Americans sit most of the day and that isn’t going to change any time soon.
Necks, backs and other body parts eventually start hurting from poorly designed chairs and this is where MyErgonomicChair.com comes in with its list of best office chairs.
And now let’s look at something that has a massive potential to help you improve your sitting and reduce any pains you might have.
Take a guess…
How many hours does an average American sit in a day?
Answer: 13 hours!
Now, that is a lot, but…
In this article we are not going to say that sitting is evil (it is) and that it contributes to:
Not at all!
All we aim to do in this article is show you how to improve your posture with three practical methods.
And now get ready for the 3 REAL ways to do it. 🙂
But before that, let’s think…
When we ask “how to improve posture” or tell someone to improve their posture, we are directly implying that something is wrong with the posture and that it is not the way it should be.
Sure this makes sense because if it wasn’t wrong or needed no improvement, we wouldn’t probably need to improve it, right?
Now, pay close attention, because this part is really important!
If you understand this (and turn your knowledge into action), your posture would improve almost automatically.
Bad posture is caused by one thing – Iliopsoas.
That’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!
Yeah, we know it is quite a mouthful but iliopsoas is one very important muscle (actually a group of muscles), that somehow the mainstream media has managed to overlook or remain ignorant of.
One would think that with all the renewed awareness regarding ergonomics, fitness and correct posture, they would at least give us some new information other than the usual yoga, core exercises and stretching of pectoral muscles as the solution to improving bad posture…
Sadly, all of the above will be useless, if you don’t take care of root cause of all the problems – problems with the iliopsoas.
Do we have your attention now? 😉
Hopefully we do.
Let’s look at this all important group of muscles that we have attributed so much to.
According to Wikipedia:
The iliopsoas (ilio-so-as) refers to the joined psoas and the iliacus muscles. The two muscles are separate in the abdomen, but usually merge in the thigh. As such, they are usually given the common name iliopsoas. The iliopsoas muscle joins to the femur at the lesser trochanter, and acts as the strongest flexor of the hip.
As you can see from the image above, this muscle set is located right in the middle of the entire trunk.
Even more than that, it’s quite big and very strong (it must be, so to support this sack of bones).
Just in case Wikipedia’s definition was too medical for you and you didn’t really understand it, Anna, a Ayurvedic health counselor and an energy medicine practitioner might help you understand it better:
This muscle group is one of the most important in the entire body, and especially so for the HSP (highly sensitive persons) body.
Because of its location, it is one of the major muscles that allow us to stand upright, connecting our spine to our legs from the front.
The psoas begins at the long head of the femur (thigh) bone and wraps up over the front of the pelvis.
The illiacus then attaches to the inside of the pelvis, while the psoas major draws back and connects to the sides of our lumbar vertebrae.
Functionally, this is the muscle that pulls our knees towards our chest.
It is also one of the main core muscles involved in body’s “fight, flight or fetal” response.
So, anytime you stand up, that muscle is at work.
When you get set to run, those muscles are part of what you rely on and the next time you get so riled that you want to punch someone’s face you’re really banking on these muscles.
When put this way, you can clearly see why if it’s dysfunctional, it affects just about…everything.
Just in case you still need some more convincing, let’s look at some medical studies.
In Basmajian JV’s electromyographic work where he studied the role of the iliopsoas, he concluded that the psoas major and the iliacus (the two muscles that make up the iliopsoas) acted together as a hip joint flexor.
Put in simple terms, they act together to bend the hip and by implication, keep it upright.
In another study by Keagy RD, Brumlik J, Bergan JL, J Bone Joint Surg Am. on the direct electromyography of the psoas major muscle in man.
Electrodes were placed into the psoas major muscles of five patients and their activities were recorded.
What they found was that this muscle played a major role in the movement of the limbs while walking and also in aligning the trunk when sitting.
In two different studies, Nachemson A. found that the psoas major played an important role in keeping a person upright, when a person bends forward and when a person lifts an object.
His studies led him to the conclusion that this muscle may also be a lumbar spine stabilizer.
Other studies by Jemmett RS, Macdonald DA, Agur AM (Anatomical relationships between selected segmental muscles of the lumbar spine in the context of multi-planar segmental motion: a preliminary investigation.), Penning L (Psoas muscle and lumbar spine stability: a concept uniting existing controversies.
