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Lengthening of the iliopsoas, and toe touching

This is an excerpt from Secrets to Success in Sport & Play-2nd Edition by Marianne Torbert.


Specific exercises for each of the alignment problems discussed in this chapter are readily available elsewhere. However, I have found that information on two areas seems to be limited or erroneously covered in popular sources. The first area is the lengthening of the iliopsoas, and the second is toe touching.

Lengthening of the Iliopsoas

The stretching of the iliopsoas is probably the most neglected area of possible difficulty. Few people have ever heard of this muscle, although it contributes to countless backaches every year.

The iliopsoas is attached to the inside of the vertebral column in the region of the lower back (lumbar area), passes over the front of the bony pelvis, and then runs downward and attaches to the inside of the upper leg bone (femur). Therefore, the iliopsoas is somewhat like the tight strings of a cello (figure 5.7). When this muscle shortens, it pulls the small of the back forward and down, leading to a sway in the back and increasing the pressure on the vertebral column. (Because the vertebral column is such an important part of the body, a medical evaluation should be completed before a person performs exercise that involves this area.)

Here are three exercises that can be used to help keep the iliopsoas muscles lengthened:

  • Flattening the small of your back while lying flat: Try to keep your thighs (iliopsoas attachment) on the floor while attempting to hold your lower back on the floor. The flattening of the back is accomplished by contracting the abdominal muscles (figure 5.8). The ability to execute this exercise with ease is used as an evaluation of the length of the iliopsoas.
  • Bringing your knee to your chest while lying flat: While lying flat on your back, bring one knee to your chest (hugging it) while you keep your other leg and the small of your back touching the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 5 times. Then repeat the exercise with the other leg. Do this at least twice a day. Note that the leg that is down is on the side that you are actually stretching and should receive your attention.
  • The fencer's stretch: Stand and place your feet in a stride position, both feet flat on the floor (figure 5.9). The position of the back foot holds the lower attachment of the stretched iliopsoas in place. The toes of the back foot should point straight ahead. Rotate the pelvis under you, pushing the upper pelvis (waist) backward while the lower pelvis rotates and presses against the iliopsoas. By pushing the upper attachment (small of the back) backward, you are further stretching the iliopsoas on the back-foot side. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds. Change your stride and repeat for the other side. Do this 5 times on each side. Try to perform this exercise at least twice a day if you tend to have tight iliopsoas.

Toe Touching

Toe touching has long been a standard exercise for maintaining the length of the muscles in the back of the upper leg (hamstrings). Two recommendations have been made for this exercise: (1) Do not include a bounce (you do not want to evoke the stretch reflex or damage tissues). The toe touch should be done slowly and held at the point of full stretch. (2) Do not let the knees hyperextend when toe touching, because this position may increase the potential hazard to the structures of the knee. To prevent hyperextension and excessive pressure within the knee joint that can occur in the standing position, exercisers have been encouraged to do their toe touches from a straight-leg, sitting position or while lying on the back. When lying on the back, the person pulls one leg toward the ceiling while the other leg remains flat on the floor. All stretching should be done slowly and should be held for several seconds.

Remember that your body plays an important role in your involvement in life. Treat it well—in addition to exercise, make activities such as Skates and Rag or Rug Hockey (see chapter 10) a lifetime sport!

Read more from Secrets to Success in Sport & Play.

More Excerpts From Secrets to Success in Sport & Play 2nd Edition



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