Knee Pain? Start Doing These Exercises ASAP
As many a runner (including me!) can confirm, your iliotibial (IT) band, a thick band of tissue that runs from your hips to your knee and shin on the outer side of each leg, should not be ignored. Tight IT bands can lead to ITBS or IT band syndrome, which manifests as pain on the outside of the knee cap and can make it hard — or impossible — to stick with your running hobby.
Whether you're well-versed in IT band-related pain or are just hoping you never have to experience it, specific exercises can help relieve pain and keep your IT band happy. These 13 stretches and exercises focus on loosening your IT band and strengthening quads, hips, and glutes in order to ensure you never have to skip a run because of ITBS again. If you're experiencing ITBS-related knee pain, remember to ice until the swelling goes down, rest, and skip any of these exercises if they are too painful on your knee. Source: POPSUGAR Studios
Glute Foam Rolling
Tight glutes can pull on the IT band and adversely effect the alignment of the hips and knees, so keep glutes loose with regular foam rolling.
- Lying on the floor, lift your legs and place the roller at the back of your pelvis (aka sacrum).
- Gripping the end of the roller for stability, slowly twist your lower body to the left, then to the right, to massage your glutes. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Adjust your body's position until you find the "sweet spot" or tight spot. Direct pressure will help to release knots.
IT Band Foam Rolling
When the IT band gets tight, it can pull the knee out of alignment, causing pain and inflammation in the joint.
- Lying on your side, similar to a side plank position, place the roller on the outside of your thigh just below your hip.
- Place your top arm on your hip, and using your top leg for stability, roll the length of your thigh, stopping just above the knee. Go slowly, and do not roll over the knee joint. Keep your bottom leg lifted, or lower it down to the floor if you can. Chances are high that this move will be painful, which is a sign that you really need to do this.
- If you find an especially tender point, try rolling forward and back to release this spot.
- Roll for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch sides.
This IT band-loosening stretch is great to do after a run.
- Bend in half at the waist and hang over, crossing your left foot behind your right and pressing your left big toe down into the floor.
- Twist your upper body to the left and hold on to your right leg. You should feel a gentle pull on the outside of your right leg. Hold the stretch for a minute.
- Uncross your legs, and switch legs to stretch the other side.
You'll feel this stretch in your upper thighs as well as your calves.
- Stand a little less than arm's distance from the wall.
- Step your left leg forward and your right leg back, keeping your feet parallel.
- Bend your left knee and press through your right heel.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, and switch legs.
Single-Leg Balance Touch
This exercise really works the deep glutes while challenging your core and sense of balance.
- Begin standing with arms overhead with all your weight on your left foot.
- Keeping your spine long, reach forward, bending your left knee and pointing your right leg back, touching both hands to the ground. Keep your abs engaged to keep your torso stable.
- Lower your right leg down while lifting your torso, bringing your arms overhead to complete one rep.
- Do 15 reps on each side.
Standing IT Band Stretch
- Stand with legs together and back straight, arms at your side. Step your right leg behind your left leg, making sure both feet point forward. Put your arms on your hips.
- Slowly push your hips toward the right, so you are making a "C" curve with your left side. You can raise your right arm overhead and to the left.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, feeling the stretch in your right thigh. Switch sides.
Side-Lying Leg Lift
Target the glute meds, which are often weak in those with knee issues, with this move.
- Start on your side with your legs extended, flexing both feet. Place your top hand on the ground in front of your abs and your supporting arm under your head. Make sure your bottom leg stays extended for the duration of the series.
- Keeping the energy reaching out through your flexed heels, lift your top leg up about six to eight inches from the floor. From here, make tiny pulses upward 20 times. Holding your leg at the highest point of your lift, draw one-inch circles with your heel for 20 reps.
- Keeping your top leg lifted, bend and straighten your knee. Do this 20 times while not letting your thigh lower as you press through the heel to lengthen your top leg to the straightened position. For an even greater burn, finish this series with lifts in a bigger range of motion, taking the foot all the way toward the ceiling and back down, 10 to 20 times.
The clam targets the glute meds and helps build hip control. See the clam in action here.
- Start by lying on your left side. Bring your knees and hips to a 45-degree angle bend. Position your top pelvis away from your head to bring your waist off the floor. Maintain this neutral position throughout the entire exercise.
- Lift your top knee up, keeping your heels together. Lower back to starting position, ensuring that you're not moving your pelvis or torso.
- Repeat for 30 seconds to one minute, then switch sides.
Single-Leg Bridge Lift
Modifying the classic bridge into a single-leg move helps strengthen hips as well as glute muscles.
- Lie on your back, and place your hands on the floor for stability as you bend one leg and lift the other leg off the ground.
- Then, pressing your heel into the floor, lift your pelvis up, keeping your body in a stiff bridge position.
- Slowly lower your body to the floor and repeat. Switch legs to complete one rep.
Squat Walks With Resistance Band
Squat walks are an excellent way to strengthen your IT band.
- Tie a resistance band around your ankles. Start with a lighter band (red/medium) and work your way up to a heavier band (green/advanced).
- Begin standing with feet directly underneath your hips, abs and glutes engaged, and hands on your hips.
- Squat halfway down and sidestep to the right as far as you can manage without splaying the knees inward. Bring the left leg toward the right with enough space to keep some resistance in the band. Concentrate on keeping your pelvis straight and sturdy and avoid rocking your body and pelvis as you walk.
- Step to the right 10 times, then reverse, stepping to the left 10 times. Repeat for three sets.
- Then complete squat walks, stepping forward 10 times (squat halfway down and step forward as far as you can while maintaining proper form), then reversing, stepping backward 10 times. Concentrate on keeping your feet at shoulder distance. Remember to remain steady as you walk, avoiding any major rocking motions with your body, especially the pelvis. Repeat for three sets.
Bulgarian Split Lunge
This is a great move for your glutes, while also working your quads, hamstrings, and calves.
- Stand in front of the bench, facing away from it. Put your right foot behind you on the bench as shown. Step your left foot out in front of you.
- Bend down to make a 90-degree angle with your left knee, ensuring that it doesn't pass your ankles as you lower down. Keep your torso straight and engage your core.
- Lift back up to the starting position. Repeat five to 10 times for each leg.
This lunge variation is another exercise that targets the glute meds.
- Holding a pair of dumbbells, stand with your feet and knees together.
- Take a large step with your right foot to the right side, lunging toward the floor.
- Make sure your right knee does not extend past your toes, and keep your left leg relatively straight.
- Push off through your right foot, emphasizing the weight in the heel, to return to the start to complete one.
- Do three sets of 12 to 15 on each side.
One-Legged Wall Sit
The classic wall sit is a great way to strengthen quads; doing this variation will help you recognize and treat body imbalances as well. Start with both legs on the floor and work your way up to this one-legged version as you get stronger.
- Stand with your back against a wall, placing your feet about two feet out in front of you. Feet should be hip-distance apart.
- Bending your knees, slide your back down the wall until your knees are at 90-degree angles. Your knee joints should be over your ankle joints, so you may need to inch your feet further from the wall to create proper alignment. Your thighs should remain parallel.
- With your core engaged, extend your left leg out. Hold for 15 seconds, then lower.
- Repeat the same motion, slowly lifting your right leg. Hold for 15 seconds.
- Perform for one minute.