The Iliopsoas is a hip flexor muscle group comprising of three muscles: The psoas minor, the psoas major and the iliacus. This group is one of the strongest of the hip flexor muscles and the psoas major runs from our lumbar spine across the hip joint to the upper inner thigh. Very important muscle! The interesting thing about these muscles, is that they actually need to be stretched to keep their normal tone. Otherwise they shorten and tighten easily which can cause back pain, hip pain and lead to poor posture. This is a very simplistic explanation of this important muscle group, but you get the point.
If people who don’t kayak are susceptible to the shortening of the iliopsoas then you can image what can happen to kayakers! We sit with our hip flexors flexed for long periods of time and most of us rarely stretch out the front of our hips, but focus more on the hamstrings and back. So, it’s especially important for us to focus on stretching this muscle group because we are especially susceptible to its shortening. Upward Frog pose is a great way to tone the Iliopsoas.
Yes, this is a strange looking pose, but I’ve found that kayakers really get a lot of benefit from it. My husband and Team Dagger paddler, Andrew Holcombe, now practices this pose almost everyday and it has really helped reduce his lower back and hip pain. Try it and see how it feels for you!
- Lie on your back and bend your knees so that your shins are parallel to the floor, your thighs are at a right angle to your upper body and your feet are flexed. Keep your knees from rising up to your shoulders. In fact, you want to move your knees away from your upper body until you feel the stretch.
- Allow your knees to fall apart and continue to fall apart with every exhalation. This stretch can feel very intense. When it gets intense bring your attention to your breath and notice the stories that your mind is telling you about how you just can’t do it anymore. Try to just observe these thoughts and take two more breaths than you think you can. Once you release the pose hug your knees into your chest. Try to work up to holding this pose for 2 minutes at a time. And, you can even add some crunches to make it more interesting as long as you continue to focus on your breath. (What!? Crunches in Yoga?! Yes, they’re good for us!)
- For crunches try inhaling deeply, then exhale in three parts as you crunch up in three parts, reaching the top of your crunch at the bottom of your exhale. Then as you bring your upper body back down toward the mat inhale and lower on a three count so that you come down at the top of your exhale. Keep the movement slow and controlled. Lift your chest toward the ceiling and don’t wrench on your neck as you lift up. If your knees start creeping up toward your armpits make sure to lower them away from your body so that you continue to get the stretch in the illiopsoas. Start with 5 crunches. Hug your knees into your chest when your done.