Running helps you trim and tone your ski-slope or bikini body, but your everyday desk job works against you. Sitting for hours a day shortens the deep hip flexor muscles that keep you sprinting toward fitness and weight-loss goals. Protect your aerobic exercise routine and stay pain-free with some smart moves. Find and flex the psoas muscles in your lower torso to stay on track with your jogging or running routine.
The psoas muscle connects your lower torso to your legs. Psoas muscles are buried deep under your abdominals on both sides, stabilizing your lower spine and pelvis and powering your walking and striding. Sitting all day -- in an office or car -- shortens and tightens the psoas because your hips are in a hinged or flexed position. But running requires that muscle to lengthen; it needs to be stretched and strong to perform. Lift your knee to take a step and your psoas contracts. Move your leg back to stride and push off and your psoas lengthens. "Runner's World" magazine says you can flex and contract the right and left psoas muscles more than 5,000 times during an hour-long jog. Running gives the psoas a real workout, but habitually poor posture and muscle tightness can keep you from running strongly and safely.
It’s not quite enough to shake your booty. You have to work the entire area around your hip flexors -- which include the psoas -- to improve your range of motion and strength. The American Council on Exercise recommends a variety of basic exercises that engage your glutes, quads, abs, hamstrings and hip muscles. A couple of yoga moves will warm you up and cool you down. Downward-facing dog repeatedly contracts and extends your hip flexors. Cobra stretches you up through the thigh and torso -- the opposite of those hours spend in sitting position. Squats, lunges and hinges make up the core of the workout. Try a fencer's stretch. Stand in a fencer's position -- one foot forward and one back -- with both feet flat on the ground and your toes pointing forward. Square your hips and tilt your upper pelvis back, increasing the stretch on the psoas muscle of the back leg. You can feel this right away when you are doing it correctly.
Save Your Knees
Strong, flexible hip flexors protect you from painful runner’s knee. A psoas that stabilizes the shortening-lengthening movement as your legs pump up and down helps to hold your knee in the correct position and safeguards your joints and ligaments. The cooldown after your run is a good time to stretch the psoas by grabbing one ankle and lifting your leg behind you until your thigh is parallel to the ground. When your psoas is tight, you will really feel the stretch in your hips. Don't push it beyond a comfortable stretch but work gradually to restore full flexibility. Try strengthening your psoas with resistance. Loop a resistance band around a post or any stable, low-level anchor. Stand facing away from the anchor point, slip one ankle into the loop of the band, engage your core and pull your foot forward against the resistance with control.
Yoga releases tight psoas muscles with a variety of supine, standing, back-bending and twisting poses. A simple supine stretch increases your awareness of the lengthening psoas muscle. Lie on a mat with your knees bent and your legs flat on the floor. Bring your right thigh to your chest and hug it with both arms. Slowly extend your left leg along the mat, keeping your lower back relaxed and gently softening both hip sockets. Alternate sides. Tree pose works on releasing and aligning the psoas muscles. Stand on both feet, balanced comfortably from your shoulders to your hips to your feet. Shift your weight to your right leg, being careful not to thrust out your right hip. Consciously relax your standing hip. Ground yourself through your right leg into the floor and begin to lift your left leg, turning out slightly at the hip. Release any tightness you feel in your left hip as you place your left foot as high as possible against your inner standing leg. Return to standing on both feet and switch sides.
- Running Times: Runner's Guide to the Psoas
- Idea Fit: Can This Psoas Be Saved?
- American College of Sports Medicine: Basic Knee Injury Prevention
- American Council on Exercise: Hip/Thigh Workout
- Runner's World: Building A Strong Psoas
- Human Kinetics: "Secrets to Success in Sport & Play": Lengthening of the Iliopsoas, and Toe Touching
- Yoga Journal: Release Your Psoas
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .