Redefine beautiful!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Workout Wednesday, Whine-free Zone

Fix Your Back, Flatten Your Tummy!

You’ve done a million crunches and every variety of abdominal exercises but can’t understand why your firm belly bulges and your low back feels so tight.  This malady may be due to unused psoas muscles, the deep, inner muscles that begin at the front of the hip near the pubis, run up and attach to the spine. You will need to learn how to control and balance these elusive muscles so that you can correct the postural reflexes that create the problem.

The Psoas can be a real pain!!  Do you ever feel discomfort in your hips or groin (or both)?

Tight (not to be confused with strong) psoas muscles will pull the spine forward along with the abdominal content, causing protrusion. You may feel pain deep in your hips and/ or groin and may easily fatigue when extending your legs above the floor (see photo A).  It is less an issue of strengthening these muscles and more about how to use them effectively that changes the dynamic that has created the problem.

Photo A
In order to understand exactly where your psoas muscles are, lie on your back and bend your left knee in towards your chest, holding it there with both hands.  Lengthen the right leg while turning that foot slightly inward and push your spine towards the floor.  You should feel a lengthening sensation on your right hip flexors (front of hip) and deep within your core along the right side.  You may reach your arms overhead for an even deeper stretch.

Discover your psoas
by holding the left knee in towards your chest an turning your right foot inward.
(a) Pull in your left knee
Control and balance exercises are not the same as strengthening the Psoas.  It is more neurological and less physiological exercises that help create the positive changes you want to see. Begin by laying on your back, (a) inhale and bring the left knee in towards chest (b) then exhale and extend the leg, hovering just above the floor, while maintaining stability in your core. Start with twenty repetitions and then repeat on your right.  If your back is strong enough you can lift the stationary leg off the floor a few inches, but it is highly recommended you try only a few of these at a time until you are sure you can perform the entire set without straining your low back.

(b)  Extend the left leg fully while maintaining stability in your trunk.
I have used a small rolled towel under Adrienne's neck to help her to relax the muscles of her cervical vertebra.

Here is another variation:  Instead of bending and extending your leg, try abducting your leg out to the side (try to keep your toes facing the ceiling) and adducting in again while keeping the opposite hip anchored to the floor.
Adrienne holds her hand atop her left hip as a reminder to 
keep it from moving while abducting the other leg.
I add a “moving” bridge between sets to help relax and “free” your spine. Think of your spine as a strand of pearls and roll your hips up and continue to elevate until only your upper shoulders are left on the floor.  Return your spine to the floor by rolling the spine one vertebra at a time down onto the floor until your tailbone touches the floor, then relax and do it again a few more times!
Thank you, Adrienne, for allowing me to photograph you for this post!


  1. Debra,

    After learning and doing these exercises, I already feel less pain in my back. With all the sitting I do in front of the computer, I am in dire need of some core strengthening. These are so easy to perform and require no doo-dads....just a floor!

    Thank you for teaching me/us these helpful exercises!



  2. As always, it is a pleasure! I love it when I find there is more to a muscle than I had originally thought. This is why I needed a push in my career. Discovery happens when you stop thinking you know it all!

  3. Thanks for this new information!!! I am going to start this. Your explanation and the pictures make this exercise wonderfully clear.

  4. Hi Debra,

    Great info! I have had back issues periodically over the last 20 years. (I think being tall makes one more susceptible) I have some similar back exercises that I do 2-3 times a week, every day if I have a back problem and I swear sometimes it seems like its the only thing that helps.


  5. Janice and Linda,

    I have been doing these exercises for about 3 weeks now and I am convinced it is why my back and hips feel so much better. Stay tuned for a stretch that absolutely will add to the relief!

  6. I am loving these exercises when we do them in class!!! Keep them coming.

  7. thanks Cathy, I agree, they work!