H1 IT Band stretches on the ground
Searches on the internet for IT band stretches are at an all-time high, and previous posts have covered the basics and essentials including full descriptions of the anatomy, function, assessments and common conditions (https://blog.nasm.org/exercise-programming/misconceptions-of-the-it-band, https://blog.nasm.org/fitness/5-go-corrective-exercises-iliotibial-band-syndrome).
The following program was created to offer an individualized approach to IT band stretching which makes them even more effective. Performing self-assessments is key to finding where an individual’s specific restrictions are so that the stretch fits not only the person but also how that person feels on a particular day, like after a workout. Feeling tight or not performing optimally will often change from day to day and this program was designed with that fact in mind.
H2 Stretching on the ground
The following stretches are designed to be done on the ground whether outdoors or indoors. If done indoors, an exercise mat or other covering for comfort may help if needed. These stretches may also be done in the bed if getting down to or up from the floor is difficult. The stretches were designed to be performed in the order as noted for optimal comfort, safety and effectiveness.
H3 Glute-IT Band stretch
This movement assesses and if needed, stretches the glute and its connection into the posterior IT band down to the knee. Movement starts at the hip connection.
Step 1: Focus on low back-hip-IT band connections
Step 2: Focus on the middle part of the posterior IT band
Step 3: Focus on the posterior IT band attaching distally at the knee
H3 Central IT Band stretch
This movement assesses and stretches the IT band from its center outward. Slightly rotating the pelvis toward the floor will emphasize the anterior part of the IT band connection. Rotating away from the floor will emphasize the posterior part of the IT band connection.
Step 1 Focus on central IT Band
Step 2 Progress the stretch
H3 Vastus Lateralis-IT Band stretch
This movement assesses and stretches one of the quadriceps - vastus lateralis - that connects underneath the IT band and its related fascia.
Steps to assess and stretch
H2 Why stretch other muscles besides the IT band?
As can be seen in Figure 4, the gluteus maximus (especially the superior fibers) attaches posterior to the midline of the IT band, while the TFL (tensor fascia latae) attaches anterior. Either muscle can lead to imbalances in posture and function based on its line of pull on the IT Band. In posture, a short and tight TFL often contributes to an anterior pelvic tilt. A short tight glute will contribute to a posterior pelvic tilt. That is why the previous stretches were organized for one to first assess whether the TFL, the glutes or both were tight and restricted. The assessment will determine whether a region needs stretching or not, so that the stretching is more effective and time is more efficient targeting only the affected tissues.
The effects of either imbalance can also transmit forces of excessive tension down the IT band and into the lateral quadriceps called the vastus lateralis (VL). If the tension is coming from a tight TFL and anterior pelvic tilt, then it can tighten the anterior part of the VL. If the tension comes from the glutes and a posterior pelvic tilt, then it can tighten the posterior part of the VL. Since the quadriceps are actually four connected muscles, any of them will also be affected from the trickle down effect of tension transmission along the kinetic chain.
The thicker IT band is actually part of an entire stocking-like tissue called the fascia lata which deeply surrounds the entire thigh. The IT band with its fascia lata covers and attaches to the vastus lateralis, especially where it inserts into the lateral knee region (Figure 5).
At the lateral knee in Figure 5, it can be seen from the IT band attachments that any tightness or restriction here will lead to imbalances at the patella (kneecap), knee joint itself and surrounding tissues. That is the reason the previous stretches included variations that involved bending and straightening the knee and rotating the pelvis and entire leg to target specific tissues of the IT band and its other attachments.
Finally, to complete the kinetic chain and literally ‘tie it all together’ by way of the body’s connective tissue called ‘fascia’, there is a sling of muscles and fascia (together called ‘myofascia’) that functionally work together. As shown in Figure 6 the front part of the sling passes down the front edge of the TFL and IT band and down the tibialis anterior muscle. Ending in the foot, it connects with the fibularis (peroneus) longus and runs up along the back edge of the vastus lateralis-IT band where it meets the biceps femoris (lateral hamstring) in Figure 7.
Due to the extensive connections of muscles and fascia in this sling, any imbalances of strength or flexibility will be reflected in functional tests like the overhead press and others. For example, instead of thinking one should just stretch a tight TFL for problems in movement related to an anterior pelvic tilt, think of the entire sling of connections. As described in all the stretches for the IT band previously, assessing the entire sling for restrictions, then stretching only what is necessary will have better results and save time by often correcting all the imbalances simultaneously. Then one can focus on having fun performing at one’s best!
Frederick, A., Frederick, C. (2017). Stretch to Win (2nd ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Myers, T.W. (2021). Anatomy Trains (4th ed). Elsevier Limited.
Stecco, C. (2015). Functional Atlas of the Human Fascial System. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.