Introducing the Iliopsoas

Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages!

It is my particular pleasure to introduce to you, the iliopsoas, a thrilling group of three muscles which are exquisitely fundamental to the function of the hip joint. As an indispensable stabilizer of the lumbar spine and pelvis, and the one and only muscle group that has within it a sufficient power to flex the hip joint and lift the leg above, with appropriate amazement, 90 degrees, it seems a gloriously gigantic understatement to call this muscle merely important. It is clear this wondrously complex muscle group not only deserves but demands your supremely scrupulous attention. I am outstandingly overjoyed to dazzle your eminently esteemed self with the following…

Okay, sorry to get all Barnum & Bailey on you. I promise the rest of this article won’t be nearly as dramatic.

Some of you, I would bet, have never even heard the term iliopsoas (ill-ee-oh-so-az) before. Meanwhile others of you have teachers who are devoted advocates for these miracle muscles but perhaps you still have questions. I’m going to try to answer some of the basic ones.

The iliacus and nearby muscles
Image via Wikipedia

Why is the iliopsoas important?

  1. The iliopsoas has a profound influence on alignment of the pelvis. Because of this it has a great affect on posture and coordination in dance. A dancer that moves smoothly and efficiently is utilizing the strength  and stability of their center or core, of which the iliopsoas is an essential component.
  2. The iliopsoas is the primary hip flexor for the leg when it is above 90 degrees. The coveted “extension” of professional dancers is powered (in part) by these mighty muscles.
  3. The iliopsoas can be a source of injury in dancers who repeatedly perform movements which flex (crease) the hip joint. Strains in the lower back, snapping hips, and leg pain are known outcomes to an imbalance of movement patterns which can be caused when a dancer compensates for a tight or weak iliopsoas.

Let’s get something straight, through. The muscles which make up the iliopsoas play an important role in a few crucial components of dance. While increasing your awareness, understanding, and proper use of these muscles can have enormous benefits, please note that the muscles of the hip, pelvis, spine and upper leg are complex. No single muscle group could possibly be the root of or solution to all of the issues that arise in these areas. With guidance from a teacher who has a firm grasp on the power and function of this muscle group, however, your increased awareness has the potential to lead to those wonderful “ah-ha” moments which can change your dancing.

What and Where is the Iliopsoas?

tilted pelvis in need of correction

The iliopsoas is the only muscle (well, technically group of muscles) that attaches to the spine, pelvis, and femur (or, thigh). There are three muscles which make up the iliopsoas. The iliacus, the psoas major, and the psoas minor.

Though it has some involvement in the “lifting” of the pubic bone to correct alignment, the psoas minor has been found to be absent in a large percentage of people (a bi-product it seems of our more sedentary lifestyles). The major players are the psoas major and iliacus. Psoas major is attached to multiple points along the lower spine. It then meets up with the iliacus, which is attached to the illiac fossa (For reference, when you put your hands on your

Right hip-joint from the front.
Image via Wikipedia

“hips” you are placing them on the crest or upper rim of the ilium. The iliacus attaches to the inner, concave surface of this large, bony structure). The muscles then cross the front rim of the pelvis and the hip joint to attach to the lesser trochanter of the femur (thigh bone).

Lengthening and Strengtening

When standing, a person with a chronically short, tight iliopsoas will stand with hollowed or swayed arch to the back (which in turn limits turnout and causes other inbalances). Therefore a lenthened iliopsoas in important to alignment of the pelvis and health of the lower back.

Sometimes dancers are trained to engage muscles which are not necessary to hip flexion (lifting the leg) and this leads to a weak ilopsoas. Sometimes the iliopsoas is weak and stronger muscles take over to compensate for this weakness. Either way, practicing techniques that simultaneously strengthen and lengthen the iliopsoas are of benefit to dancers. In addition, making the most of the iliopsoas in your dancing will require visualization and awarenss of how this muscle functions.

How Can I Build Awareness?

The iliopsoas is a deep muscle, running very near the spine and beneath other major muscle groups. Therefore, awareness of the iliopsoas must come through visualization. You will not necessarily “feel” the muscles working and no single image will spark understanding in every dancer. Therefore it is extremely helpful to have a knowledgeable instructor that can guide you through this exploration.

