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The Best IT Band Stretches and Exercises

Why You Need More Than Just IT Band Stretches

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Recently picked up running or spinning? Tried taking your weekly miles off the road and onto the trails? Skipped your weekly yoga classes a few too many times in a row?

If you're experiencing pain on the outside of one or both knees or just feel "locked up" in and around your knees, your iliotibial band (or IT band) might be to blame. The IT band begins at the pelvis and runs on the outside part of the thigh all the way down to the shinbone. The muscles in your butt and hips attach to it, so even if you're feeling pain in your knee, it might be a symptom of weakness or tightness in the hips. (It could be a very common thing called IT band syndrome—read more here.)

The best strategy for staying pain- and injury-free? A combination of strengthening your hips, stretching your IT bands, and foam rolling all the major muscles in your legs. It sounds like a lot of work, but do these six simple moves and you'll notice a significant difference; these IT band stretches, exercises, and foam rolling cues to loosen up your IT band and get back to moving pain-free in no time. (Related: 10 Ways to Use a Foam Roller)

You'll need: An exercise band, a foam roller, and a mat (optional).
How it works: Do each move for the indicated number of reps and sets twice a week.

 

Photo: Peter Ardito

Clam Shells

it band stretches mini band clamshell

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A. Loop an exercise band just above knees. Lie on left side with feet and knees stacked, heels in line with spine.
B. Keeping feet pressed together, engage glutes and open top knee as far as possible. Make sure to keep hips aligned and facing forward (don't let that top hip roll open).
C. Continue to open and close the knees at a moderate pace. (If using a thick band, do 15 reps on each side per set. For thinner bands, double it to 30 reps per set.)

Do 3 sets of 15 to 30 reps per side.

(Related: Also try these other mini band exercises for hip strength.)

Photo: Peter Ardito

Band Walks

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A. Keeping the band just above knees, stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend knees and shift hips as far back as possible, keeping chest lifted.
B. Leading with the right knee, take a small step out to the right, and then step left foot in return to starting position.
C. Continue to take small steps to the right, constantly pushing hips back and knees out. Do 20 steps to the right and then repeat to the left.

Do 3 sets of 20 reps per side.

Foam Rolling: Quads

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A. Lie on the left side with the foam roller under the left quad. Shift weight into hands and allow feet to lift off the ground or just graze it.
B. Roll along the side of the quad from the hip to knee, focusing on the muscle just in front of the IT band. Roll this area for 30 seconds.
C. Next, roll along the front of the quad for 30 seconds.
D. Finally, move to the inside of the quad and groin for another 30 seconds. 

Continue for as long as you want or until your quad feels looser. Switch sides; repeat.

Photo: Peter Ardito

Foam Rolling: Hips

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A. Sit on the foam roller with the left ankle crossed over the right knee. Place hands directly behind you.
B. Gently rock forward and back and side to side to release tight glute muscles. Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch sides. 
C. Next, flip over so that the foam roller is under the front of right hip. Gently roll this area out for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Roll each area for 30 seconds or until hips feel looser. Switch sides; repeat.

Photo: Peter Ardito

Rotating IT Band Stetch

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A. Stand tall with feet together. Hinge forward at the hips to lower into a forward fold and softly bend the left knee.
B. Lengthen the spine and reach the left hand toward the ground, rotating shoulders to the right to reach the right arm overhead.
C. Focus on keeping a long spine and the neck neutral. Hold for 30 seconds, breathing deeply the entire time.
D. Return to center, then repeat on the other side.

Repeat 3 times on each side.

Photo: Peter Ardito

Cross-Body Stretch

it band stretches crossbody stretch

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A. Grab a strap and lie faceup with legs hip-width apart. Bring left leg up and place strap around the ball of left foot.
B. Keeping left foot flexed, slowly draw leg over to the right side.
C. Keep both legs straight the entire time and hips planted on the floor.

Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.

Photo: Peter Ardito

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