a tight piriformis also cause hip and low back tension since it connects to the hip and the sacrum? If you’re having hip and low back issues, how does one know the psoas is the culprit or the piriformis. thanks for any thoughts on this.
This was written for ME! Thank you so much. Loved every word of this!!!
I couldn’t agree more! You’ve just listed the YTU poses that are “must do’s” for me every day. Warming up with Adductor Slides and Prasarita Lunges – moving into Happy Baby and 1/2 Happy Baby, Apanasana on a Block at The Wall, and Leg Stretches #1, #2 and #3 – that series is part of my personal practice every day regardless of whatever else I may be focusing on. By including these stretches, I corrected a “leg length discrepancy” – that of course was actually a “Psoas” length discrepancy, and said “good-bye” to occasional low back pain. I’ve been recommending this series to just about everyone, and especially to runners and cyclists – much to their delight!
Love it, so important to keep that Psoas healthy! thanks for posting Allison!
I took an anatomy class in college years ago and I don’t remember ever hearing of either of these muscles. Mine must be in sad shape, because my lumbar spine is all messed up. Thank you, Allison, for enlightening me 🙂
I find so many of us focus on building our abs, gluteus, pecs, bicep etc. because these muscles are visible. Thanks for shedding light on this hidden and often neglected muscle.