Pilates Exercises for the Psoas Muscle

A muscle deeply embedded in your body, the psoas attaches your rib cage and torso to your legs. It's actually the only muscle that links the spine and the leg together, making it incredibly important in all sorts of movement, particularly anything that requires you to flex the hip.

A Pilates instructor can assist you in feeling your psoas. (Image: jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images)

Pilates relies on the psoas for proper execution of many exercises. Sometimes, though, your body mechanics are such that you just don't know how to activate it. So, use Pilates to wake up your psoas and then strengthen and loosen it.

About the Psoas

The Psoas is a major multi-joint muscle with 22 attachments, that includes one on each thigh and 20 points on the spine. It also passes over two joints: your sacroiliac joint of the back and the ball and socket joint of the hip. Although it's deeply set and not often named when you're doing a gym workout, it plays a huge stabilizing role in core and pelvic stability.

Many people have a chronically tight psoas, caused by sitting too much. This prevents you from fully extending the muscle, which affects walking and running gait and can lead to pain in the low back and hips.

Relaxing the Psoas

Use Pilates constructive rest position to awaken and rejuvenate the psoas. It helps relieve fatigue and tension in the muscle, and in corresponding muscles of the leg, back and pelvis.

To do constructive rest: Lie on your back, bend your knees and plant your feet hip distance apart and about 1 foot away from your butt. Keep your back in a natural position and allow your body to stay relaxed and even with the floor. Rest your hands on your belly. Spend 10 to 15 minutes here per day to relax .

Awakening the Psoas

Pilates includes mat work, but also equipment-based work such as on the reformer or the cadillac. Pilates teaches you how to use muscles, including the psoas, in a full range of motion — this includes fully lengthening and activating them. You'll also open up your joints so that the muscles can move as they were designed.

Mat exercises are particularly effective in helping you feel and stretch your psoas.

Knee Floats

Knee floats help you find your psoas so you can better activate it. The exercise seems simple enough, but it's easy to put all the energy into your thigh and hip crease and leave the psoas out entirely, contributing to its dysfunction. You'll need a rolled-up towel for the exercise.

To do a knee float: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet planted hip distance and about 1 foot away from your buttocks. Take the rolled-up hand towel and place it behind your knee, so you're hugging it with your calf and thigh. Keep the towel tucked in tightly as you engage your deep core muscles. Gently lift your leg holding the towel so it floats above the ground. Be mindful and prevent your hips from tilting or shifting. Pause momentarily and with control, place your foot back down. Work up to eight reps on each leg.

Psoas Stretch

A tight psoas has trouble engaging and supporting activity in your core and pelvis. This simple stretch loosens it up and can help alleviate back pain.

To do the psoas stretch: Lie on your back with both knees bent. Hug your right knee into your chest, keeping your head, shoulders and back in the mat. Zip up your abdominals to support your torso and prevent rocking. Slowly extend your left leg along the mat until it's straight. Pause for a moment, and then slide it back to the beginning position. Repeat and then switch sides.

Explore reformer work as a way to strengthen your psoas. (Image: OSTILL/iStock/Getty Images)

Strengthening the Psoas

Although the mat is great for bringing awareness to the psoas, turn to the reformer for more strength work. The reformer is a contraption that looks like a bed frame equipped with a sliding carriage, pulleys and springs.

Footwork, leg circles, the frog, arabesques and long spine stretch are some exercises on the reformer to use for psoas strength and improved function. Work on a reformer should be done under the guidance of a certified Pilates instructor.

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