Summer is quickly approaching (summer solstice is on June 21 this year)! Summer is the most yang of the seasons, representing our fullest potential - the outward expression of energy, expansiveness and activity. During the summer months it is natural for us to be more active in sports and other outdoor activities.
If you are an avid runner, biker, hiker, or overall physically active athlete, chances are that you have experienced at one point or another tight IT (ileotibial) bands. The IT band runs along the lateral aspect of the thigh, from the pelvis to the tibia, crossing both the hip and knee joints.
This pesky muscle, when inflamed, will not only affect the muscle itself, but also can affect other muscles in the surrounding area (such as tight glutes, TFL (hip flexors) quads and/or or hamstrings. Incorporating some key stretches for these muscle groups to your regime can help lengthen these muscles and allow for pain-free exercise in the long run. For example:
Hip flexor and quad stretch, Figs. 1 and 2: In a lunge position, keep a straight back and the back femur at a 90 degree angle to the floor as in Figure 1 (vs. bending further into your front knee in Figure 2); lean forward slightly, tucking your bum under your hips by curling the tailbone under. You will feel this is an intense hip flexor and quad stretch! Hold for 30 seconds – 1 minute (don’t bounce) and repeat for both legs.
Fig 1 Fig 2
IT band and glute stretch, Fig. 3: Lay on your back with your shoulders down and hips flat on the ground. Extend your left leg out with your foot flexed. Bring the right knee into your chest and wrap a strap around the ball of the right foot (or grab your foot as demonstrated here). Extend the right foot towards the ceiling. Take the foot, or both ends of the strap (you can use a belt, too), in your left hand and extend your right arm out to the right, releasing your arm to the floor. Take your right leg over to the left side and roll on to your left hip, stacking your right hip directly above the left. Try to keep your right shoulder grounded on the floor. Hold for one to three minutes and then repeat on the opposite side.
Standing IT band stretch, Fig 4: Starting with both legs straight, go into a forward fold. Then, bending the right knee, take the right hand over to the left shin or ankle and allow the upper body to open. You can do this by placing the left hand to the low back or raising the left arm toward the sky, with the intention of raising your chest upward. Stay here for 4-5 full breaths. Repeat on the other side.