Psoas Release

Whether it’s from sitting, weightlifting, running, dancing, kicking, or grappling, most movements (and lack of movements) may leave us with tight hip flexors. And no matter how much we stretch them, they remain chronically tight. And muscles that are chronically tight, are typically weak. Tight and weak hip flexors grace us with poor posture, lower back pain, overusing our quads, and underusing our glutes. So here is a game changer, the money exercise, the biggest bang for your buck to release tight hip flexors.

Front view of the lower back and thigh

Check out the iliopsoas muscle group in the image. The psoas originates all the way at the T12 thoracic and along the L1-L4 lumbar vertebrae. The iliacus originates all along the rim of the iliac crest. Then the two muscles merge together and attach to the femur to act as a major hip flexor and trunk stabilizer. In animals this muscle is equivalent to the tenderloin.

That’s a pretty impressive muscle most of us didn’t know we had since we can’t really see it. I first learned about it from a massage therapist. I came to her in grad school with my unending back pain. I also struggled with a very odd and new sensation that my one leg was shorter than the other. She measured each one of them from my belly button to my heel. Indeed, one was appreciably shorter that the other. Then she did a psoas release on me and it felt like my joints sort of popped into place and I was able to breathe easier and deeper. When I stood up, I felt like I was floating out of my hips. She then measured my legs again, and they were the same length, as they always have been.

Try it:

  • Grab a softball 🥎 which works best for most people. Tennis and lacrosse balls are typically too small to reach deep enough.
  • Find the line between your belly button and your anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS), that bony protrusion on the front of your pelvis.
  • Place the softball in between those two points on the line. It will end up being about an inch or two to the side and down from the belly button.
  • Drape yourself over the softball, laying on your belly face down on a hard surface (floor).
  • Breathe into your belly, feeling your lower back expand.
  • To go deeper, bend the knee of the opposite leg and move it out to the side. Keep breathing into the belly.
  • To release further, raise the thigh of the straight leg slightly off the floor on an inhale, lower on the exhale, repeat several times.

Experiment:

  • Move the ball slightly toward the iliac crest to target the attachment of the iliacus.
  • Try different placements and positions to find and release tension.
  • This may feel fairly excruciating at first, so don’t go to the deeper version of the exercise right away.
  • Make sure to feel like you are draped over, breathing deeply, not tensing further due to the pain.
  • Remember, the muscle group sits very deep and we are attempting to release it from the front, through the abdominal muscles, so be patient.
  • Note that we are not trying to roll the muscle out, we are simply applying pressure to it like with trigger point therapy.

Comment below on what you noticed when trying this exercise. How do your hip flexors feel?