First steps include locating the attachment points of the iliopsoas, visualizing the muscle that runs between these points, and analyzing how the muscle affects the bones and structures to which they are attached. Picture the muscle contracting from the center, moving the attachment points toward each other along the path of the muscle. How would this affect the leg? the spine? the pelvis? Now picture the muscle lengthening with the attachment points moving away. What are the affects?

As you move (in a deep plié, or as you lift or swing your leg), use your mind’s eye to transfer your knowledge to the moving body. Again, a teacher can help you discover and experience images that will help you to use the muscle with ease, fluidity, and power. These visual images may involve water, sand, strings, mechanics – anything that will help you engage the appropriate muscles and release the unnecessary ones.

Further Reading

On Dance Advantage see also:Lifting the Leg
“From Underneath”
and Other
Impossible Feats

I won’t pretend to be an expert on anatomy or kinesiology. College classes, books, resources, and experiences have shaped my knowledge of the subject. I welcome and encourage the sharing of your own experiences and ideas below in the comments.

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Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world.
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)


  1. I’m so glad you posted about this…I don’t think enough people know! I have the Franklin book myself. Some of it was a little too far out there (like how heavy is your liver? And I was like “I don’t know?”). But I’ve done some of the psoas imagery techniques, and there’s definitely been improvement…in my right hip. The left one hasn’t quite figured it out yet.

  2. Nichelle thanks for stepping into the ring and writing about the iliopsoas and the whole pelvic area! I think it takes quite an effort to describe it all for dancers, in the detail you provided. It certainly straightens out that “lift your leg from underneath” (haha) that many were (and still are) trained with.

    • Nichelle (admin) says:

      Thanks very much for your comments!

      Some of Franklin’s imagery can feel a little out there. BUT you never know what’s going to work for some people. Most students, I’ve found, have trouble relating to really internal imagery. Getting them to visualize muscles, bones, etc is tricky enough. Organs, etc. might be pushing it but Franklin’s books offer a wide variety. I “steal” his images for my classes a lot.

      Dianne, just recently wrote a response to someone on the “leg from underneath” myth and may try to post that here just to clear it up further!! [[link]]

  3. Joyce Friedman says:

    I have been suffering with a torn iliopsoas tendon – do you know of any cure?
    It’s been very hard to do excercises and it’s almost impossible for me to lift my right leg. If I stub my right foot – I see stars ….
    Any ifo would be greatly appreciated.

    • Joyce, your best bet will be talking to a doctor about repair, physical therapy, and pain management. A tear or rupture is an injury that should be taken care of by a specialist.

  4. I hear if we rotate our spine towards the front leg away from the rear that it helps to stretch this due to how it attaches to the front lateral portion of the spine.

  5. April Princessa says:

    I danced as a kid but didn’t start dancing seriously until I was a young woman (early twenties). Now some thirty years later, I am involved in teaching and choreography. In spite of having what I felt were good teachers, I was never introduced to the use of the iliopsoas to get those great high leg lifts. Is it too late for me to develop this important area of the body for dance?


    • Hi April,

      I don’t have enough physiological knowledge to know if the capacity decreases with age. My guess is that training or perhaps the best word is discovering the iliopsoas is possible at any age but like other areas of exercise, recovery would be slower were you to overdo something. Therefore, it’s even more crucial that care is taken to properly warm up and stay tuned into your body (pain is not good at any age).

      As you may have noticed, exploration and understanding of the iliopsoas is perhaps the most important step toward activating and “developing” this muscle for use in dance. It’s not training for strength in the traditional sense, rather a muscle group you gradually learn how to wield. 🙂

  6. Hi Nichelle. Thanks for this post. I’m going to share it with my students. I am in my 30s and teaching a great deal. I’m also a body worker. The intro to and use of the iliopsoas is so overlooked in dance training. I see it frequently. I didn’t have it as a young dancer and therefore, sadly, never learned to access the strength to find extension above 90 degrees. I also dealt with a variety of other obstacles over my dance career that I believe are due to a weak and also shortened psoas, which I’m just beginning to work on. I focus a lot on this with my students from young to adult. I love to share info with them and encourage outside-of-class reading and exploration. I know they might be more apt to read articles and blog posts rather than whole books. Do you have any articles or links you suggest (aside from your book list above)? (A few of the links on those are broken, by the way. I can only see 2 links of the 5.) Thank you!


  7. Thank you so much! I love dancing and I needed this for a school project and I couldn’t find information this detailed anywhere. 🙂