Critical review and hypothesis.), Santaguida PL, McGill SM (The psoas major muscle: a three-dimensional geometric study.), and Andersson E, Oddsson L, Grundström H, Thorstensson A, Scand J (The role of the psoas and iliacus muscles for stability and movement of the lumbar spine, pelvis and hip.) appear to support this inference and even show that this muscle is more than just a lumbar spine stabilizer.
Cramer GD, Darby SA found that it is also a flexor of the lumbar spine on the pelvis, supporting the study by Basmajian JV.
Moore KL and Dalley AF in Clinically Oriented Anatomy (5th edition), Bogduk N, Pearcy M, Hadfield G (Anatomy and biomechanics of psoas major) and Basmajian JV, DeLuca CJ (Muscles Alive: Their Functions Revealed by Electromyography 5th edition) also found evidence that shows that the psoas major also acts as a hip stabilizer.
Yoshio M, Murakami G, Sato T, Sato S, Noriyasu S and J Orthop showed in their study titled “The function of the psoas major muscle: passive kinetics and morphological studies using donated cadavers” they noted among other things that though the psoas major really acted as a hip stabilizer, this role of its paled in comparison with is role in stabilizing and erecting the lumbar vertebral column.
Does this remind you of something?
It should – correct posture.
You have just been presented with scientific evidence to prove the importance of these muscles.
Most people are likely going to be wondering (like we have been) why they have not heard of this before now.
Like we noted, it really is a wonder why main stream media has been practically silent or ignorant of something this important.
Just in case you think your iliopsoas muscles are okay kindly answer this question:
Do you sit for long hours at work and at home?
If you answered yes, then we are sorry to tell you that those muscles might be tight, dry and contracted.
Did we hear you say you exercise?
Let’s get this right.
So you sit for about 13 hours a day and then you exercise a total of 7 hours a week (and that’s for the fitness freaks) and you pat yourself in the back and say you exercise?
Okay, let’s agree that you exercise.
Did you know that high impact exercises can also affect these muscles?
Too much use and too little use can make them tight or cause trigger points to emerge (more on this later).
Well, to keep it simple and cut to the chase, if you feel waist, neck and back pains it’s not likely that your posture is right which means that your iliopsoas muscles are not working right.
We are very sorry to burst your bubble.
We accept so how do we ensure this muscle stays in optimal shape?
We are glad you asked.
It is clear that when these muscles are in the best of shape, posture issues will be automatically solved.
We promised you three simple and practical methods and here they are:
A trigger-point is a highly irritable point in the muscle tissue.
This can be caused by any number of factors including:
One of the ways to relieve of release these trigger points is through massage.
Interestingly, you can self-massage to get rid of these trigger points.
To be able to self-massage, you first need to know how to locate these muscles.
Here is what it looks like (here is a video with my additional explanations underneath it):
To locate the psoas major, lie on the floor facing up and draw your knees up.
To check the psoas on the left, let your knees fall to the right as shown in the first picture 1.
If you want to check the right psoas, let your knees fall to the left.
They should basically fall to the opposite direction of the side you want to check.
This frees up the part you want to check as your intestines will slide out of the way.
In this position, place your fingers close to your navel and tighten your abdomen.
You can also achieve the tightening of the abdomen by simply raising your head a little.
With your abdomen tightened, move your fingers slowly to the right to your midsection.
At this point, relax your abdomen and keep them relaxed for the rest of the process.
Begin to press as deep as you can into your abdomen.
As you push, move your fingers towards your spine which should be to your left now.
You should now be on your psoas muscle.
Whether you can feel it immediately will be dependent on how tight it is.
If it is really tight, you are likely to experience some real pain when you touch it.
Once you feel that pain, massage that position to release it.
If on the other hand you do not feel it immediately, you can slightly pull your knees towards your chest, this will cause it to contract so you can feel it as it contracts.
Go ahead to feel for the rest of the muscles which will run from just under your ribs to your groin area.
To locate the iliacus, continue from up facing position.
This time however, do not let your knees fall to either side.
From your navel, move your fingers to the side till you feel the top of your hip bone.
You can access the front of your hip bone which is also where you will find your iliacus.
When you have found it, begin to look for tender or painful spots.
When you find any tender spot, massage it with slow and really short strokes.
This strokes shouldn’t be more than 15.
