Do you make a daily effort to roll your IT bands, but feel frustrated by continued tension and pain? You’re not the only one, because the foam roller alone simply isn’t the right tool to fix this problem. Learn why, and try the exercises in this article instead. Done all together, they make a great 6-minute pre-workout routine for your lower-body and cardio days.
First off, let’s talk IT bands. IT band stands for iliotibial band. It is not a muscle, but rather a fascia that runs down the outside of your thighs to connect your pelvis to your knee.
Here’s what it looks like in context:Diagram of the iliotibial (IT) band and surrounding muscles. (Photo: Getty Images)
Fascia is essentially like super strong wrapping paper for your muscles — it holds them in place, and it is tough. Foam rolling or percussion massage can help loosen muscles and therefore fascia, but trying to stretch it out or lengthen fascia with a roller is like trying to stretch a piece of paper; there is no give. The IT band’s tension is governed by the muscles that attach to it, so when the muscles are in balance both in length and strength, IT band tension is relieved.
The most common tight and short muscle culprits that need daily stretching or trigger-point release are the piriformis (deep buttocks muscle), TFL (tensor fasciae latae, the muscle on the front and side of your pelvis) and outer hamstrings.
You can perform the following techniques by yourself. Do each of the following three stretches for 30-60 seconds daily as part of your warm-up. Note: Stretching should not be painful or max effort. Instead, perform stretches at an intensity that you would rate a five to seven out of 10.
The TFL can be tricky to stretch effectively due to its location on the pelvis. Instead, use your foam roller or a ball to release it.
Variation: If this is too intense, put the ball or roller on the wall so you can perform the exercise standing instead.
Tip: Remember to be gentle, as the sciatic nerve runs close by. Resist the temptation to do a standing or seated forward bend version instead, as we are trying to isolate more of your outer hamstring in this variation.
The most common weak or inhibited muscles that need pre-workout activation exercises include the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius (muscle on the side of your pelvis and hip) and transverse abdominis (deep abs).
Perform each of the following three exercises without any external weight before each leg day or cardio workout.
Tip: If your hamstrings are cramping, try elevating your feet on a weight bench or chair.
Tip: Perform the exercise with your back against a wall so you can feel your alignment.
Tip: It is OK to feel your thigh muscles working too.
The key to making these exercises work is being intentional. You must embody the small details provided, perform the stretches and exercises consistently, and respect their subtle nature. The tips provided are not a quick overnight fix, but dedicated daily inclusion that, in tandem with proper form during your workouts, will bring you one step closer to IT band relief each day.
A final word of warning: Adding more pull to intensify a stretch to 10/10 or adding weights to a muscle activation exercise will most likely only lead to compensation, which will perpetuate the issue instead of leading to the IT band relief you seek. Stick to the mild-to-moderate intensities I noted in the stretches above, and focus on form as you move through the bodyweight exercises.