The groans can be heard as soon as you enter the gym. Dozens of men and women feverishly doing all sorts of abdominal exercises. They toil and strain, thinking that they are training each and every necessary muscle to the maximum...except that they are not.
Languishing deep inside the torso is the oft-forgotten psoas muscle. Alas, most people know very little about this muscle, even though it covers a large portion of the body. They simply figure that any abdominal workout will take care of all the important muscles in the abdomen.
A seemingly logical assumption, but an incorrect one nonetheless. This is one of the drawbacks of the modern fad of thinking about the human body as being divided into “sectors” or “blocks”. But of course, the marvelous structure of the human body does not reason by sectors.
Instead, it reasons by movements – movements that wrap the body in a fluidity that respects every single muscle, as well as the synergy of the movements themselves. A synergy that cannot, and must not, disregard the function of the abdomen, which is to give stability and support to the entire torso.
The torso must in its entirety give resistance to oscillations and body movements. It is, and must be, a belt (core) that favors the correct posture and protection of the internal organs and the spine. It must also contribute to the breathing and respect of the psoas muscle.
If not used in this way, the abdomen can only be in discomfort, with cervical and lumbar pain a result of the overloading of the intervertebral discs. Hernias and the weakening of the pelvic floor add to the stress on the psoas.
It is one thing to train a muscle peripherally through “catch-all” exercises, but quite another to substantially cause its shortening. And having a shortened psoas, posturally speaking, is not at all comfortable.
In fact, the shortening of this muscle, when standing, causes a forward traction of both the pelvis and the lumbar part of the spine. The inevitable consequence of this is an anteversion of the pelvis itself and an accentuated lordosis.
Furthermore, technically, when the psoas is contracted, deep abdominal breathing is compromised. And we know well how breathing is the key to keeping calm and centered. An unblocked pelvis and psoas allow for deeper breathing and full emotional release, thanks to an increase in energy.
And what to say, then, of excessive work on the abdominal muscles, which puts stress on the psoas and often provokes tendinitis? Tendonitis is an inflammation in the “attachment point” between muscle and bone.
Tendinitis which, if it strikes at the level of the ileo-psoas muscle, causes pain in the upper anterior region of the thigh (though the pain could also spread along the leg). Moreover, it is very likely that adhesions will form at the level of the abdominal muscles.
What to do, then? There are a number of postural and respiratory techniques that help to keep the psoas stress-free while still training the core. Thanks to a technique that focuses on contracting the diaphragm (a muscle absolutely in symbiosis with the psoas), it is possible to strengthen the abdominal area and the lower back.
In this way, pressure is applied inside the body that activates both the pelvic area and the abdominal band. The difference between these abdominal exercises and the classic ones lies in the pressure that is applied on the abdomen and on all the organs.
What benefits are there to this approach? The abdomen is slimmed and toned, posture is corrected and balance is improved. The perianal musculature is toned down, reducing anxiety and stress. Pelvic pain, hernias and prolapse are all also prevented.
A correct program of physical activity, i.e. rational muscle training of the entire core, generates a moderate and short-term increase in free radicals, which can activate molecular mechanisms useful to the cell in protecting itself from oxidative stress.
This, however, will not be possible with unrestrained and excessive abdominal “block” workouts. Fortunately, in recent times there has been growing evidence that excessive exercise can cause more harm than good.
Indeed, there is probably no need for training sessions longer than 45 minutes. And that, perhaps, 20 minutes can be more than enough. Physical activity, especially the strong and prolonged kind, always causes a certain degree of stress on the human body.
This has two consequences: inflammation and oxidative stress. Let's take an example. An isolated training session, at medium-high intensity, induces high oxidative stress and significant lesions on the DNA. On the other hand, regular exercise at moderate intensity is able to cause an inhibition on oxidative stress and related damage.
Therefore, there should be an “optimal level” of exercise, above which excessive training starts to hurt more than help. Obviously, this optimal zone of physical activity varies from subject to subject. Oxidative stress (quantity of free oxygen radicals produced) will be very different in a triathlon athlete than with someone who almost never exercises.
The oxidative load is not dependent exclusively on how much we train, but how much we do in relation to our abilities. In other words, it is enough to go just beyond our "comfort zone" in order to experience a certain level of oxidative stress.
Therefore, overtraining (excessive training) is always dangerous. This is especially true when overworking abdominals. It is critical that we address our body in its entirety, and not sectionally. The psoas must be protected!
by Rossella Pece Founder and Maker “ilfitnessdellanima” Author of the book “Accarezziamolo con calma: manutenzione e riflessioni sul muscolo ileo-psoas”,