Maybe you haven’t spent too much time in the past thinking about your hip flexors. Perhaps you know they get tight when you sit a lot or that they burn when you’re doing an abdominal exercise the wrong way. This muscle, also known as the psoas (pronounced so-az), is one of the longest muscles in the body and the only muscle that connects the upper body and lower body.
All while controlling balance, our ability to sit, stand, twist, reach, bend, walk and step. That’s just scratching the surface, because your hip flexors are also connected to your emotional well-being.
Each and every person is created unique. However, there is an exception to this uniqueness simply by the way our physical bodies were designed. Nearly the entire population looks the same and also functions the same.
Certain regions of the body have a much greater impact on the overall human body than other regions. Look at the arms compared to the hips or the shoulders. The arms are fairly simple in design and function and will have little impact on the total state of the body. The shoulders are a little more complex in their function and design. The hips are undoubtedly the most important region of the body and this is what we need to discuss, in depth, in order for you to see the ultimate benefit of having healthy and mobile hip flexors.
We cannot function perfectly if our hips our imperfect. It’s as simple as that. Our hips impact everything that the rest of the body does or tries to do. Sit, stand, twist, reach, bend, walk, step, and the list goes on and on. Imagine trying to sit or stand with a broken arm, or a torn rotator cuff. It still happens. Now imagine trying to sit or stand with a broken hip or a torn hip flexor. It’s impossible. The hips contain all of life’s movement and ultimately power. The hip region is home to over 15 defined muscles that play an important role in the function of the hips and surrounding bones.
The hip region can be broken down into 4 muscle groups:
The gluteal group
The lateral rotator group
The abductor/adductor group
The iliopsoas group
The gluteal group is the major contributor for hip extension. The lateral rotator group is in charge of the obvious, lateral (and medial) rotation of the hips. The abductor/adductor group controls the outward and inward movement of the femur. And last the iliopsoas group. This group does the opposite of the gluteal group; it is responsible for hip flexion.
Each group within this area is responsible for certain functions of the hips. The muscles are not exclusive to certain movements. As mentioned above, every muscle group will act as the agonist, antagonist, synergist, or fixator (stabilizer). And in order for each muscle group to properly move as it was designed, certain things must happen in order for the hips to function properly. Again, these 4 muscle groups have their own certain functions but one group in particular has a little more responsibility than the others and this cannot be disregarded. It’s the iliopsoas group.
The psoas is part of the iliopsoas group. This two-part muscle group is comprised of the iliacus and psoas, hence the term iliopsoas. To be clear, when referring to the psoas muscle, it is the psoas major that is being
referenced. There is a psoas major and psoas minor but the function of the
psoas minor is minimal at best and it is considered to be a weak mover.
One of the most significant things about the psoas is that it connects the legs to the spine, which means that what you do with your legs could possibly affect your spine without you thinking about it, or even feeling it.
The psoas muscles can be found deep within the anterior hip joint and lower spine; the psoas major (usually just called the psoas as previously indicated) work independently yet together as a team. The psoas attaches to the side and toward the front of the 12th thoracic vertebrae and each of the lumbar vertebrae.
The psoas is the only muscle in the human organism that connects the upper body to the lower body, and its importance extends to the nerve complex and energy systems that run through the center of your body.
If you constantly contract the psoas to correct for skeletal instability, the muscle will eventually shorten and lose its flexibility and integrity. Once the original structure of the psoas is changed, is when the body quickly
enters a state of danger.
When the psoas has been chronically shortened, a list of unfortunate conditions can surface if not treated appropriately. Inevitably, other muscle groups become involved in compensating for the loss of structural reliability. The hips begin to tilt forward, altering the distances in certain joints and bony structures, and the femurs are compacted heavily into the hip sockets. To compensate for this change, the quadriceps muscles or upper thigh muscles become overdeveloped which can be a recipe for knee and lower back pain.
Even the most active athletes can suffer from psoas imbalance and pain if they are not conscious about the activity they are engaging in. It does not take long for the body to begin to adapt to new positions especially if there is the tiniest bit of room for an imbalance to step in and take over.
Fixing the problem
So it’s little wonder why trying to loosen it requires more than a simple static hip flexor stretch like the one below you’ve probably tried before.
You’ve probably found you’re spending (or wasting) hours of your time stretching this way only to find it’s having minimal effect. That’s because you need to attack the muscle from a variety of angles using a variety of exercise techniques and modalities in order to “unpack” the muscle in the right way.
You can learn to release your tight hip flexors on your own. If you think of your psoas as a combination safe lock, there are several numbers that will unlock it but they need to be entered in the right order.
There are a number of specific movements beyond simple static stretching you can use to unlock and loosen your hips, legs and back.
Some of these include:
• PNF Stretching: PNF is an acronym for proprioceptive neuromuscular
facilitation. It is a technique where you are activating a specific muscle in
order to relax the muscles around a joint so you can decrease the stiffness
around a joint.
• Dynamic Stretching: This is where you are activating the muscle around
a joint and moving that joint through its full range of motion in a progressive manner. This leads to an increased range of motion around the joint, warming up of the muscle around the joint and improved circulation around the joint. Think of high knees or butt kicks.
• 3-Dimensional Core Stability Exercises: With these exercises you are
targeting the muscle in all planes of movement so the core and abdominal
muscles have good activation, endurance and strength in all planes of
movement which leads to a decrease in unnecessary damaging stress on
• Mobility Exercises: In these exercises, you are targeting the joint and
doing movements and exercises that help the joint function optimally. This
allows a joint to move more freely.
• Fascia Stretching: In this unique technique, you are targeting the tissue
that muscles are surrounded in and working on loosening and lengthening
• Muscle Activation Movements: Due to all of our sitting and daily
technology use, many of our muscles are not working properly. With this
technique, we’re targeting those muscles that are off and activate them in
order to help the body move more efficiently.