The Psoas is the most important muscle in the cyclist’s body that you have never heard of!
Pso-what, you ask? The Psoas muscle is one of the most important muscles in our body, especially if you are a virtual cyclist. That’s what!
The Psoas muscle is the primary connector between the trunk and legs and is essential in stabilizing the spine. The Psoas is our deepest core muscle and the only one that crosses the spine and hip.
In a recent study, the authors examined the influence of regular training in competitive cycling on the individual size of the psoas muscle. The researchers showed that the size of the psoas muscles was significantly greater in the experienced cyclists than in the untrained men and increased substantially after competitive training for six months.
Pso-What is it and What Does it Do?
The Psoas is the deepest of your core muscles. The Psoas originates from the lower spine, travels through the pelvis, and attaches to the femur. The Psoas is the only muscle that connects your spine to your lower body.
The Psoas is a prime hip flexor that bends your knee towards your chest and brings your leg forward when you walk. When you lean forward, the Psoas acts to flex your trunk. It also stabilizes your spine when moving and provides postural support when stationary.
Hip flexion produces approximately 14% of the power while pedaling when you lift the pedal during the upstroke. Utilizing the hip flexor muscles to raise your leg allows for more efficient power transfer and production by the opposite leg.
The Psoas muscle’s primary purpose is to decrease the backside weight of the pedal stroke efficiently.
Pso-Does it Affect Our Breathing and Mood?
Our essential breathing muscle, the diaphragm, is attached to the Psoas, and therein is connected to our lower body. This association between the Psoas and the diaphragm influences our ability to perform activity and breathe. With each breath, the Psoas and diaphragm work together to stabilize the spine.
Liz Koch, renowned bodyworker and author of ‘The Psoas Book,’ has devoted much of her professional practice to educating on the Psoas and teaches the diaphragm, and hence the Psoas react to fear with constriction.
The Psoas is maintained in constant contraction when you are under stress during a challenging athletic event. When we are in “fight or flight” mode, our breath becomes short and sharp as a result.
Many of the basic tenets of yoga are based upon Liz Koch’s teachings.
Pso-What Does it Mean For the Virtual Cyclist?
We use our Psoas to flex our hip during every pedal stroke. However, repetitive contraction of the Psoas while maintaining a forward position causes the Psoas to become tight and weak.
Decreased Psoas flexibility places pressure upon the spine through its connection to the vertebrae and causes a problematic tilting of the pelvis (anterior pelvic tilt or “sway-back”).
Constant Psoas contraction interferes with the opposing hip extensor muscles, like the glutes, causing them to become weak and ineffective.
Prolonged periods of sitting are a daily reality for many who engage in office jobs or commute to work. Sedentary life habits contribute to a shortened Psoas, inactive glutes, and a weak core.
In addition, the lumbar plexus, a neural structure including the femoral nerve, is formed within the Psoas and invested within the fibers of the muscle. The prolonged contraction causes constriction of the nerves eliciting pain due to irritation.
Pso-How Do I Know if I Have a Tight Psoas?
A Do-It-Yourself way to get a basic idea of your Psoas flexibility is to perform a Modified Thomas Test.
- Lie down on your back at the very edge of a bench, bed, or table.
- Bend one knee and pull it tight to your chest using both arms.
- Allow the other leg to hang down freely.
- Make sure that your lower back remains flat and in contact with the surface during the test.
Your anterior (front) hip flexibility is normal if you can keep your back flat while your leg hangs below the level of the table with your knee bent to 90 degrees. Conversely, if your leg isn’t able to hang freely below the level of the table, there is a good chance that you have Psoas tightness.
Pso-What Can You Do About it?
- Perform stretching exercises that specifically target the hip flexor musculature.
- Strengthen the opposing muscles, like your glutes, through focused resistance exercises.
- Be mindful of your movement patterns and avoid activities that engage your Psoas while in a bent position.
- Be conscious of your seated posture during daily activities and take the opportunity to change positions or take a standing break throughout the day.
- A proper bike fit is always a good idea to make sure you are correctly positioned in the saddle.
- Seek treatment by a massage therapist skilled in the Psoas Release, a manual technique intended to decrease the Psoas muscle spasm.
- Consult with a healthcare provider with experience in movement patterns and the athlete’s unique needs, like a Physical Therapist, Athletic Trainer, or Physiatrist.
Conclusion: Pso-What are Dynamic Shortening and Reciprocal Inhibition?
Dynamic or Adaptive muscle shortening occurs when muscles change their functional resting length to adapt to the length they are habitually used or positioned.
Adaptive shortening is terrible news for your Psoas, which contracts during the pedal stroke while your body is in a forward bent position. The repetitive motion causes your Psoas to shorten, impacting your efficiency, comfort, and aerodynamics on the bike and leads to injury.
Reciprocal inhibition occurs when tightness in one muscle. Your Psoas, in this case, creates length in the muscle on the opposite side of the joint or glutes.
Suppose this situation occurs for a prolonged period. In that case, it compromises the nerves that signal the muscle fibers to fire, and the condition known as Gluteal Amnesia or Dead Butt Syndrome results.
To learn more about this condition that affects many cyclists check out this article previously posted on The ZOM!
In basic virtual cycling terms, when your hip flexors get super tight, your gluteal muscles become lengthened and won’t generate much power when you try to engage them.
Pso what? I don’t remember!
Pso-What do you think?
Now that you know the importance of the Psoas muscle, Pso-what? Comment below. Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit, and through its work and the pages of this site, Chris is committed to helping others with his bike. His gain cave is located on the North Fork of Long Island where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two college student children.