When it comes to getting stronger, little muscles such as the hip flexors are important. While bigger muscles — like the quads, glutes, chest, and back — are the primary movers, smaller muscles help stabilize and support them.
One example is the psoas muscles (which is part of the hip flexor). When it comes to hip flexors, we know to stretch them because they can easily become tight and weak from too much sitting. But you also want to strengthen the muscles that bring the hip into flexion, and that’s where your psoas comes into play.
Below are five great psoas exercises for strong and mobile hips for the development of strength and aesthetics. We also elaborate on the psoas muscles to help you better understand its function and how a strong and mobile hip flexor can benefit your training.
Best Psoas Exercises
- Hanging Leg Raise
- Bridging Psoas March
- Romanian Chair Leg Raise with Dumbbell
- Boat Pose
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Frankensteins double as a dynamic warm-up for the hamstrings and a way to prepare the legs for lifting and/or sprinting. You’ll extend one arm and walk forward, kicking the opposite leg to the outstretched arm. Ensure you keep the spine rigid while performing the move as you risk unwanted back flexion if your hamstrings aren’t flexible. If you have poor posture and spend much of your time sitting at a desk, then you’ll benefit from this exercise.
Benefits of Frankensteins
- A great warm-up exercise for higher intensity movements like squats, deadlifts, and sprinting.
- Frankensteins help improve hip range of motion.
- It helps you develop balance as you’re moving while working opposite sides of your body simultaneously.
How to Do Frankensteins
Stand up straight with your arms by your side and step forward with your left foot. Swing your right leg in the air as high as possible without arching your back and reach forward with your left hand to touch your right foot — alternate sides for five to 10 rep each side.
Hanging leg lifts look easy enough but are deceptively difficult. In addition to the extreme core activation required to get your legs up, this exercise taxes your grip strength, upper back muscles, and hip flexors. Because you’re training your grip and upper back, these are a great accessory exercise to improve your chin-ups and pull-ups. In regards to your psoas, your hips are working hard to raise your legs, so while this is an ab-builder, don’t be fooled — your hips and psoas are getting an equally tough workout.
Benefits of the Hanging Leg Raise
- Strengthens your psoas, core, grip, and upper back muscles.
- A great accessory exercise to improve your pull-ups.
- When performed for higher reps, it’s a good move to build your lower abs.
How to Do the Hanging Leg Raise
Hang from a pull-up bar that is high enough so that your feet do not touch the ground when the legs are extended. With a firm overhand grip, flex your hips and knees simultaneously as you draw your legs out and up towards your chest without using momentum. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat. If this is too hard, bend your legs and raise your knees toward your chest.
This exercise has you lay down and elevate both feet — with a resistance band looped around them — and draw your knee to your chest, one leg at a time. Your psoas’ main function is to flex your quad, and this unique move isolates that function. In the bridging position, you are challenging the psoas, core, and the glutes and hamstrings simultaneously. As a bonus, you’ll improve your single-leg stability while drawing the working leg into hip flexion, improving your single-leg strength and balance.
Benefits of the Bridging Psoas March
- This move is a great accessory exercise for the squat because it improves hip mobility and strength.
- Trains the psoas in unison with the muscles of the lower back and core.
How to Do the Bridging Psoas March
Loop a mini band around the balls of your feet and place your heels on an elevated surface with your toes pointed up with your body straight. Lift your hips, engage your core and glutes, and bring one knee towards your chest while keeping the other leg straight. Avoid the hips sagging your butt. Return the working leg slowly and repeat on the other side.
This is a similar movement to the hanging leg raise. That said, using a Roman chair makes the move less demanding on your grip and upper back muscles. These work your psoas in the same way the hanging leg raise does, but is more approachable to lifters of all skill level. Also, because it’s easier, this leg raise variation can be loaded to overload your psoas muscle more than you can with your bodyweight. Although it is great for strengthening the psoas because of the added weight, it also strengthens the rectus abdominis external obliques and adductors, making it the total core exercise.
Benefits of the Romanian Chair Leg Raises with Dumbbell
- It is a great regression of the hanging leg raise if grip strength is an issue.
- Increases the strength of all your core muscles while focusing on the psoas.
