Using your core instead of your hip flexors. We hear this so often from clients I feel this move in my hip flexors and not my core how do I get it to stop. First of all the hip flexor joint is more then just one muscle and we need to look at the system as a whole to begin to answer this. The muscles that make up the hip flexor are: iliopsoas, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus, sartorius, adductors, gracilius, rectus femoris, and the gluteus. Each of these muscles plays an important part in what our hip flexor can do and we are going to break it down over the next few blog posts into groups of muscles. We are going to tackle the iliopsoas first because this muscle is the biggest and usually the strongest muscle in our hip flexor and we want to work our way from largest to smaller. The psoas affects posture, helps stabilize the spine, and if out of balance can be a contributor to low back and pelvic pain. A tight psoas can cause serious problems when you stand the psoas pulls vertebrae forward and down toward the femur resulting in overarching through the lumbar spine. A weak and overstretched psoas can contribute to postural problems where the pelvis pushes forward of the chest and knees. This misalignment is characterized by tight hamstrings pulling down on the sit bones, a vertical sacrum (instead of its usual gentle forward tilt) and a flattened lumbar spine.
The psoas originates from the lumbar and forms a strip of muscle about the size of your wrist along each side of the spine. As the psoas proceeds down it crosses the outer edge of each pubis and attaches to the lesser trochanter of the femur. Along the way the psoas meets with its synergist the iliacus which originates on the ilim of the pelvis and joins the attachment at the lesser trochanter of the femur these two muscles are so closely related they are often called the iliopsoas. They are responsible for flexion of the leg, hip and pelvis stabilization, and hip rotation. We should have a picture in our mind of where the psoas is and what it does lets try and feel the muscle at work. One of the best ways to feel the psoas and how it works is to lay flat on your back toes flexed to nose and then lift your leg toward your chest keeping your leg straight and toes flexed (If you can bring your leg past 90 degrees then the psoas is no longer engaged). The psoas works to lift the leg to about the 90 degree angle then the back of the leg begins to take over. Raising one leg at a time allows us to take it slow and feel the pull coming from the psoas by making the femur and spine move closer together causing hip flexion.
So now that we know the muscle we are working what should we do?
Routine stretching and strengthening of the psoas will become increasingly important to prevent low back pain and postural problems. Below we are going to give you a few ways to strengthen and stretch the psoas.
Strengthening the psoas should be done slow and for minimal amounts of time to start. As we build strength in the psoas we will in turn build more core strength and not allow the hip flexors to take over when doing core work.The first time your go through these start with a achievable amount of time like 10-20 seconds and repeat each exercise 2-3 times.
The first one is going to need a strap or a belt for some assistance we are going to lie flat on your back legs out in front of you. Wrapping the strap around one of your toes flex your feet and then lift the leg up to 90 degrees then back down to about 80 degrees and hold your leg there. Even though the strap is assisting you in this movement the psoas is contracting in this position. As you build strength reduce the tension on the strap until you no longer need it. Repeat this on both sides.
Sit on the floor with your knees bent feet flat on the ground wrap your hands around your shins and gently pull so your chest is up and then lean back until arms are straight and then let go of your shins and hold here with a tall flat back. As you build strength with this move gently start the movement by lifting your feet off of the ground. .
Stretching the psoas
Stretching one side at a time is one of the best ways to ensure a quality stretch of the psoas. So take your time and if possible hold each of these poses for 1-2 min on each side.
Using a pillar or a doorway is really helpful in this stretch placing one foot behind you and the other foot stepping in front of you. Keep the heel of the back foot off of the ground and bend the back knee while you bend the front knee and lean towards the object. The psoas is job is to pull your hips down and toward your femur your focus should be on fighting the psoas natural pull on your hips. You want to align your pubis, pelvis, naval and a chest on the object start by focusing on the pubis toward the pilar your pelvis and naval back away from the pilar this action tilts the pelvis posteriorly and lengthens the psoas.
Start by taking one knee to the ground and the other foot is flat on the floor in front of you. Gently place your hands on your hips and start the stretch by first tilting your pelvis back by pushing your pubis out and your pelvis back then gently lean forward and hold. Keeping your hands on your hips allows you to feel if the pelvis is being pulled forward by the psoas indicating a need for a break before continuing to hold the stretch.