Doing more running than usual but don’t know if your body can take it? This PT-approved tip might help you decide whether to plough on or take a rest day.
If you’ve been increasing how frequently you go running, then you might be feeling a little tight. Tight hips and hamstrings are two common side effects, and while they’re nothing to worry about in and of themselves, they can be a sign you need to stop and stretch.
The problem with running is that often, you don’t know you’re tight until it’s too late. You might feel limber until halfway through a run, but then your knee or hamstring starts to feel like it’s seizing up. And at that point, you’ll either run through the discomfort – potentially making it worse – or hobble home feeling sorry for yourself.
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If only there was a way to see ahead of time whether you were on the path to injury – and therefore know whether to go for a run or have a few rest days.
Well… there might be.
The other day at the gym, my PT asked me to lie on my back, knees bent and feet on the floor. Taking the butt-end of a massage gun, he unceremoniously jabbed an area to the right of my belly button and pushed down. Eventually, it became distinctly uncomfortable, and he eased off. Had it been painful in the first few seconds, he explained, it would have suggested a higher risk of injury.
Chris Stanton, PT at Third Space Moorgate and the hand behind the machine gun, explains that it’s all do with a little muscle known as the psoas. “The psoas muscle contracts as you lift your knee and relaxes as your leg swings back, and along with the core muscles, the psoas also helps to stabilise your hips. In fact, every time you stand, walk or run, you’re engaging the psoas.”
Tightness in the psoas, Stanton explains, can indicate various issues. “Inevitably, tight psoas compromises your ability to run and move effectively. It can also misalign your posture and reduce movement efficiency.”
In other words, if you want to run pain-free, are struggling with a sore lower back or don’t feel that comfortable when you walk or hike, then it’s worth testing how tight your psoas is.
How to test how tight your psoas is
Lying psoas test
- Lie on your back on a mat
- Using your fingers (or the butt of a massage gun – whatever suits you), push down hard 2 inches either side of your belly button.
- If it feels painful, that’s a sign to back off.
- If you can take a lot of pressure, your psoas is doing fine.
If it feels painful, make an appointment to see a sports physio. If you’re unsure about prodding a sensitive bit of your body, try the below test or again, talk to a sports physio.
Standing psoas test
- Don’t want to lie down on the gym floor? Try this standing version:
- Stand up straight
- Pull on knee up towards your chest, as high as it’ll go
- Hold for as long as possible, or up to 30 seconds
If you can hold it there for 30 seconds without too much trouble, your psoas is probably quite strong. If you started to notice your back rounding, pain in your hip or hamstrings, then you could do with strengthening that muscle.
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How to deal with tight psoas
Your best option is to dial down the running intensity and start adding in daily hip opening and strengthening exercises.
Try hip-opening yoga
Surprise, surprise – Yoga With Adriene has a whole yoga sequence for psoas stretching and strengthening, including lunging, extended side angle and lizard pose. It’s 22 minutes and, having tried it, I can attest to the fact that your hips will feel noticeably more open and mobile after.
Don’t have time for a full flow? Have a go at these stretches ahead of a run or after a day sitting at your desk:
- Kneel on one knee, with the front foot firmly planted on the floor
- Start to lean forwards into that front leg
- Go as deep as you can without letting the knee come in front of the toes
- That might mean moving that front foot further away from your body
- Begin on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips.
- Slowly, begin to widen your legs out to the side, keeping your knees bent and feet and toes pointing outwards.
- Rest on your forearms with your elbows beneath your shoulders, placing your palms together or on the floor. You can also extend your hands forward, resting your chin or forehead on the floor.
- Sit back into your hips to deepen the pose and breathe deeply.
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