Sitting all day at work can make your lower back nag you with throbbing pain, but sometimes it's caused by a group of muscles in your hips and lower back region called the iliopsoas. Because sitting causes chronic shortness of this muscle group, it's challenging for most people to perform activities that require hip extension, such as in-line skating and certain yoga poses. Standing iliopsoas exercises can counter the negative effects of sitting. Take regular breaks from your desk and give these exercises a shot.
Functional Anatomy and Movement
Your iliopsoas muscle, also known as the primary hip flexors, is made of two muscles that work together closely like a tango dance couple. Iliacus spreads over the front of your pelvis like a thin drape and attaches to a small notch on your upper thigh bone near the hip joint. The psoas extends from the either side of your lower spine and to the same notch as the iliacus. Depending on your body's position and actions, the iliopsoas performs different functions. When you walk or run, the iliopsoas extends and flexes your hip joints, but when you stand still in various positions, the iliopsoas functions as stabilizers instead to maintain your balance.
Most standing exercises work on your iliopsoas, but you don't need to do all of them to improve its function. Physical therapist Gray Cook, author of "Athletic Body in Balance," recommends that you practice the basic three lower-body exercises that are commonly used in field and court sports, which are the deep squat, step-up and lunge. These exercises work on hip flexion and extension as well as pelvic and abdominal stabilization, and you don't even need any equipment. The deep squat involves squatting as low as you can with your feet about shoulder-distance apart, while the lunge is bringing one foot about two feet in front of or behind you and lowering your body down by bending both legs. The step-up is performed by using a workout bench, a set of aerobic steps or any stable platform in which you simply step on top of it and pause for a second on one leg before lowering your body back down. Many standing yoga poses also work your iliopsoas to relax the muscles or increase pelvic stability, such as Warrior Pose, Triangle Pose, Tree Pose and Mountain Pose.
Once your joints and muscles are strong enough to handle a higher intensity workout, add power to your workout that makes your iliopsoas move faster and increase pelvic stability. Not only will you have greater reflexes, power training fires up your metabolism and reduces your recovery time between bouts of exercise. Because some sports and activities require sudden bursts of power repetitively, such as softball, volleyball and karate, power training can improve your performance while reducing your risk of injury. Sample standing power exercises that work your iliopsoas include vertical jumps, lateral jumps, power step-ups, power lunges and sprinting.
Don't Overdo It!
If you have tight iliopsoas and have a hard time extending your hip, stretching this muscle group constantly may only provide temporary relief. Instead of performing numerous hip extension exercises, substitute hip-flexion dominant activities -- such as cycling and running on a treadmill -- with hip-extension dominant activities, such as in-line skating and cross-country skiing, suggests fitness professional Katy Bowman, M.S., a contributing writer for "IDEA Fitness Journal." Reducing your sitting time and taking frequent "movement breaks" can also alleviate chronic iliopsoas tightness. Although stretching your hip flexors by yourself or with a partner's assistance can improve flexibility -- based on a 2003 study published in "Physical Therapy" -- the type of stretching you do would depend on timing and goals. If you want to relax, do static stretching, which is holding the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, such as the standing hip flexors stretch. For warm-ups, perform dynamic stretching to wake up your nervous system and muscles. To do this, move your hips and legs through their full range of motion repetitively in various directions, such as clockwork lunges and hip swings.
- KenHub.com: The Iliopsoas Muscle
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Can This Psoas Be Saved?
- Yoga Journal: Release Your Psoas
- Somatics: The Psoas Muscles, Psoas Stretches, and Abdominal Exercises for Back Pain
- NSCA’s Performance Training Journal: Introduction to Plyometrics
- Athletic Body in Balance; Gray Cook
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Stretching -- A Research Retrospective
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.