As it’s found deep within the abdomen, the iliopsoas can be easily overlooked when strength training. Obscure as it may seem, the iliopsoas is hard at work when you bend forward to pick something up off the ground or lift your thigh up toward your chest. Its constant use during daily activities like walking and jogging keep the muscle active, but targeted exercise can further improve its functionality.
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Although commonly referred to as a single muscle, the iliopsoas is made up of three muscles: the psoas major, psoas minor and iliacus. The psoas major is a long muscle that originates along the lower back vertebrae, passes over the front of the hip bone and attaches to the front of the femur. The psoas minor is anatomically similar to the psoas major, but instead of attaching along the femur, it inserts directly into the psoas major and iliacus muscles. The iliacus muscle covers the majority of the hipbone and extends down to attach alongside the psoas major on the femur. The following exercises will help you strengthen the iliopsoas; just be sure to warm up with at least 10 minutes of light cardiovascular activity beforehand.
Standing Leg Lifts
Since the iliopsoas is tasked with lifting the legs, Standing Leg Lifts help build its strength. Stand straight with your right foot firmly rooted on the floor. Contract your abdomen, bend your left knee and raise your knee to your chest without using your arms. Keep your spine erect throughout the exercise and remember to keep breathing. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, release and repeat on the opposite side.
For a different take on leg lifting exercises, try Tree Pose. Stand straight with your left foot firmly rooted on the floor. Contract your abdomen, bend your right knee, and lift your right leg high enough to place the sole of your right foot on your inner left thigh or left calf. Once the sole of your foot has been placed, you may use your hands to adjust its position if necessary. Do not place your foot on the side of the knee as this puts unnecessary pressure on the joint. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Switch legs.
Although commonly thought of as an abdominal muscle exercise, boat pose relies heavily on iliopsoas strength. To get into the pose, sit on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of your body. Contract your abdomen, lean your torso backward, bend your knees slightly and raise your legs off the floor. Extend your arms alongside your legs, palms facing your body. While keeping your back straight, begin to lift the shins so they are parallel to the floor. If possible, completely straighten your legs. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, release and repeat one to three times.