Quick temp check: Have you been pounding the pavement harder than usual lately? Or spinning your wheels on your exercise bike more than you normally do? As a result, are you noticing your knees are a bit achier than normal? That’s not totally unexpected. It’s possibly a sign that your IT band could use a little TLC, though. Repetitive movement patterns, like the kind used in running or cycling, can put strain on your IT band over time and eventually cause on overuse injury or IT Band Syndrome (ITBS), a sharp pain on the outside of the knee. One of the best ways to keep yours healthy is by doing IT band exercises that strengthen the muscles around it, says Jessica Moy, an physical therapist and registered yoga teacher.
Below, she shares seven strength and flexibility training moves she recommends people do regularly to prevent, correct, or manage ITBS or injury. The best way to work them into your fitness routine? Incorporate them into your dynamic warmup before your workout. (Just a heads up, you’re going to need a resistance band.) Perform each move for 30 seconds per side, then continue on to the next.
But before you hop into the IT band exercises below, let’s back up a minute and go over some basics, starting with: What is an IT band? First off, it’s short for your illiotibial band, and it’s a piece of connective tissue (a.k.a. fascia) that runs along the outside of your leg from your hip to your knee.
Since it’s not technically a muscle, you can’t strengthen it the way you would, say, your hamstrings. Instead, to keep it healthy it’s important to regularly do exercises that strengthen the primary muscles it supports. Those would be your hips and glutes, in particular. Making sure they’re in good shape can go a long way to preventing IT band injuries in the first place. The other way to do this is by giving yourself enough time to recover from strenuous workouts. FYI: It can take up to 48 hours for muscle soreness to set in after intense workouts, so consider blocking off at least that long in between long runs, hard HIIT classes, and marathon bike rides. In between these feats of fitness, you can keep moving by engaging in any of these awesome forms of active recovery instead.
If you don’t give your bod the time to bounce back, you run the risk of creating a condition called IT Band Syndrome, or ITBS for short. This is caused by instability around the knee joint due to overtraining or weakness in the muscles that support your knee, such as your hips and glutes. It’ll feel like a sharp pain outside of your knee that’ll persist without treatment. Sound familiar? You should consult a physical therapist and start doing IT band exercises.
If you’re saying to yourself: What about foam rolling?Let me stop you right there. While foam rolling is great for releasing tension in your muscles, it’s not going to do much to improve your ITBS. “The biggest mistake we see with adjusting the IT band is people mistaking the IT band for [muscle],” Bianca Spicer, exercise physiologist and owner of Spicer Fitness and Wellness in Atlanta, Georgia, previously told Women’s Health. It just doesn’t respond to foam rolling the same way, so you’re better off saving those foam rolling exercises for the muscles around your IT band and doing these exercises below on the reg for some sweat relief.
How to:Wrap a resistance band around your thighs and lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor 12 to 16 inches from your butt. Brace your core, then press into your heels and squeeze your glutes to raise your hips toward the ceiling while pushing your upper back into the ground. Pause in this position and expand the band by pressing your knees apart. Return to start. That’s one rep.
How to do it:Lie on right side with knees bent. Place mini resistance band around thighs, just above knees. Place left hand on left hip and form a 90-degree angle with right arm to prop yourself up and remain stable. Working against the band, squeeze glutes and thigh muscles to press left thigh up as far as possible without rolling top hip backward. Then slowly bring left thigh back to starting position. That’s one rep.
How to: Place a resistance band loop around legs just above knees and begin on hands and knees, in table top position, with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips, back flat and band taught. Push palms into floor, engage abs, and lift knees to hover off the floor, bringing hips level with shoulders, keeping tension on band the entire time. Hold this position for 30.
How to:Start by lying on right side, feet flexed. Put left hand on ground in front of chest to stabilize the body. Keep the body in a straight line, tailbone tucked. With left foot flexed and leg straight, lift leg toward the ceiling. Depending on flexibility, stop somewhere between 45o-80o and lower back down. That’s one rep. (For an added challenge, wrap a resistance band around thighs or perform leg lifts from a side plank position.)
How to:Start on all fours. Keeping left knee bent at 90 degrees, lift left leg out to side, stopping at hip height. Return to start. That’s one rep.
How to:Start on mat on elbows and knees, keeping shoulders over elbows and hips over knees. Make circles in the air with your right knee, moving from the hip. Draw circle as wide as possible while keeping torso stable.
How to: Start standing tall with feet under hips and arms clasped in front of chest. Engage core, lift right foot off the floor and take a big step back and to the outside of left foot. Then, bend at knees until right knee taps floor behind left foot. Drive through feet to reverse the movement and return to start position. That’s one rep.