I once traded my old physics textbook to my college roommate for a foam roller; you just can’t put a price on a healthy, loose IT band that doesn’t interfere with your running. I’ve said more than once how my own very tight IT band during college track season was what got me even more hooked on yoga (see my TEDxUVA talk “Do Yoga Run Faster” here for more!). If I mention rather frequently how yoga helps you towards a better IT band, it’s because I understand from experience how absolutely aggravating this band of fascia can be, and feel tremendous empathy for anyone whose IT band is actively interfering with their training. I can remember just lying in bed, trying to go to sleep, and having my IT band just throb! Yoga, especially my nightly pigeon pose, eka pada rajakapotasana, was essential in keeping my IT band in the back of, rather than at the forefront of my mind.
While injured in college, I searched far and wide for everything and anything that could get my IT band healthy—here are the four best exercises that I used for strengthening my hips while on the road to recovery. For more IT band help, see the new RLY 40min. Hips/IT Band Yoga Workout too, which is chock full of all of my favorite IT band loosening and hip strengthening yoga exercises!
1. Side Walk with Strength Band.
Setup: Find a strength/resistance band loop made out of some fairly sturdy material—you want some substantial tubing or thicker rubber rather than the really thin, flat stuff that PTs cut off a larger roll. Ideally this loop should be about the right size to go around your ankles if you’re standing a foot or so wider than hip-width, which equates to something like 3 feet of tubing or so. Step both feet into the loop of tubing, then step as wide as you need to get the tubing taut just about your ankles.
Movement: walk sideways (straight to the right) for 30 to 60 seconds. Yes, you’ll probably need a decently large space, but if needed you can totally wind your way through different rooms in your house! As you walk to the right, keep the band taut—don’t let it get loose as you move the left foot back closer to the right. Next, do the same thing in the opposite direction, straight to the left.
2. Side Leg Raises.
Setup: No equipment needed except a clear wall at least as long as your body. Lie with your back against the wall, using hands and arms to support your head as needed. Once you’ve gotten pretty proficient at this exercise, try adding a 1-3 lb. ankle weight.
Movement: Using the wall as a guide, move your top leg up and down the wall. Slightly lead with your heel (toes pointed slightly down) so that you target all the muscles surrounding your IT band.
Setup: No equipment needed! Lie on your side with the underneath leg just slightly bent. Now, bend your top leg to tuck the toes of this leg behind your bottom, slightly bent knee. (Some people will instruct you to do clamshells just legs both bent and stacked on top of one another, but “anchoring” the top leg behind bottom leg knee really helps you control the movement and have your leg at the correct angle to target your hip.) I usually lie with my head on top of my outstretched bottom arm, and then place my top arm/hand as needed elsewhere for support and balance.
Movement: taking your time, slowly lower top leg knee towards the floor, then bring back knee up towards the ceiling. Aim for 25-50 reps, then switch sides. Prioritize form over speed.
4. Hip Step Raises.
Setup: Find some stairs! I literally would go out into the stairwells of Pasquerilla West (my dorm at Notre Dame) so that I got these in—they really help that much to get all those little hip muscles stronger. Face the railing of the stairs, standing with left leg on the step so that the right one hangs in the air, hovering over the right step. Form is really key here to get the most out of this one.
Movement: Keep left leg straight. Lower right foot a couple inches towards the bottom step (it won’t actually touch it). As you lower your foot, let left hip drop out to the left. Be sure the movement is coming from your left side; in other words, focus on using those muscles to drop that hip to the side and raise it back up, as this is what is actually lowering/raising the right foot. Take your time, and repeat for 25-50 rounds. (Don’t do 50 for your first time!) Then repeat, this time sending right foot forward for a similar amount of reps. Lastly, repeat, sending right foot slightly backwards for the same reps. Before you switch sides, try walking around for a few steps; you’re doing something right if you can really feel that you’ve worked the muscles in your one hip.
Good luck with your healthy hips! Do let me know on Instagram if you try any of these out, as I love hearing that other runners have found a solution to their IT band woes! A loose IT band doesn’t happen overnight. Be very patient with your body, and be sure to do both sides even if only one is giving you trouble. The right combination of stretching and strengthening really doesn’t have to take much time—a little bit of directed effort can go a very long way.
Here's a few helpful links too!