Amanda J Ward is a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, and a licensed professional counselor. As founder of Awarding Life coaching, she helps you achieve peace, balance and excellence in physical, mental and spiritual health. Find more at www.awardinglife.com
The Secret of the Psoas
The Psoas tendon has a little known secret that could be the key to unlocking your mental and physical potential!
Focusing solely on strength training, or speed training, or even stability training often takes precedence over the essential aspects of true fitness. When I say true fitness, I’m talking about solid, adaptable, comprehensive fitness-strength from the inside out, ability to move and overcome obstacles throughout the day, and confidence to go after challenges without hindrance. True fitness, on a mental, spiritual and physical level, is required for any goal to be conquered and any potential to be fully realized!
Who knew, that one of the keys to almost all of the above is hidden in a muscle group buried deep in the center of our body- the “hip flexor.” Otherwise known as the psoas major, a deep hip muscle that connects the lumbar spine to the upper part of the femur. The lower half of the psoas is joined together with the iliacus muscle—which is why the two muscle groups are often referred to as the iliopsoas. A major network of nerves, which connect the lower spinal cord to the deep abdominal, oblique, hip and quad muscles, travels directly through the psoas in most individuals. This complicated explanation really means that the “hip flexor” is responsible for upper, lower and core body movement. It’s one of the most integral muscles in our body, and impacts every area of our wellness!
Let’s talk physical first- The hip flexor muscles shorten the distance between the thighs and torso. Hip flexion occurs when you drive your knees up when running or performing a Sit-Up or other like-exercise. It also helps rotate your trunk and stabilize your lumbar spine. Further, when hip extension occurs, the flexibility of the psoas determines range of motion; think stride, walking, lunging, pushing and jumping.
You can see, here, that if the psoas is neglected, too tight, or too stretched out, we can have issues with range of motion, strength, and overall mobile ability. Better said- you will be slower, weaker and possibly in pain! Most of us may not realize that a lot of our limitations, pain, and obstacles in fitness come from TIGHT psoas.
We have a culture of sitting - driving, learning, teaching, working, biking, and leisure all have us sitting the majority of our day! Chronic sitting = chronic hip flexion. Lack of awareness and lack of counteractive movement results in tight hip flexors. Because the psoas is a hub for the pelvis, hips, back, legs and core, tightness and/or weakness can result in :
And, wait for it… depression, anxiety, general mood instability and fixed mindset (aka- lack of growth and optimism!) What a minute…what!?
Did you know: your Psoas tendon is also your “Storehouse of Emotion?” You may be familiar with your emotional/behavioral stress response, sometimes called “fight or flight” yes? Well, just as we have this response system set up via hormones and neuro-chemical reactions, we also have a physical stress response. Think about it; when stressed we have a tendency to go-go-go or to curl up in the fetal position and hope it all goes away. No, picture your hip flexor in both of those scenarios. Do you see it yet?!? It’s either crunched up and contracted TIGHTLY, or it’s working really hard, possibly in overdrive, right!?
As noted, our lifestyles have us HUNCHED over all day. If we have tight hip flexors, we’re not only going to be hindered in our fitness pursuits, but also in our ability to manage stress on a daily basis. The process our brain engages in to make decisions or manage stress is physically the same, regardless of our perceived understanding of that stressor. This means regardless of whether you’re attempting to slam on breaks for a red light, or choosing what to have for lunch, it’s the same level of stress on your physical body. When our hip flexor is already tight, due to neglect or lifestyle, we’re hindered in our ability to combat and manage stress. The alternatives are that we’re either always fighting against the limitations, or that we give in to them… hence: fetal position.
If you’re feeling stuck, emotionally or physically, your hip flexors could be an open door to potential and progress. Whether you’re experiencing the things listed above or just know that your hip flexors feel tight, there are a variety of ways you can achieve release;
An important thing to remember is that if you’re training exclusively with one style or approach, something is going to get neglected and ultimately show up in your results. I recently shared about balanced wellness and what I call consistent variability, which you can read more about here.
My personal favorite way to address the tight hip flexor is through a workout called PiYo. PiYo opens, extends and releases this tendon...creating not JUST physical relief and benefit but mental and emotional release as well!! I credit PiYo and the Awarding Life Marathon Method for achieving 4 Boston Qualifiers in 3 years! I’ll be going after the 4th and my hope for a successful Boston & New York Marathon registration in the coming year, using these strategies!
As a coach who integrates mental and spiritual wellness into fitness and nutrition, I love just about anything that proves my belief in the mind-body connection. I believe it at a level that just doesn’t require proof, but having science and common-sense evidence to provide for others helps make my job not just easier, but fulfilling and exciting! My goal is always to help you see what I see, help you find and realize your potential and truly achieve excellence and peace in every area of life!