How Do I Strengthen My Psoas Muscle?

Kim demonstrating a kneeling pallof press – an absolute staple in the Walinga Fitness Foundation Program. Notice her tall upper body posture while that band pulls her – with more tension than it looks trust me!!

If you had a look at Mobility Mondays article you know how to release and stretch your Psoas muscle group, to some degree. I hope it helped you understand the function, importance, and reasons behind keeping it supple and in good working order. 

You may recall that I used the term shortened, tight, and weak when referring to dysfunction of the Psoas muscles. I also used the terms overused and strained when referring to issues that one might have with it. These are two separate issues and I am going to breakdown the solutions to each area.

First we look at shortened, tight, and weak. 

The Psoas muscle group can become chronically shortened because of sitting to often, for too long. When your leg is at a 90 degree flexion at the hip, the Psoas doesn’t need to be in it’s happy elongated, working state. It has in fact, less work to do in this position. It begins to atrophy (weaken) over time simply because it does not need to be strong to support sitting, especially with poor upper body posture. Think about how often you sit. Think about how often that muscle is in a partially shut off state. If your like most, you sit more often than you stand or move.

The distance from the origin of the muscle at the lower spine, to the insertion at the upper leg, is shorter than when standing. So physically, it can be shorter and thus becomes tighter. When you repeat this seated position for long periods of time and repeat that day in and day out, this becomes the new normal for your Psoas. Add to that a rounded back, the Psoas muscle is now asked to do less spine stabilization and the distance becomes even shorter from origin to insertion. When it’s asked to do less work it naturally gets weaker. Typically when a muscle is forced in this position over and over again it gets used to it and then when we ask it to stretch back to its full range of motion, it feels tight. That tightness can display itself as pain, restriction, or discomfort. 

On the other hand, when we have our back in a “tall” or in a natural “S bend” the Psoas is automatically turned on and working. It is in it’s natural state of being functional, activated, stabilizing, and in its normal elongated state. Add to that, when we are standing or walking the Psoas muscle is even more turned on while stabilizing our spine, pelvis and leg, with the added movement/demand. So if your day consists of a lot of sitting at a desk, sitting in a car, or sitting on the couch, you can see where these issues come from – and why they are so relevant in todays society. Most people fall into this category of Psoas dysfunction. The category of short, tight, and weak.

Before I dive into how to strengthen this fascinating group of key muscles, we will look at the other end of the spectrum. When we have an overused or strained Psoas muscle. This too, can inflict a shortened, trigger point ladened, unhappy group of muscles. In this case the surrounding help like the oblique muscles, erectors (beside your spine), quadratus lumborum (left and right lower back), and abdominals are not doing their job. They are not providing your Psoas muscle with the support it needs to have good posture, good function, and ensure the absence of pain and discomfort. Again, these helper muscles (which encompass the term “core”) become weak for the same reasons. A lack of use, poor posture, and a general decreased workload because of how most of us live, are usually to blame. Physical chores, exercise, and having good posture are becoming obsolete. No wonder there are so many people looking for pain solutions. No wonder so many people suffer from a tight, overused, or strained Psoas muscle group.

So how on earth do I strengthen this area? You make sure that your body is moving more than it currently does, encourage good posture whenever possible, and target all areas of your core to make sure everything is working together. Easier said then done. 

There are many ways to go about strengthening your Psoas. As mentioned earlier the more you stand and the less you sit is a great start. The more movement (that doesn’t cause pain or discomfort) the better. Try yoga, rake some leaves, shovel some snow, do a side plank, or maybe just get up and walk around every hour at work. If you are doing the release and stretch work mentioned in that last article then maybe you want to do a specific core strengthening program to go along with it. 

The following exercises are staples of the Walinga Fitness movement training program: Kneeling Paloff Press, Side Plank, Superman/Back Extension Holds, Birddog, Front Plank, Stability Ball Rollouts, Kneeling Chop up, Dead Bug, and Cat/Camel (from yoga but without the neck movement). All of these exercises work and strengthen the Psoas muscle group. Unlike current exercise machines that isolate one muscle, these target your core as a whole. This is a much more effective way to go about strengthening the Psoas because it’s everyday use requires help and synergy from the rest of the muscles on your body.

If most of these exercises seem foreign or unknown it’s because they are functional. You cannot build a machine with instructions on it to put in a mainstream gym. You cannot do most of the exercises listed above without knowing how to brace your core as a whole, set up in the correct postural alignment, and use proper movement technique for each set, in order to ensure optimal results. In fact, put the optimal results aside let’s focus on not hurting ourselves and not doing more harm than good.

When we do foundational exercises we need to encourage proper posture and know what that feels, and looks like. This sets the stage for the rest of the day, week, month, and year. It slowly becomes your new normal and poor posture soon feels like it should. Awful. When we are used to poor posture it actually becomes comfortable, and good posture uncomfortable. This is an unwanted training effect of sitting and not using your postural muscles all day long. What if poor posture started feeling uncomfortable and your new normal was to automatically have good posture because that’s what you have trained your body to do? Wouldn’t that be nice?

Foundational, or corrective exercises, also set us up to do the more traditional exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, push, and pull in the future, with excellent form and technique. You start to actually use the intended muscle groups while keeping perfect form because that is what you have taught your body and brain to do. 

Did I mention that the Psoas is a postural muscle?! 

I hope everybody has happy Psoas’s going forward and if you are looking learn any of the exercises, book a complimentary consultation to get the process started – the right way. Check out the home page to book in today!

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