This should be repeated for any other area that feels tender.
If however you find it difficult to follow the instructions above, your next alternative might be to find a qualified therapist to do the massage for you.
It is one thing to get rid of the trigger points and another thing to get the muscles well stretched.
Remember that the tightness, contraction and trigger points could have been caused by little or over use of the muscles.
You should therefore be careful not to worsen matters with any highly stressful exercise.
Here’s one simple exercise to stretch the muscles without causing more harm to the muscles.
Lie on your back and with your knees flat on the floor (knees pointing upward), try to flatten your back.
When you flatten your back, the area around your waist should be in contact with the floor.
Maintain this position for about 1 minute.
Gently increase the time from 1 minute until you can do five minutes in that position.
Here’s another simple exercise to do to stretch these muscles without stress.
Again, lie on your back in the same position as before.
This time however, take a breath and arch your back.
With your back arched, gently raise one of your knees, gently stretch it out and then lay the leg out straight on the floor (while keeping the other knee still bent).
With the one leg stretched out on the floor, flatten your back and then arch it again, then bring your knee back up from its flat position to its starting position.
Repeat this 3 times and then do the same thing for the other leg.
These are simple exercises that will help stretch the iliopsoas.
Almost every muscle comes in pairs.
There is the agonist and the antagonist.
The agonist muscles take an action while the antagonist muscles take the opposite of same action.
Without both sets of muscles working together, there will be no balance.
We have already noted the importance of the iliopsoas muscles.
They are offer the agonist actions to the gluteus maximus’s antagonist actions.
This means both sets of muscles MUST complement each other’s actions for the best outcome.
The gluteus maximus is the largest of the 3 muscles that make up the glutes.
It plays a very important role as we have seen and so it needs to be strengthened to be able to handle the responsibility placed on it.
Here are some exercises that will help you strengthen the gluteus maximus.
These exercises will be broken into two. One set for women and the other for men.
Standing erect with your feet slightly apart, take two light dumbbells (one in each hand) and put your right foot forward as if you want to move.
However, keep your left leg on the floor, not allowing it move.
Now, keep your head and spine straight and bend your right knee until it is perpendicular to the floor.
This will force your left knee to also bend, pointing to the floor.
Get back to your starting position and repeat for about 10 times.
Now switch to the other leg and repeat the procedure.
Once again, holding a dumbbell in each hand, find a step or a box of appropriate height and size.
Place your left foot on the step or box and push off, supporting your entire weight on the one leg.
Straighten your leg so your entire body is raised to the level of the step or box without involving the right leg.
Go back to the starting position and repeat the process about 10 times then switch to the second leg and repeat same.
With appropriately weighted dumbbells (one in each hand), stand erect with your feet slightly apart.
Put your right leg forward so that it is slightly bent in the knee while the left leg is stretched straight behind without it leaving its spot.
Now bend your body forward as if you want to place the two dumbbells on either sides of your right leg.
Go as low as you can and then come back up.
Repeat this about 10 times and then switch legs.
You will require an appropriately weighted weight bar for this.
Lie on your back with your feet planted firmly on the floor.
Your knees will be bent and pointing up.
Have someone place the weight bar around your waist area.
With your hands firmly holding the bar, push off the floor from your waist, keeping your feet, shoulders and head on the floor.
Push off as high as you can and the return to the starting position.
Repeat this about 10 times.
Hopefully, the question of how important the iliopsoas muscles are has been put to rest for good.
Now that you know about these muscles and how important they are, you should be sure to keep them in the best of shape with the tips we have given you.
The provided exercises will help you keep them nicely stretched.
This is however not something to be taken in isolation.
You should remember one of the major things that can lead to the tightness of these muscles – sitting for too long.
Sorry, but we have to mention this point again.
In fact, according to an article published in the Washington Post (Health experts have figured out how much time you should sit each day), experts have now advised that Americans spend at least two hours of the work day standing and moving around in what they termed “light-intensity activities”.
In fact, they are advised to gradually get it up half of the work day (4 hours).
This means your aim should be to stand for half of the time.
Now you know how to easily correct that wrong posture.
So whether you are sitting or standing, ensure your iliopsoas muscles are well primed to give you the right support you need.
Melanie's passion lies in human biomechanics, movement and well-being. She strives to help people sit better and that is why she is the main editor at MyErgonomicChair.com.
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