Thought I'd pass along an article entitled The Small and Mighty penned by our own "Small and Mighty" Cristine Crawford...
Did you know that the iliopsoas muscle activates, allows and assists in all lower extremity movements? Did you know that without it, we could not stand upright? If you did not already know that then read on. If you did, you are a smart cookie, but read on anyway. The iliopsoas muscle is actually made up of two separate muscles located in the front of the hip area. The first is the iliacus which originates from the hipbone and the second is the psoas major which originates from the lumbar (lower) spine. The muscle fibers of these two muscles (considered the iliopsoas muscle) insert via a common tendon on the femur. The muscle fibers originate from two different points threading their way in front of the pelvis and down toward the top of the thigh bone or femur where they merge on the femur. It is the only muscle that links the spine to the legs. It is a powerful muscle which works in conjunction with other muscles in actions such as raising the legs from the floor (hip flexion) as well as hip rotation, abduction and forward and lateral torso flexion.
The iliopsoas requires adequate strength and length to perform its’ job properly. If this powerful muscle is neglected and weak due to overuse injuries, tendonitis and even tears or ruptures may occur. Symptoms of iliopsoas tendonitis can include general groin pain and tenderness including some low back pain. Pain associate with iliopsoas syndrome is sharp and sudden and usually caused by a sudden contraction of the iliopsoas muscle. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. If you experience any of those symptoms, please seek the advice of a qualified professional. Most likely, the standard soft tissue protocol should be followed….R.I.C.E.R. (the last R being referral to an appropriate professional). I’m here to tell you that you can help prevent this by strengthening, lengthening and programming this muscle through coordination exercises. Exercises designed to aid this muscle in doing its job and keep you running strong. Think about how important this muscle is as it applies to running. It connects your spine to your lower body! Strengthening and stretching this muscle will make you a better runner guaranteed.
Pilates, in general, will promote length, strength and coordination of specific muscles, as well as the muscles which aid and support the primary muscle at work (secondary muscles). Pilates will help to correct imbalances in the body. For example, a tight and weak iliopsoas can stress your lower back which affects the entire spine and your whole state of alignment causing muscular imbalances throughout the body which will in turn cause your iliopsoas to work harder at keeping you upright and stable which may lead to injury. Improved precision, posture and alignment can be developed through the practice of Pilates. A balanced body will help keep your knees, ankles, hips and hamstrings as injury-free as possible. The synchronization of breathing with movement which is the primary Pilates theory will vastly improve your power as a runner. It is a mind-body workout. You will use your brain to activate specific muscles and get a strength training, stretching, cleansing (using specific breathing techniques) coordination workout all in one!
I always recommend seeking the advice of a certified Pilates instructor at least once or twice. Take a class so you can be guided through the exercises appropriately since they involve precise movements and the cues which are given by the instructor are vital if the exercises are to be performed properly. Most importantly, do not do these exercises if you are dealing with an injury. See a doctor first!
Here is an exercise which you can do on your own to help lengthen and strengthen the iliopsoas. Always warm up first. An entire Pilates routine SHOULD be performed and you should understand the fundamental movement concepts. However, you can’t really hurt yourself with this exercise so give it a try.
ROLL-UP (see Figure 1)
- Lie on your back with your legs extended along a mat and your feet flexed (toes to the ceiling). If you are just beginning, bend your knees and keep the feet flat on the mat or anchor your feet under something stable. Inhale and raise your arms to the ceiling. Exhale and send them overhead to form one straight line. Be sure you do not arch your back here. Do not let the ribs pop up. You must keep your abdominals contracted up and into the spine for the entire exercise. Squeeze the inner thighs together by squeezing the heels together throughout the exercise. So now you are extended on the mat with arms reaching one direction and legs reaching in the other direction.
- Inhale, slightly nod your chin (but don’t bring it to the chest) and raise your arms back to the ceiling. As your arms pass over your chest, lift your head as you begin to roll up and forward one vertebra at a time continuing to inhale. Imagine that your lower body is strapped to the mat. Do not lift legs or heels off the mat.
- Exhale as you stretch forward from your hips making sure your abdominals are contracted and your navel is up and into your spine. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed; shoulder blades down. Continue to exhale as you reach beyond your toes maintaining strong flexion in the feet (reach through your heels). Keep your stomach from touching your thighs. Imagine you are forming a “C” shape with your spine as you reach past your toes.
- Inhale, draw your stomach in (keep those shoulders relaxed!) and come to a seated position. Exhale (keep in mind your “C” curve!) as you roll down letting your spine crawl down the mat one vertebra at a time; arms follow the same pattern on the way down until you are lying flat again with arms by your ears. Repeat 5-8 times.
TIPS!! Keep your legs glued to the mat and squeeze the inner thighs together through the entire exercise. Draw the navel to the spine when rolling up and down. Do not use your arms to “wing” yourself up. This is a slow controlled movement. Keep your feet glued to the mat if you are doing the modified version.