The pesky IT can be a problem area for many runners and cyclists. Also known as the iliotibial band, it is a set of fascia that run along the outside of the leg from the top of the thigh to just below the knee. The repetitive motion of running and cycling can create inflammation in these fibers causing pain in the lateral part of the knee or all the way up the outside of the leg.
For anyone who has experienced this pain you know it can be a rather debilitating and frustrating diagnosis. Most of us, athletes in particular, have tight IT bands even without pain. Whenever I sequence my classes around the IT my class suddenly becomes very vocal: hemming, hawing, and sighing through their poses. Runners especially find these poses difficult and uncomfortable, for good reason, but by the end of class all are singing their praises due to newfound openness and release. Try these at home and see for yourself.
Half hanumanasana (half splits) with externally rotated foot
- Come to a low lunge with your left leg in front.
- On an exhale begin to straighten your front leg to the best of your ability. It’s okay if there’s a slight bend in your leg. Feel free to use blocks on either side of your legs for your hands if you need extra support.
- Take five breaths here allowing the hamstring to soften.
- After five breaths turn your foot toward the left so you’re on the knife side edge of your left foot. Stay for 10 breaths.
- When you’re ready to come out, pivot back onto your left heel, toes pointing up. Re-bend into your left knee then switch sides, right foot in front.
Supine leg cross
We’ve explored supine leg stretches before while discussing the hamstrings. This pose is very similar but the twist helps to target the IT.
- Lay on your back extending both legs long.
- Draw the left leg in and loop a strap, rope, or towel around the ball of your left foot extending your leg up to the ceiling.
- Take a few breaths here to lengthen the hamstring before moving on.
- Move the strap into the right hand and bring your left hand to your left hip crease.
- Use the left hand to draw your hip crease down to the floor as you extend your left leg to the right. I find that lowering even a foot or two to the right is plenty for my poor IT, but feel free to lower your left leg as much as you need to facilitate a good stretch.
- Breathe here for 10 breaths before bringing the left leg back to center and repeating on the right side.
Pyramid pose variation with twist
Of all poses in yoga this is one of my favorites. This pose gets most deeply into my IT band and it’s a pose that has taught me to breathe! Try not the hold your breath on this one, it’s more comfortable if you release into it.
- Standing at the top of your mat step your right foot back about three feet, keep the back heel lifted.
- Keep both legs straight, on an exhale fold forward over your legs. Use blocks here for your hands if your hamstrings are tight.
- Take five breaths to soften into the pose.
- Keeping your feet stationary move your right hand a little closer to your left foot then twist your torso to the left and extend your left hand skyward.
- Take ten deep breaths before releasing your left hand down.
- Step your right foot forward and repeat on the other side.
Personally, I’ve found that the mix yoga classes, foam rolling, and practicing these poses a few times a week has helped my IT Band Syndrome immensely. For no-cost and very little time investment they offer big returns. Try these poses out for yourself to see if they alleviate some of your discomfort and feel free to report back on your results. I’m always curious to hear your comments and feedback about these poses.
Photos and article by Lisa Horvath.