A couple years ago, I was plagued with iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS, or IT band syndrome). Once a runner is plagued with IT band syndrome, it’s a tough overuse injury to shake. No matter what I did or which chiropractor I saw, I couldn’t shake it. At its worst, my first marathon came to a grinding halt when my knee locked up completely and didn’t allow me to do anything except walk. And at its best, I could run/walk my second marathon. (Read more about ITBS in this post.)
Between my two marathons, I was referred to a physical therapist by my friend and sports medicine physician. At physical therapy, I was given a gait analysis and evaluation, and suggested exercises. I did the exercises diligently, yet was again plagued with IT band issues with my second marathon.
Would the injury cycle ever end?!
Frankly, my outlook looked bleak. I always did my strength work, and even added to it. My frustration was high. I was doing something wrong. But what was the something? And then one day while I was emailing my coach my frustrations, he mentioned that with all the exercises I was doing it seemed that I still wasn’t activating my glutes.
“Well now how could that be? Of course I’m activating my glutes,” I thought. But I wasn’t. Not by a long shot. It was then that I realized I really needed to focus my efforts on my hips and glutes.
Fire up those glutes!
Today I’m going to share my IT band rehab gems with you. There are lots of “routines” and exercises relating to IT band syndrome. Some may work for you, others may not. But for me, I found this routine and these tips to be a life-saver. It’s what works for me and if you’ve got a stubborn case of ITBS, it may work for you as well.
Please note: this post is for entertainment and educational purposes only. I am not a doctor or physical therapist. If you have pain when running, stop your activity and consult a medical professional.
Hip and Glute Strength for IT Band Rehab
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let me give you some general guidelines. This routine is best performed three times with a couple minutes of rest in between each set. This is not a HIIT workout. The movements should be slow and controlled, and you should focus on activating the small muscles responsible for stability and support. Keep your core engaged and focus your attention on the hips and glutes.
Engaging the core and glutes, perform 10-20 push-ups. If you can only do a few push-ups, that’s fine. The goal here is to maintain good form and not get sloppy.
Grab an appropriate weighted dumbbell and place it next to you parallel to your chest. Get into high plank position, grab the dumbbell and perform rows. Again, maintain good form. If your body is twisting too much or wobbling back and forth, try less weight. Perform 10-15 rows on each arm.
Single leg star drill
This is a variation on an exercise used by physical therapists to help determine balance, stability, and muscle imbalances. Used in a slightly different way, it makes for a great hip and glute strengthening workout.
The goal of this drill is to maintain control of your knee while slightly squatting and moving the opposite foot in the various directions.
To get into position for this exercise, imagine a star formation like a clock face on the floor. (You can also create a star using masking tape on the gym floor.) You’ll plant your foot in the center of the star and perform the following single leg squats:
Anterior: Balancing on your right leg with your hands on your hips, engage your core and slightly squat and reach forward and touch your left toe on the ground directly in front of you (anteriorly). Do not plant the left foot, just lightly touch the toe. Then bring the foot back and stand up straight. Repeat this ten times.
Lateral: The next step is to move the left leg and foot to the side (laterally) and lightly touch the toe to the ground. Maintain balance on the right leg during these motions. Repeat this ten times.
Posterolateral: Next up is a posterolateral move — you’ll turn your body slightly as you watch your left toe touch the ground at about 45 degrees from the midnight on the clock face — which would put your left toe at about 7:30 on the clock face. Bring the leg back to the neutral position. Repeat this movement ten times.
You’ll want to slow down significantly during the posterolateral positioning. It will require significant concentration and effort to keep the standing leg balanced and the knee from wobbling. After all repetitions are completed on the right leg, switch sides.
Lateral leg lifts
Lie on your right side with your legs stacked. Lift your left leg up and slightly back without rotating your hips. Lower the leg. Repeat this action 20-30 times. You should really feel it in the glutes if you’re doing this one right. Switch sides.
Again lying on your right side, lock your heels together, lift your left knee up and back down, mimicking a clamshell. Repeat 20-30 times and then switch sides.
Single leg glute bridge
Lie on your back. Engage your core and glutes and raise your trunk in the air. Lift your left leg, bending at the knee. With your left leg in the air, raise and lower your hips 20 times. Lower your leg and trunk. Switch legs and repeat.
Be sure not to raise your trunk using your quadriceps or shoulders. Keep the quads and hammies loose. You want your core and glutes to do the work.
Mini squats with glute squeeze
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands on your hips. Lower into a squat position like you would sit on a chair, and then stand back up. When you get into the standing position, give your glutes a little squeeze. Do 25 of these.
Complete this circuit three times. Try to do this workout 3-4 times each week.
Additional Tips for IT Band Rehab
Before every run, be sure to activate the glutes. Weak gluteus medius muscles are a huge contributor to IT band issues. An easy way to activate the glute meds is to perform 20 small side circles — 10 forward and 10 backward — on each leg. The circles should be small and controlled and you should feel your gluteus medius activate. You can do this while waiting for your GPS watch to find satellites. Grab a mailbox and start making small circles on each side.
If you feel your IT band begin to pull or become sore while running, simply touch your glutes or poke them with your hand while running. The touch sensation will help to activate the muscle.
Another helpful tip:
If you suffer from ITBS, stop crossing your legs when you sit — and never cross them again. It’s possible that extending and putting pressure on your IT bands while sitting can be a contributing factor to IT band pain. You can cross your ankles if you need to cross anything.
Strengthen those hips and glutes!
Once you have IT band syndrome, it’s a tough overuse injury to kick. Since my issues were long and drawn out, I will always be at risk for it to come back. Thankfully when it does come now, I know what I need to do. Between my strength exercises, not crossing my legs, and mini side circles before a run — knock on wood — I haven’t had IT band pain for several months.
If you’ve got a stubborn case of IT band syndrome, strengthen your hips and glutes. It will help!
Do you have a tried-and-true tip or trick for IT band issues?
Have you ever suffered IT band syndrome?