3 Essential Exercises For Your IT Band—And Why You Need To Stop Ignoring It

These are the best exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your IT band and prevent IT Band Syndrome.

By Brook Benten Jimenez, ACSM-certified Exercise Physiologist, Prevention

There are few areas of the body as misunderstood as the IT (iliotibial) band. What is it, anyway? Though some think it's a muscle, it's actually fascia (aka connective tissue) that runs from the outside of your hip to the knee and down to your shin. You don't typically need to strengthen it—the IT band is already incredibly tough, storing energy and working like a powerful spring. You can't stretch it either, as it's not flexible, but you can stretch the muscles surrounding it. 

All of these misconceptions can complicate treatment of IT Band Syndrome, a common overuse injury mainly seen in runners and other fitness lovers. It happens when the IT band becomes inflamed, which can cause swelling and pain on the outside of the knee. If you experience this, try backing off high-impact exercise like running and doing lower-impact activities like swimming or cycling, and seek out a sports medicine doctor if pain persists. The best way to prevent this condition is to train consistently, stresses Murphy Halasz, a physical therapist at Champion Performance Physical Therapy in Austin, Texas. If you go ramp up your exercise routine too quickly—say, going from not running at all to logging 5+ miles a day or cramming all your exercise into the weekends—there's a greater chance you'll end up in pain. It's important to ease into your routine.

So what should you do if you suspect your IT band is too tight? First, visit a doctor to get the correct diagnosis and discuss treatment options. Then, practice healing exercises to strengthen and loosen the surrounding muscles that help take stress off this tissue. The following moves should help:


Exercise #1: Step-Downs

Why this works: Your butt muscles, or glutes, should be strong enough to keep your hips level while running. When they're not strong enough, the IT band takes up the slack and does the work, which can cause tightness and inflammation. Step-downs strengthen the side glutes to prevent this from happening.

How to do it:

  1. Find a 2-inch platform to use, like a book. It's important that your step is this low because it will ensure that you work your side glutes. A higher step will force the stronger central muscles in your butt to do the work.
  2. Step one foot on the platform. Tap the other foot down to the ground gently, then bring it up to join the other foot on top of the platform. Be sure to keep most of your weight on the supporting leg. Perform 15 repetitions on one side, taking about two seconds to tap down and two seconds to tap up.
  3. Repeat on the other leg for 15 reps, then switch back to the starting leg for another set. Continue alternating to perform a total of three sets of 15 on each leg.

Exercise #2 (Option A): Single Leg Balances

Why this works: Single leg balances are a great way to strengthen all of your gluteal muscles, as well as the quadriceps, which will help to level out your hips and prevent your IT band from working overtime.

How to do it:

  1. Stand on one foot with the other leg lifted and extended out in front of you, foot flexed. Try to keep your hips in alignment, and hold steady for 90 seconds.
  2. Repeat on the other side.

Note: Once you master this stationary balance, you can swap Exercise #2 (Option B) into your routine. See below.


Exercise #2 (Option B): Single Leg Squats

Why this works: Like leg balances, single leg squats work your entire butt and quads to keep those hips level. This realignment will ultimately translate to better running form and less stress on your IT band.

How to do it:

  1. Find a bench or 18"- to 24"-tall box, and stand directly in front of it. Assume the single leg balance, described above.
  2. Keeping your hips level, bend into your standing leg and take three seconds to lower your butt just above the bench. Take three seconds to rise back up. Perform 15 reps on this side
  3. Repeat on the other side.


Exercise #3: Lateral Quad Roll

Why this works: Although the IT band itself is not very malleable, the structures surrounding it are. The side of the quad, or vastus lateralis, is what really needs to be loosened and massaged deeply. This move uses a foam roller to restore the tissue, but be advised: This area is tender. Initially, rolling may make you grimace!

Get rid of back pain and relieve stress with this easy foam roller exercise:


How to do it:

  1. Lie on your side, and position the foam roller just below the hipbone of the bottom leg. To stack your hips, cross the top leg over and rest that foot on the floor in front of you.
  2. Roll the foam roller down the length of the side of your thigh until you reach just above the side of the knee, then reverse to roll back up. Stop and hold still if you hit any exceptionally sensitive spots—breathe deeply here until the sensitivity subsides. You should take approximately 30 seconds to roll down and 30 seconds to roll back up. Perform three repetitions.
  3. Repeat on the other side.

See more at: Prevention


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Health Magazine: 3 Essential Exercises For Your IT Band—And Why You Need To Stop Ignoring It
3 Essential Exercises For Your IT Band—And Why You Need To Stop Ignoring It
These are the best exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your IT band and prevent IT Band Syndrome.
Health Magazine
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