As I checked my emails, I got the following request from a running friend that has a full-time desk job:
“I maybe tweaked my IT band and was hoping maybe for some advice on what to do? I’ve stopped running and have been doing side leg lifts which apparently target the IT band?”
Usually, before building any sort of exercise program, it is best to screen the person to find their weak links, which will give what needs to be the focus in the individualized routine. If you have pain while exercising, it is important to stop doing what causes pain because with pain comes compensation and with compensation comes other problems.
In my experience, the IT band or the Iliotibial band is a common subject in the world of endurance sport such as running and cycling. The Iliotibial band is a continuation of the tensor fascia lata (TFL) which is higher in the hip area. The origin of the tensor fascia lata is in the anterior superior iliac spine and its insertion is on the IT band, which is attached to the lateral condyle of the tibia. Amongst stabilizing the hip and the knee joints (love the word stabilizing), the TFL muscle helps (key word here) in abduction of the hip and internal rotation of the hip.
The TFL is not the only muscle in the hip area and should not be the primary muscle that you are using when you are training. There are more powerful muscles available like the Gluteus Maximus (your butt) that are severely underused because a lot of people spend so much time sitting all day. In my opinion, the Gluteus Maximus is what makes you a strong and fast runner. Pay attention to the fast runners out there, look at their buttocks, you will notice that they are different than the more leisure paced people. The Gluteus Maximus is a nice big muscle that has great potential for power.
Sitting on your glutes all day does not only influence the circulation in that area, it also affects overall hip mobility. When you sit all day, your hip flexors are shortened during that time, which will make it harder for your glutes to extend your hips (don’t get me started on hamstrings).
Tight hips are the perfect opportunity for your TFL to start firing and being over used when you go for a run, for example. The TFL should not be the primary muscle used when you are running. When it starts getting overused, you will start feeling your IT Band pulling on the side of your knee and start limping in the long run (pun intended).
So, what should you do to get all of this under control and avoid injury without having to quit your job? Start with glute activation. I find the supine bridge to be really good at waking up your buttocks, your core and stretching those hip flexors that have been shortened all day. You can do a couple of repetitions of that exercise before going to bed or even before your run as part of your movement preparation routine (warm up). Start by doing 2 sets of 12 repetitions and pay attention to what happens in your next runs or rides.