How to Do the Roman Chair Leg Raise
Position yourself in the Roman chair with a light dumbbell securely between your feet. Keep your torso upright and press the lower back against the backrest while your forearms rest on the pad. Lift your legs until parallel to the floor up by flexing at the hips while keeping your knees straight. Slowly reverse to the starting position and repeat.
Yes, a yoga pose made this list. Although it does not look like much, holding this pose for any length of time will smoke your hip flexors, quads, lower back, and the deep muscles of the core. Boat pose is tough because it is not easy to balance on your glutes with your core shaking from the intensity. With your legs fully extended and suspended, the psoas are working to stabilize your legs. All-in-all, this is a very tough isometric exercise.
Benefits of the Boat Pose
- Strengthens the core, hip flexors, adductors, and the erector spinae as a unit
- Will help improve posture, by targeting the muscles responsible for keeping your upright — namely your lower back and core.
- It is an exercise that can be regressed if too difficult and progressed when it becomes too easy.
How to Do the Boat Pose
Sit on a mat with your torso upright, knees bent, and feet flat on the ground. Lean back slowly, tucking your tailbone under so you are not putting pressure on it. While leaning back, extend your legs into the air and get your spine in neutral by eliminating any arching in your spine. Lift your chest and keep your shoulders down and hold for time.
All About the Psoas
The psoas muscle is a connector between the torso and lower body. It crosses the hip-joint from your lower spine to your inner thigh, and it is one of your body’s main back stabilizers and hip flexors.
The three muscles that make up the psoas are the psoas major, psoas minor, and iliacu. The psoas is mostly referred to as the hip flexors, and the psoas major is the largest and strongest muscle in this group.
From a performance standpoint, tight and weak psoas may cause hip mobility issues,, affecting squat and deadlift depth. Because of this, your glutes may be short and weak too, and this all-spells bad news for your lower back and gains.
Plus, when we sit too much, it can cause the psoas to round, so that when you stand, it pulls on your back and makes you possibly more prone to pain and injury. So, it pays to stretch and strengthen the psoas to perform better and to potentially save yourself from pain.
Anatomy of the Psoas
Your Psoas is a small but important muscle, and understanding what it is and how it works is important in obtaining a stronger, better-looking lower body.
It is a long, thick, spindle-shaped muscle that originates from the thoracic/ lumbar region T12-L4 lateral of the lumbar vertebrae and medial to the quadratus lumborum muscle. And it inserts on the femur via the iliopsoas tendon. Its actions are flexion of the hip and core and assist in lateral rotation of the thigh.
Psoas major is often paired with the iliacus muscle as it merges with iliacus and inserts on the femur. Together, these muscles are called the iliopsoas muscle.
The Benefits of Training Your Psoas
The psoas allows you to walk and stand upright because your lumbar curve bears and transfers the weight above it. This muscle helps to create the lumbar curve as it pulls your vertebrae both forward and down and plays an essential role in walking, jogging, running, and sprinting.
Here are some other important benefits of training the psoas.
Improved Hip Mobility
A weak hip flexor often presents as a tight flexor, and strengthening the psoas may help improve your hip mobility and strengthen lower body lifts, leading to great hypertrophy potential.
Helps You Run Faster
The length and strength of the psoas directly affects hip extension. A tight or weak hip flexor means the hip will not go into full extension, therefore slowing you down. The more explosive and stronger your psoas muscles are, the greater your ability to drive off the ground.
Reduced Lower Back Pain
As the psoas is a back stabilizer and a connector between the lower and upper body because it attaches to the lower back and femur. A tight or short psoas can pull the lower back into further lordosis, causing anterior pelvic tilt making you more prone to pain and lower-back issues.
How to Warm-up Your Psoas Before Training
Sure, you can jump right and train without warming up your hip flexors, but your performance and mobility may suffer. It’s better to spend a few minutes driving blood flow to this area in combination with some hip activation exercise to get the best of your training.
After rolling low-intensity movements like Frankenstein’s for five to 10 reps on each leg, half kneeling hip flexor stretch for 30 seconds on each side, or dead bugs for six reps are great ways to prepare the psoas for higher intensity movements.
More Hip Training Tips
Now that you have a handle on the best psoas exercises to strengthen your hips, you can also check out these other helpful hip training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
- 4 Mini Band Exercises That’ll Give You Stronger and More Stable Hips
- 3 Movements to Increase Hip Mobility For Weightlifting, Squats, and Functional Fitness
Featured image: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock